Top 10 chefs in Dallas are creating a dynamic and vibrant dining scene
We're on the final stretch of our 2023 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, honoring the people who make our local restaurant scene soar.
Part of that journey has been our special editorial series in which we elected nominees, whom we'll celebrate at a party on May 4 at Fashion Industry Gallery (F.I.G.) with tastings and awards to the winners. Tickets are still on sale.
We've profiled nominees for Restaurant of The Year, Rising Star Chef, Neighborhood Restaurant, Bar, Brewery, Bartender, Best Wine Program, Best Burgers, and Best New Restaurant, decided by a bracket vote that ends on May 2.
Now we have reached the final category: Chef of The Year.
These 10 chefs are the established players, the places that for one reason or another ruled the Dallas scene in 2023.
Here are our nominees for 2023 Chef of The Year:
Aaron Staudenmaier - District
Staudenmaier has 25-plus years experience including The Mansion on Turtle Creek and the Inn at Little Washington. He worked with Kent Rathbun to open Abacus and Jasper's, then worked at Boot Ranch, an ultra-luxury property in Fredericksburg, then Lovers Seafood, and then concept chef at Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar. He was part of the team that brought sophisticated District from California to Dallas, and is also known for his philanthropic gestures including winning a "Pawsitively Good" award from NBCDFW for his volunteer work with Dallas Animal Services, the city's animal shelter.
Afifa Nayeb - Âme
A native of Kabul, Afghanistan, Nayeb and her daughter Sabrina made waves at the Dallas Farmers Market with Laili, a fresh and sophisticated food stand featuring Afghani food, and 8 Cloves, which serves Indian food. The duo took it to the next level with the opening of Âme, their charming and upscale, modern Indian restaurant with new and traditional flavors, in Bishop Arts. Nayeb is a returning nominee who made the top 10 list in 2021.
James Johnson - Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
Understated yet conscientious, Johnson has seen the Dallas location of Houston-based Pappas Bros. Steakhouse through countless "Best Steakhouse" awards since he joined the team in 2006. A participant in the 2022 Chefs For Farmers event, this Chicago native previously worked at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Hibiscus, Paris Vendome in the West Village, and American Airlines Center, where he oversaw the opening of their fine-dining Platinum Club.
Jose Luis Rodriguez - Mixtitos Kitchen
After more than 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry including the NL Group and Charlie Palmer's, Rodriguez launched his own concept, first as a ghost kitchen before expanding to a brick-and-mortar storefront in East Dallas where he's become a neighborhood sensation. His menu is a creative and unique blend of Japanese- and Mexican-inspired dishes, with French cooking techniques that's truly one-of-a-kind, executed with quality and care.
Julian Rodarte - Trinity Groves
Rodarte is a whizkid and second-generation chef and restaurateur who has accumulated a wide range of experience, from taquerias to corporate chef at Denny's, as well as working with some of Dallas' biggest names including Dean Fearing and Phil Romano, who in 2016 helped Rodarte open his first restaurant — Beto & Son, at Trinity Groves — when he was only 23. In 2022, Julian was promoted to CEO of Trinity Groves and put in charge of creating new restaurant concepts.
Junior Borges - Meridian
Raised in Rio de Janeiro, Borges graduated from culinary school, then worked in New York's restaurant scene for 13 years before coming to Dallas in 2014 as opening executive chef at Uchi. Other high-profile gigs included Matt McCallister's FT33 and Joule Hotel where he oversaw properties including Mirador, Americano, and CBD Provisions. Meridian, his acclaimed Brazilian fine-dining restaurant at The Village, won CultureMap's Tastemaker Award in 2022 for Best Restaurant of the Year, and Borges also made the top 10 chefs list in 2021.
Michelle Carpenter, Zen Sushi, Restaurant Beatrice
Carpenter began her career in San Diego where she trained under several master "itamaes" to learn the craft of sushi. She worked at Mr. Sushi in Addison, then Yamaguchi's, the pre-eminent sushi bar at its time, where she was promoted to executive chef under Master Itamae Yama-San. She opened Zen Sushi in 2007, joining the Bishop Arts neighborhood well before it became the hipster zone it is today. In 2022, she opened Restaurant Beatrice, which she calls the new face of contemporary Cajun cuisine. She's a returning nominee who made the top 10 list in 2022.
Nikky Phinyawatana - Asian Mint
A native of Bangkok, Thailand, Nikky emigrated to Dallas where she attended Hockaday, got her Bachelors in business, then went to El Centro College Culinary School. She opened the first Asian Mint in 2004, and currently has four locations in the DFW area. She's an innovator who embraces new ways of communicating, most recently launching an educational video series in which she explains ingredients (such as the difference between red and green Thai chiles) and demonstrates recipes. She's a returning nominee who made the top 10 list in 2021.
Reyna Duong - Sandwich Hag
Passionate about sharing the joys of authentic Vietnamese cuisine, Duong left her corporate job to open Sandwich Hag, featuring tautly wrapped spring rolls, banh mi with house-made pork sausage, and curry with chicken thigh. In addition to taking no shortcuts on her food, part of her policy is hiring workers with Down syndrome including her brother Sang. A returning nominee who made the top 10 list for Rising Star Chef in 2019 and Best Chef in 2020, she's also a finalist this year for Best Chef: Texas in the James Beard Foundation's annual Restaurant and Chef Awards.
Ross Demers - Cry Wolf
It's a magical time for chef Ross Demers, who has found his perfect niche at Cry Wolf, his cozy, chef-driven spot in East Dallas. Previously, he studied at the California School of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles then bounced around for more than a decade, as chefs do, at a wide range of restaurants: from The Commissary in the Arts District to Oak in the Design District to Local Traveler in East Dallas to On the Lamb, his brasserie in Deep Ellum known for its intense charcuterie that was a run-up to this acclaimed foodie haunt.