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Chicago Has Eight James Beard Award Finalists For 2020

The foundation also announced the gala could return to Chicago in September

James Beard Award
The James Beard Foundation announced award finalists on Monday afternoon.
James Beard Foundation [Official Photo]

The 30th annual James Beard Foundation Awards gala was scheduled to take place Monday night, but instead the foundation streamed a video to announce its 2020 finalists. Eight of them are from Chicago, including all six in the Best Chef: Great Lakes category. The foundation also announced a new date when they’ll announce restaurant and chef award winners. Normally, those awards are handed out during a spring gala, but due to COVID-19, that date’s been pushed back to September 25 from the Lyric Opera Chicago.

The nature of that event — online or in person — has yet to be confirmed. The foundation announced in March that it would postpone the event until summer, as the hospitality industry faces serious challenges in the midst of pandemic-induced dine-in closures.

The awards honor outstanding chefs, restaurants, and hospitality professionals. Usually, a there’s a separate announcement for food journalism and media award nominees, but the pandemic canceled those plans and forced the foundation to make one long announcement on Monday. The “long list” of award semifinalists, which included 19 Chicago representatives, was released in late February.

All of this year’s Best Chefs: Great Lakes award finalists are from Chicago, leaving Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio unrepresented. That group includes first-time nominees John Shields and Karen Urie Shields of Smyth, the farm-to-table fine dining restaurant in West Loop, and Erick Williams of Virtue, Eater Chicago’s 2019 Restaurant of the Year. There’s also a comeback story for Gene Kato, who joined Boka Restaurant Group’s West Loop sushi restaurant, Momotaro, in November 2018 after closing his River North restaurant, Sumi Robata Bar the year before. Kato and Boka also plan to open an Italian-Japanese restaurant.

When it comes to beverages, Chicago had two repeat nominees: Logan Square tropical drink paradise Lost Lake for Outstanding Bar Program and influential Mag Mile Italian restaurant Spiaggia for Outstanding Wine Program.

Last year, Chicago restaurants, chefs, and bars earned 17 finalist nominations. Head over to for the full list of finalists nationwide.

Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards.

(* denotes first-time finalist)

Best Chef: Great Lakes:

Gene Kato, Momotaro

Jason Hammel, Lula Cafe

*John Shields and Karen Urie Shields, Smyth

*Erick Williams, Virtue

Noah Sandoval, Oriole

Lee Wolen, Boka

Outstanding Wine Program:


Outstanding Bar Program:

Lost Lake

Sumi Robata Bar

702 N Wells Street, Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 988-7864 Visit Website


1729 North Halsted Street, , IL 60614 (312) 337-6070 Visit Website

Lyric Opera

20 N Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60606 312 332 2244 Visit Website


661 West Walnut Street, , IL 60661 (312) 877-5899 Visit Website

Boka Restaurant Group

820 West Lake Street, , IL 60607 (312) 238-9896 Visit Website

Lost Lake

3154 West Diversey Avenue, , IL 60647 (773) 293-6048 Visit Website


177 North Ada Street, , IL 60607 (773) 913-3773 Visit Website

Lula Cafe

2537 North Kedzie Boulevard, , IL 60647 (773) 489-9554 Visit Website


980 North Michigan Avenue, , IL 60611 (312) 280-2750 Visit Website


1462 E. 53rd Street, Chicago, IL


820 West Lake Street, , IL 60607 (312) 733-4818 Visit Website