For the fourth year in a row, the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards is here to pay tribute to the people and places doing exceptional work in the Dallas-Fort Worth restaurant and bar community. For the past few weeks, we've celebrated the nominees in a special editorial series. And on April 20, we revealed the winners at a swanky tasting event and awards ceremony at Sixty Five Hundred, emceed by celebrity chef Tim Love.
Every year, a panel of expert judges helps us compile the contenders, and the panel selects all of the winners except for Best New Restaurant. That is determined by you, our readers, in a bracket-style tournament — and this one was close, in Dallas and in Fort Worth.
Meet the 2016 Tastemaker Award winners:
Restaurant of the Year: Tokyo Cafe
Did this venerated Japanese restaurant win because its sushi and bento boxes are so nicely put together by creative chef Kevin Martinez? Or was it the courageous endurance of husband and wife owners Mary Kah-Ho and Jarry Ho, who spent two long years rebuilding — and updating — the restaurant after a fire? How about a little of both.
Chef of the Year: Jesus Garcia, Oni Ramen
Garcia helped make Fort Worth a ramen destination after opening his fast-casual gourmet-caliber restaurant in 2016. Previously chef at Little Lilly Sushi, Garcia earned many a rave. He's also worked at Five Sixty By Wolfgang Puck, Piranha Killer Sushi, and Shinjuku Station. To learn the ramen ropes, Garcia moved to Seattle to work at ramen restaurants there, including famed chain Kizuki Ramen. At Oni, they make stocks daily and incorporate sous vide cooking techniques.
Best New Restaurant: Tortaco
Latest concept from restaurateur Mike Karns (El Fenix, Meso Maya) won out over seven other new restaurants in Fort Worth. Tortaco combines tacos, tortas, and bowls filled with ingredients such as tamarind pork and diablo shrimp. There's lots of mezcal, crafted into cocktails like the one with orange peel, bitters, and simple syrup. Chains propped over the bar and a motorcycle parked inside adds a cool, gritty rock-and-roll atmosphere.
Restaurant of the Year: Lucia
CultureMap is not the first to give an award to this Bishop Arts District restaurant, and it certainly won't be the last. Chef David Uygur executes his vision of upscale Italian comfort food, making everything on-site, including the popular salumi plate, pasta, and house-baked bread. Doting service includes wine tips from co-owner Jennifer Uygur, and the small vintage atmosphere is darling.
Chef of the Year: Julian Barsotti
Barsotti is the current poster boy in Dallas for Italian food, with a growing Italian-restaurant empire that includes his original restaurant Nonna; his Italian-American restaurant Carbone's, which he opened in 2012; and Sprezza, a Roman-themed restaurant that opened in 2016. And the empire continues to expand, with Fachini, another Barsotti Italian creation opening in Highland Park Village this year.
Rising Star Chef: Josh Sutcliff, Mirador
Sutcliff came to Dallas from a San Francisco restaurant to join forces with chef Matt McCallister at his Design District restaurant, FT33, then at his Deep Ellum restaurant, Filament. Now he's at Mirador, the restaurant at the downtown Forty Five Ten boutique, where he works with Junior Borges on a modern American menu that includes lobster roll; deviled eggs; Cobb salad; and a farro bowl with cauliflower, cherries, and Marcona almonds.
Best New Restaurant: Pie Tap Pizza Workshop + Bar
Pizzeria concept from Mooyah co-founder Rich Hicks has the makings of a chain, and there are already two branches, one on Henderson Avenue and one in the Design District. It serves excellent pizza, pasta, beer, and wine, in a brisk, cosmopolitan setting. Everything is available on-site or via delivery to your door — meaning you can get a complete meal with wine or beer included, even a six-pack if you like, a delivery option that's unique.
Best Neighborhood Restaurant: Bbbop Seoul Kitchen
Family-owned Asian-fusion restaurant chain has three branches, and true to this category, each has its own charm — from the bustling practicality of Upper Greenville to the foodie cachet of North Oak Cliff. They all share the same basic cuisine theme, with a focus on Korean dishes including bibimbap, the traditional rice bowl dish topped with veggies, egg, and meat if you want, that inspired their name.
Best Fried Chicken: The Slow Bone
You wouldn't expect fried chicken at a barbecue place, but Slow Bone is full of surprises, including having a 4-star chef — Jeffery Hobbs — behind the line. The chicken gets brined, but he gives it a barbecue twist by smoking the water first, to imbue it with an appropriately smoky taste.
Pastry Chef of the Year: Sarah Green, The Joule
Green was one of three nominees from the Joule hotel, but she's the one who won. Her career has taken many creative twists and turns since she acquired a degree in culinary arts from Le Cordon Bleu. She earned her pastry chops at Oak Dallas restaurant but has also dabbled on the savory side as well. She spent two years with Cafe Momentum in downtown Dallas, and has also cooked at restaurants on the West Coast including Sycamore Kitchen in Los Angeles.
Bar of the Year: Armoury D.E.
Deep Ellum establishment is definitely one-of-a-kind: What other bar serves Hungarian food like chicken paprikash with brown butter spaetzle? It also has a big selection of whiskeys, rare liqueurs, and a serious list of distinctive cocktails such as the Jackie O, made with rye, sarsaparilla, maple syrup, and angostura and black walnut bitters.
Bartender of the Year: Charlie Papaceno, Industry Alley Bar
"Charlie Pap" has been a godfather of the Dallas bar scene, first at the Windmill Lounge, which he opened with his ex-wife, Louise Owens, in 2005, and now at Industry Alley, the comforting South Side retro dive that he opened in 2015. It's a favorite of the service industry and other savvy insiders, who appreciate its solid drinks, pool tables, pinball machines, arcade games, and neon beer signs.
Best Wine Program: Gemma
Gemma has won many "best restaurant" awards, and part of the credit goes to its expansive wine list, with bottles from just about every wine region in the world, including some rarities from Napa Valley. There's a large selection of half-bottles, and more than a dozen French white burgundys, which has become the favorite pick of the wine hipster set.