Southeast Asia shines at 2024 James Beard Foundation Awards

The restaurant industry's Oscars featured many AA+PI winners, specifically serving Southeast Asian cuisine

Langbaan in Portland, Oregon received the national award for Outstanding Restaurant at the 2024 James Beard Foundation Awards.

Christine Dong/Langbaan Instagram

Words by Naomi Tomky

When Portland, Oregon’s Langbaan received the national award for Outstanding Restaurant near the end of the James Beard Foundation Awards last night in Chicago, it capped off an evening that highlighted the excellence and achievements of AA+PI chefs and restaurateurs in the United States.

One of the premier awards in the restaurant industry, and the largest awards to consider restaurants on a broader basis, the annual James Beard Foundation Awards recognize restaurants, chefs, and other parts of the industry across 22 categories that cover everything from food justice work to wine service.

Langbaan, which serves Thai cuisine in a tasting menu format, shows promise that the idea of Southeast Asian cuisine as something that should always be cheap or casual might be fading. Continuing the myth busting, Christina Nguyen received the award for Best Chef Midwest for Minneapolis’s Hai Hai, which she opened to show off the breadth of Southeast Asian street food. Lord Maynard Llera touches on both these themes in relation to Filipino cuisine at Kuya Lord in Los Angeles, and received the Best Chef California award last night.

A dish with chicken and green vegetables on a table, with a hand holding a fork in the dish and an arm with tattoos above.

The Balinese Chicken at Minneapolis’s Hai Hai, which serves Southeast Asian street food and won Best Chef Midwest for Christina Nguyen.

Tyson Crockett/Hai Hai Instagram

In other national-level awards, Masako Morishita, a chef and former Washington Commanders cheerleader from Kobe, Japan, won the Emerging Chef award for her homestyle Japanese cooking at Perry’s in Washington, D.C. In the Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker Category, another second-career win came from Tokyo editor-turned-baker Atsuko Fujimoto, whose baking at Norimoto Bakery in Portland, Maine, draws inspiration from both Japanese and European traditions with treats like yuzu meringue pie.

Japanese cuisine also found success in the Best Chef Great Lakes award, which went to Hajime Sato of Detroit sushi restaurant Sozai, and via Peru in the Best Chef South category, which went to Valerie Chang of Miami Nikkei restaurant Maty’s.

While many of the regional and national awards reflect the forefront of restaurant trends, the evening’s America’s Classics awards honor local independent restaurants for their “timeless appeal.” Last night, that included San Francisco Burmese restaurant Mandalay and Philadelphia’s Vietnam Restaurant.

The Humanitarian of the Year award went to The LEE Initiative, which promotes diversity, equity, and empowerment for restaurant industry employees, and was co-founded by Kentucky Korean American chef Edward Lee. Mai Nguyen, a farmer and the child of Vietnamese refugees, won the Leadership Award for Sustainability for their work as co-director of Minnow on land security for California’s farmers of color and Indigenous communities, including both democratic organization for land justice and research on site-appropriate and soil-enriching approaches to growing organic heirloom grains and Southeast Asian crops in California.

Overall, about a third of the awards went to members of the AA+PI community, with nearly all of those going to Southeast Asian and Japanese Americans. With the former, particularly, representing a long-deserved recognition for some of the most beloved but less honored cuisines in the American restaurant industry. 

Published on June 11, 2024

Words by Naomi Tomky

Award-winning Seattle-based writer Naomi Tomky explores the world with a hungry eye, digging into the intersections of food, culture, and travel. Her first cookbook, The Pacific Northwest Seafood Cookbook, was declared one of 2019’s best by the San Francisco Chronicle. Follow her culinary travels and hunger-inducing ramblings on Twitter @Gastrognome and Instagram @the_gastrognome.