The best restaurant in America is Chai Pani, which serves cheap Indian street food in North Carolina.
At the James Beard Foundation Awards in Chicago, the Asheville diner was awarded America’s Most Outstanding Restaurant, beating out competitors including Brennan’s in New Orleans.
After being canceled in 2020 and 2021 so the foundation could address systematic bias and as lockdowns to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus prompted the temporary closure of numerous US restaurants, the honors were given for the first time in two years.
The awards also come at a time when Americans are paying the highest food prices in four decades, owing to rising inflation that is hurting the economy as a whole.
This year’s award recipients and nominees were more diversified in order to better reflect the demographics of the United States. There was also more geographic diversity this year, as opposed to previous years, when many winners came from New York or Chicago.
Chai Pani, whose name literally translates to “tea and water,” serves Indian snacks known as “chaat,” which are recognized for their spicy, sweet, and tangy flavors. Best New Restaurant went to Owamni, a Native American restaurant in Minneapolis with a staff that is 75% indigenous.
Don Guerra of Barrio Bread in Tucson, Arizona, was named Outstanding Baker for his utilization of ancient grains with seeds designed to grow in the desert.
Mashama Bailey of Savannah, Georgia’s The Grey was selected Outstanding Chef. Outstanding Restaurateur went to Chris Bianco of Tratto, Pane Bianco, and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix.
During its absence, the foundation did a “deep dive,” according to Dawn Padmore, vice president of awards.
Looking at the audience and seeing so many different people, it feels different, she said. It’s about reflecting the true diversity of the industry.