Now in its third year, the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards pays tribute to the people and places doing exceptional work in the Dallas-Fort Worth restaurant and bar community. For several weeks we celebrated the nominees in a special editorial series. Then, on May 19, we revealed the winners at a grand tasting event at Hall of State in Fair Park, where celebrity chef Dean Fearing served as emcee.
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 Fort Worth.
But enough about how we did it. Meet the 2016 Tastemaker Award winners (and, spoiler alert, Dallas-Fort Worth loves its tacos):
Restaurant of the Year: Tei-An
The nationally renowned One Arts Plaza restaurant is one of only a handful across the country that makes soba noodles onsite. But calling it a noodle house doesn't do justice to the profound creativity and refined culinary sensibility of chef-owner Teiichi Sakurai.
Chef of the Year: John Tesar, Knife
Outspoken and entertaining, Tesar is one of Dallas' best-known celebrity chefs and a TV favorite. The New York native, who cooked alongside Anthony Bourdain at Supper Club, was chef at Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek before opening restaurants in Houston and Dallas, including The Commissary and Spoon. Knife is his modern steakhouse at the Highland Dallas hotel.
Rising Star Chef of the Year: Kirstyn Brewer, Victor Tangos
California native Brewer has an impressive resume that includes The Bazaar by Jose Andreas in Beverly Hills, where she worked with Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio, and Consilient Restaurants' Westside Tavern in Los Angeles. Her employ with Consilient brought her to Dallas; she first worked at Hibiscus before moving to Victor Tangos, where she has been executive chef since January 2013.
Best New Restaurant: Resident Taqueria
Lake Highlands residents Amy and Andrew Savoie run this neighborhood taqueria. Andrew, a culinary instructor at the Art Institute of Dallas, has worked at restaurants such as Jean Georges in New York; Hugo's in Maine; and Bouchon in Yountville, California. He takes a chef's perspective toward tacos while drawing inspiration from Mexican cuisine. The menu includes two signatures: chicken with pickled nopales, hominy, and ancho aioli, and pork shoulder with pineapple, cabbage, and guajillo.
Best Sushi Restaurant: Tei Tei Robata Bar
Tei Tei was the original home to two legendary sushi figures in Dallas: Shuji "Elvis" Sugawara and Teiichi "Teach" Sakurai, and the restaurant retains some of that mystique. It introduced the Tokyo-style robata method with a charcoal grill, and its authentic approach makes it a favorite for visitors from Japan. Its modern space remains timeless, and it was on Henderson Avenue before the strip became the juggernaut it is today.
Pastry Chef of the Year (tie): Marlene Duke, The Theodore, and Alison Morse, Front Room Tavern
Duke, who hails from Los Angeles, studied at California School of Culinary Arts. She was a pastry cook at the Ritz-Carlton, Dallas, before joining the staff at The Theodore, where she does desserts such as crab apple toffee cake and grapefruit and honey baked Alaska. Morse, a New Jersey transplant, joined Front Room in 2015, following stints at Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck, Spago in Colorado, and Fornelletto at Borgata Casino and Hotel at Atlantic City. Her creations include chocolate devil's food cake with peanut butter mousse and apple crisp with oatmeal streusel and caramel ice cream.
Bar of the Year: Midnight Rambler
The Joule's craft cocktail palace has big-time credentials thanks to its conceptual team, New York mixologists Chad Solomon and Christy Pope. The drinks are good, no doubt, but the subterranean location gives it that extra cachet. Down you step into the lair, with two bars, leather booths, marble tables, and cool lighting with glowing bulbs.
Bartender of the Year: Kyle Hilla, The Theodore
After five years as bar manager at Bolsa, the congenial Hilla made the jump to sibling concept The Theodore, where he serves straightforward beverages inspired by timeless American classics. He changes the cocktail menu with the seasons, and he has a knack for creating multilayered mixed drinks using the simplest ingredients.
Sommelier of the Year: Jeff Gregory, FT33
Gregory has worked in many facets of the food and wine industry, including distributor sales; training; and academia, where he taught wine, beverage, and restaurant management. He works for both FT33 and sibling restaurant Filament, where he follows the lead of chef Matt McCallister by gravitating toward wine from small, family-owned wineries.
Brewery of the Year: On Rotation
Lakewood's On Rotation is an innovative hybrid of brewery, taproom, and growler fill station. The beer is made in small batches, allowing for creativity in brews such as mango-peach tripel, a Belgian-style ale with loads of fruit. On tap are featured beers by other brewers — some local, some beyond — and all of it as cutting-edge as it gets.
Restaurant of the Year: Revolver Taco Lounge
The taqueria from owner Regina Rojas stands out in that it is both authentic and chef-driven. Menu features tacos and Mexican dishes made from scratch, with fresh tortillas to accompany every order. One of the restaurant's best features is its unlimited taco buffet, which includes several guisada dishes, homemade tortillas, cafe de hoya, and agua frescas.
Chef of the Year: Tim Love, Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Love Shack, Woodshed Smokehouse
One of the best known chefs from Texas, Love is a TV regular and Food Network favorite who also co-hosts CNBC show Restaurant Startup. (Oh, and he emceed our Tastemaker Awards party in Austin.) His signature cuisine is "urban Western," but he has a canny knack for staying au courant. Woodshed Smokehouse may be a meat place but it was also one of the first in the area to serve kale.
Best New Restaurant: The Dive Oyster Bar
This chef-driven oyster bar is the third venture from Robbie and Yvonne Turman, owners of nearby Oscar's Pub and The Mule. To lead their kitchen, they scored quite a coup: Josh Rangel, a former sous chef at Waters, Jon Bonnell's seafood restaurant. Bloody Mary oysters, gumbo, clam chowder, and other seafood staples — all made from scratch — can be found here.
CultureMap dining editor Teresa Gubbins contributed a whole bunch to this report.