Presentation of the winners of the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards 2021. Presented at a ceremony on Thursday, July 22 by Houston hip hop legend Bun B, our jury of restaurant industry experts selected these establishments and individuals as the best of the Houston food scene in all categories except Best New Restaurant, which was voted by the readers of CultureMap.
Collectively, they set high standards in everything they do, from preparing delicious food and drink to creating a welcoming atmosphere in their spaces. Like many of their peers, they have faced the challenges of a global pandemic and taken the necessary steps to keep employees and customers safe.
While it is certainly important to recognize the winners, let us recognize another important truth. The Houston restaurant world is so talented that any finalist in any one of the categories would have been a worthy winner. It is truly an honor to be nominated.
Congratulations to all of this year’s winners. We cannot wait until next year.
Restaurant of the year: Nobie’s
As its fifth anniversary approaches, this award recognizes something that has been true for some time. Sara and Martin Stayer’s Montrose Restaurant is one of the best restaurants in Houston. From its eclectic menu to its creative cocktails and all-vinyl soundtrack, Nobie’s succeeds because its staff take their jobs seriously without taking themselves too seriously. If it has been some time since this last visit, follow the restaurant’s directions to ‘get high and stop’.
Chef of the Year: Kaitlin Steets, Littlefoot / Theodore Rex
Newly nominated as a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2020, Steets demonstrated the extent of her talent with Littlefoot, the French-inspired pop-up that took over Theodore Rex for three more months. early this year. Her precise technique and great respect for ingredients have served her well in both restaurants. As T. Rex owner Justin Yu previously commented, Steets is ready for her own restaurant; hopefully she opens it in Houston.
Best new restaurant: Xin Chào
Chefs Christine Ha and Tony Nguyen’s modern take on comforting Vietnamese cuisine prevailed in four rounds of voting at the Best New Restaurant tournament. More than the strength of Ha’s dedicated social media following – the former Masterchef winner has over 100,000 Instagram followers – this award recognizes that Xin Chào provided a new perspective on one of Houston’s favorite cuisines. Adding smoky elements to dishes like beef salad and duck shakes gives them extra depth of flavor, while creative cocktails offer plenty of pairing options.
Michelin-starred chef of the year: AJ Ede, Brazil
This seasoned chef has reinvigorated the beloved institution of Montrose by using refined gastronomic techniques to enhance the casual cuisine of the café. While customers don’t necessarily need to understand the intricacies of fermentation or learn the names of the farms that supply his ingredients to appreciate the sheer delight of what Ede and his team cook, he is happy to explain. when someone asks him to. The chef is also committed to helping his cooks grow as professionals by teaching them techniques that will allow them to progress more easily in their careers and by encouraging them to add specials to the menu.
Best Pop-Up / Startup: Josh Deleon, Underground Creamery
Not that these frozen treats need more attention – Deleon sells its weekly 300-quart production almost instantly – but no other flavor-producing Houston ice cream maker like Underground Creamery. Whether it’s Salted Vanilla with Strawberry Swirl and Graham Crisp, Brown Sugar Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Swirl and Oreos, or any of its other creations, Deleon ice cream always delivers a mix. intriguing of textures and flavors. Yes, the ordering process can be frustrating, but maybe this award will inspire Deleon to keep growing until his designs are available to a wider audience.
Pastry Chef of the Year: Drew Gimma, Bread Man Baking Co.
From Common Bond to Better Luck Tomorrow to Squable to Bread Man, Gimma has earned a reputation for taking bread seriously. In his role as Bread Man’s COO, Gimma oversees the production which supplies freshly baked breads to Whole Foods stores across Texas as well as the myriad of customers at the company’s restaurants. He’ll face an even bigger challenge when the bakery moves to a massive 40,000 square foot facility later this year, but we believe he will do very well. After all, he has prepared his entire professional life for this kind of challenge.
Wine of the year program: Squable
Originally created by sommelier Justin Vann, General Manager Terry Williams now oversees Squable’s wine list. Initially, the restaurant offered only European and North American selections, but Williams added Australian and South African wines to match Chef Mark Clayton’s menu changes. Of course, the best way to taste the selections is Monday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., when all alcoholic beverages are at half price.
Bartender of the Year: Alphonso Quiñones, Tiny Champions
The seasoned bartender brought his customer-centric approach to this new restaurant from the team behind Nancy’s Hustle. Quiñones embraced restaurant life by frequently working with the kitchen to prepare ingredients for cocktails. In addition, his interest in the use of amaro and the incorporation of tropical flavors is reflected in the restaurant’s cocktail offerings. For example, consider Club Tropicana which incorporates both amaro and grapefruit and passion fruit juice.
Bar of the year: Heights Bier Garten
Among all of Houston’s patio bars, the Heights Bier Garten stands out in many ways. First of all, its vast lush patio offers the feeling of escape from a crowded city. Second, its wide selection of wines, beers, cocktails and spirits transcends similar establishments. A creative food menu elevates typical pub food with plenty of vegetarian options and hand-made sandwiches.
Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Candente
Entering the world of Tex-Mex can be tricky for a new restaurant; after all, all Houstonians already have strong opinions about their favorite places for enchiladas, fajitas, and margaritas. But a similar barrier didn’t stop owner Michael Sambrooks from getting into the barbecue with The Pit Room, and the same approach that made him successful was reflected in Candente. More specifically, the elements of success are: using high quality ingredients, cooking them consistently and offering good value for money. It sounds simple, but the successful execution of the formula made Candente a success.