10 best chefs in Dallas of 2021 rise to the top after challenging year
We're on our final week leading up to CultureMap's Tastemaker Awards, our annual celebration of the best in Dallas food and drink, and it's time to tip our toques to the Best Chefs.
Whether running their own restaurant or else overseeing a major kitchen, these 10 chefs prevailed during the most harrowing of times: navigating the challenges of operating during a pandemic. They all managed to keep serving excellent food at restaurants, with hospitality to match.
They're the latest category in our editorial series, where we spotlight nominees in categories such as best bars, best neighborhood restaurants, best rising star chefs, best pastry chefs, best bartenders, and best ghost kitchens, determined by a panel of judges consisting of former CultureMap Tastemaker Award winners and local F&B experts.
Who will win? Find out at the Tastemaker Awards party on August 19 at Fashion Industry Gallery, where we’ll dine on bites from nominated restaurants while emcee CJ Starr reveals the winners. Buy tickets here.
And you still have one more day to vote in our Best New Restaurant competition, now at the Finals stage, with the two restaurants competing to win the title. The bracket ends on August 17; to vote, click here.
Here are the 10 best Chefs in Dallas:
Matt Balke - Encina
A native of Texas, Balke earned degrees in business marketing and hotel restaurant management from Texas Tech, then a degree from the Culinary Institute of America in 2007. He worked at the legendary York Street, as well as Bolsa, Bolsa Mercado, The Rustic, and Smoke, and was chef at Bolsa when it closed in 2020. He and his partner Corey McCombs took over the lease once Bolsa closed, and opened Encina, their warm neighborhood restaurant featuring New American cuisine, cocktails, wine, and beer in October. He's a return Tastemaker nominee, having been nominated for Best Chef once before in 2017.
Junior Borges - Meridian
Raised in Rio de Janeiro, Borges graduated from the French Culinary Institute (now the Institute for Culinary Education), then spent 13 years in New York at restaurants including A Voce and Amali. In 2014, he came to Dallas as opening executive chef at Uchi, and has worked at a number of high-profile restaurants including Matt McCallister's FT33 and Joule Hotel as executive chef of the property's multiple outlets including Mirador, Americano, and CBD Provisions. He joined The Village as VP of culinary and is also executive chef at Meridian, the complex's modern Brazilian fine-dining restaurant.
Erik Carlson - Omni Dallas
Born in Ohio, Chef Carlson has decades of experience in fine dining and events. He attended the Culinary Institute of America, then landed at The Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island, spending six years at that Florida resort. He's served as Banquet Chef for the Galt House Hotel in Louisville and for the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, then joined Omni Dallas in May of 2018, where he revels in the diversity of menus on the property and the opportunity to experiment and be creative working with such a large team.
Tiffany Derry - Roots Southern Table
Beaumont native famously began her culinary career at IHOP, before earning her culinary degree from the Art Institute of Houston. She vaulted to fame after her appearance on Bravo's Top Chef Season 7, earning the title of "fan favorite" and finishing in the top four. She's since become a Food Network and Bravo regular and also appeared on Hungry Investors and Bar Rescue. She opened Roots Southern Table, her restaurant inspired by her upbringing on her family's Southern farm, in Farmers Branch in May 2021.
Joe Graffeo - Asador
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Graffeo worked at Marriott properties in Philadelphia, New York, and Arizona before joining the Renaissance in Dallas in March 2020, just as the pandemic was breaking. He began his career in the kitchen at eight years old, making pasta from scratch alongside his grandmother. He's a master of hydroponic gardening and spends his free time making his own chef knives.
Uno Immanivong - Red Stix
Banker-turned-chef made her restaurant debut at Trinity Groves, with the creation of Chino Chinatown, which earned a Tastemaker nomination for Best New Restaurant in 2014 and remained popular until it closed in February 2020. Her new project is Red Stix Street Food, which recreates the street food of her childhood. It opened near SMU in 2020, and earned Uno another Best New Restaurant nomination. She has her own hospitality brand and is a television regular on stations such as ABC, EyeOpener TV, Fox, and Cooking Channel.
Jose Meza - Tulum
A native of Mexico City, the brilliant Meza earned a degree in gastronomy and worked with Michelin-starred chefs such as Martin Berasategui, Bart de Pooyer, and Rene Redzepi at Noma in Denmark. He worked at Moxi in San Miguel de Allende, then the famed Restaurant Carolina, at the St. Regis Punta Mita Resort, northwest of Puerto Vallarta on the west coast of Mexico. He came to Dallas to head the kitchen at Jalisco Norte and now also oversees its sibling restaurant, Tulum. A returning nominee, he was nominated for Best Chef in 2019.
Afifa Nayeb - Ame
A native of Kabul, Afghanistan, Nayeb and her daughter Sabrina have been making waves at the Dallas Farmers Market with their fresh and sophisticated food at Laili, which features Afghani food, and 8 Cloves which serves Indian food. They also have a juice stand called JuiceBabe. The duo took it to the next level in April with the opening of Âme, their charming and upscale, modern Indian restaurant with new and traditional flavors, in Bishop Arts.
Jimmy Park - Shoyo
Park began his career by doggedly working his way up through the Nobu chain, first in Aspen, then San Diego, before hitting Las Vegas, where he worked at Kabuto Edomae Sushi. He came to Dallas to work at Nobu, then helped opened Pok the Raw Bar in Dallas' West Village, and Nori Handroll Bar in Deep Ellum. It all led up to the opening of Shoyo, his omakase restaurant on Greenville Avenue that's the foodie buzz in Dallas right now.
Nikky Phinyawatana - Asian Mint
A native of Bangkok, Thailand, Nikky emigrated to Dallas where she attended Hockaday, got a Bachelors in Business Administration, then went to El Centro College Culinary School. She opened the first Asian Mint in 2004, and currently has three locations in the DFW area. She pivoted skillfully during the pandemic with creative takeout programs, and is a big believer in making businesses both profitable and charitable. Asian Mint has donated to over 100 different charities, schools and non-profit organizations.