James Beard Foundation 2022 America’s Classics Honorees Announced
Determining which restaurant is the best can be a complicated process. Everyone has their favorites, so how do you pick?
Determining which restaurant is the best can be a complicated process. Everyone has their favorites, so how do you pick? Is it the restaurant that serves the best nachos, or has the most variety on their menu? Is it based on price for quality, or how often you crave their signature dish?
Basically, a favorite restaurant means something different to every person. However, there is one way to determine which restaurants and hospitality providers stand head and shoulder above their peers: the James Beard Foundation. Every year, the James Beard Foundation honors restaurants, hospitality groups and chefs who excel in their craft, the award winners providing excellence across culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food systems.
Honorees are also noted for working towards racial and gender equality, community, sustainability and a culture that allows all to thrive. It’s quite literally a tall order, so when a restaurant or chef is awarded a James Beard, you know they have achieved the incredible. The James Beard Foundation has announced the honorees for their 2022 America’s Classics genre, and you won’t want to miss these experiences.
James Beard Awards
Knowing there’s a James Beard honoree in your hometown or on your vacation path means you can be sure you’re going to get the best of the best. The America’s Classic awards are given to locally owned restaurants that have “timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food” that echos the character of the community they call home.
Every year, six winners are chosen for America’s Classics and they come from recommendations submitted by the public and reviewed by the Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee. Honorees are chosen from six of 12 regions and rotated every other year so every region receives a winner every other year. This is how the regions are divided:
- Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH)
- Mid-Atlantic (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA)
- Midwest (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI)
- Mountain (CO, ID, MT, UT, WY)
- New York State
- Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT)
- Northwest & Pacific (AK, HI, OR, WA)
- Southeast (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV)
- South (AL, AR, FL, LA, MS, PR)
- Southwest (AZ, NM, NV, OK)
Every winner in the America’s Classics category must have been open for at least 10 years. Here’s a look at this year’s honorees and what makes them so special.
Located in Sherman Oaks, California, this Region 1 winner is known for popularizing Mexican food in the San Fernando Valley. Opened in 1956 by Rafael “Ray” Vega, Casa Vega is now owned by Christy Vega. Visitors to the restaurant can find delightful albondigas, enchiladas, sweet corn tamales, and tostadas among other menu items that keeps locals coming back for more. Although Rafael passed in 2019, his daughter keeps the family feel alive and everyone who walks through the doors feels like they belong.
Tufted red leather booths give this space its signature feel, and Christy uses her position at the restaurant to do good for the community by working with No Us Without You and other initiatives that support Latin American community in Los Angeles and the surrounding area. For more information including full menu, hours and more, visit the website.
Across the country in Region 3, Corinne’s Place calls Camden, New Jersey, home. Corinne Bradley-Powers opened her restaurant in 1989, with a birthday-pink dining room designed to handle the after-church rush. Corinne has perfected the art of a classic fried chicken and homestyle soul food, with guests coming back again and again to enjoy Cajun-spiced turkey wings, black-eyed peas, tender pig’s feet in zesty sauce, smothered pork chops, or the sweet potato pie.
Camden, NJ, is one of America’s lowest-income cities, and Corinne’s Place has become a place of comfort and hope. During the pandemic, Bradley-Powers created an outdoor dining oasis so guests could still come and enjoy company and delicious food while staying safe. For more information on Corinne’s Place and how to enjoy some fine soul food, visit the website.
Solly’s Grille took the spot of honor for Region 4. Located In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Solly’s is home to the famous butter burger. Although many places lay claim to the famous butter burger, Solly’s undeniably put it on the national map. Created by Kenneth “Solly” Salmon in 1939, Solly’s butter burger is a rich, creamy, decadent and meaty sandwich comprised of ground sirloin and stewed onions, topped with farm-fresh Wisconsin butter that gives the dish its name.
Because Wisconsin is the dairy capital of the United States, it comes as no surprise that people flock to Solly’s from all over for the delightful butter dish – and the restaurant goes through a whopping 130lbs or more of butter per week. For more information including more menu items and hours, visit the website.
Wo Hop is the winner for Region 6. Located in New York, New York, this Chinese American restaurant caters to a city that knows what it means to never sleep. Wo Hop has lived at its current location on Mott Street since 1938, outlasting competitors that have come and gone over the long decades. The Huang Family owns Wo Hop, and current owner Ming Huang took over from his uncle years ago.
Huang refers to the menu as, “old-fashioned chop suey-style food,” and laments that it’s a style disappearing in the Americana repertoire as the years pass. But have no fear, this all-hours restaurant isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Elevate your expectations for Chinese American food and try something new – or come back for your favorites. For more information, visit the website.
The Busy Bee Cafe
The Busy Bee Cafe is a Region 9 winner. Located in Atlanta, Georgia, The Busy Bee was opened in 1947 by Lucy Jackson. At that point in history, Black entrepreneurs were very limited in where they could open businesses. Race riots had forced the Black community out of downtown Atlanta, and Hunter Street was one of the few places that provided an option. Martin Luther King Jr and other civil rights icons were known to frequent the Busy Bee, and to this day visitors can enjoy a menu that includes fried chicken, ham hocks, catfish, collard greens, macaroni cheese, cornbread, and other soulful dishes.
The Gates Family owns the Busy Bee these days, and Tracy Gates is committed to providing the level of excellence and personalized care to customers that Jackson herself created the restaurant with. Whether a place for tourists to touch history or locals to gather and celebrate a life milestone, the Busy Bee is part of what makes up the heart of Atlanta. For more information, visit the website.
The final winner of this year’s America’s Classics comes from Region 11. Located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Florence’s Restaurant was founded by Florence Jones Kemp, born in Boley, OK in 1939. Boley was founded by Black pioneers in the 19th century, so it was that spirit she brought with her to the big city. Kemp was raised on farming and gardening, and by 1952 she had saved waitressing money just enough to open her own restaurant with – according to Kemp herself – “two chickens and a prayer.”
Kemp used family recipes and the help of her daughter Victoria to cook her way to local fame, using word-of-mouth to build a customer base. Customers at Florence’s can expect to feel like they’re having dinner with family – if your family is exceptionally good at comfort food, that is. With a farm fresh promise and 70 years of experience, the menu comes alive with options that include fried chicken, yammed fried chicken, ox tails, burgers, chicken and dumplings, catfish, cornbread, pancakes and more.
For more information or to play your meal at Florence’s, visit the website.
Any time a restaurant receives a James Beard award, you know fine things await within. For these six honorees, they’ve captured what it means to be fine American cuisine with exceptional service and excellence above their peers. If you’re in Sherman Oaks, Camden, Milkwaukee, New York, Atlanta or Oklahoma City – make sure these places are on your “must see” list.