The 2023 James Beard Semifinalists Are a Testament to Greater Boston’s Incredible Dining Scene

From a chef serving Vietnamese- and French-inspired seafood feasts north of the city to a funky little Somerville wine bar to a homey Somali restaurant in East Boston, some of our most exciting chefs and restaurants were honored as awards season kicks off.

Long noodles are piled high on a plate, garnished with whole basil leaves, garnished with a dark brown sauce and bits of shredded beef.

Egg noodles with caramelized garlic sauce at Nightshade Noodle Bar in Lynn. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

It’s that time of the year again: The James Beard Foundation has announced its semifinalists for 2023 awards, highlighting talented restaurant industry folks throughout the country in 23 categories. The list, released last week, will be whittled down twice more before the prestigious awards are handed out, with the Foundation announcing nominees on March 29 and winners at a June 5 gala in Chicago.

Beard awards, which have been given out for over three decades, are the Oscars of the food world, and some years have been better than others in terms of Greater Boston getting the recognition it deserves. This year, the region did get snubbed in some surprising categories where we absolutely have top-tier contenders, such as outstanding bakery (like Sofra, to name just one of many) and outstanding bar (Backbar, perhaps?) But, fortunately, the semifinalist list does feature quite a few local names, and this collection of some of our greatest hits should give the rest of the country the hint that the Greater Boston dining scene is one to watch.

Here’s the rundown on the Massachusetts semifinalists, listed in order of the categories as presented by the foundation.

Rachel Miller of Nightshade Noodle Bar in Lynn

Outstanding chef semifinalist

We can’t get enough of this destination north of the city, where chef and owner Miller serves seafood-focused tasting menus that draw inspiration from Vietnamese and French cuisines. Choose the number of courses (seven, nine, 12, or 14, with a five-course option also available one night a week), and you’ll journey through dishes like chilled percebes (gooseneck barnacles) with Vietnamese lime-pepper dipping sauce; grilled coconut sticky rice pops with brown butter tamarind pork floss; lobster glacé with smoked vanilla butter and vanilla chili vinaigrette; and, of course, noodles—the house-made egg noodles with caramelized garlic sauce, chili crisp, Thai basil, peanuts, shredded beef, and braised mushrooms are a favorite. We’re not surprised to find Miller on the list this year—Nightshade is certainly one of the top restaurants in the Boston area right now—and we hope this clues in food enthusiasts nationwide that their trip to Boston should include a detour up to Lynn.

73 Exchange St., Lynn, 781-780-9470,

Pagu in Cambridge

Outstanding restaurant semifinalist

If you look at the menu for Central Square hit Pagu, you’ll see Japanese and Spanish dishes side by side (with a hint of Taiwanese cuisine, too). Zig-zagging from ramen to paella to Taiwanese beef noodle soup, it might seem a surprising combination at first glance, but it all comes back to chef and owner Tracy Chang’s upbringing and culinary experiences, from childhood memories in her grandmother’s Japanese restaurant in Cambridge to working at top Boston sushi spot O Ya to a stint at a prestigious three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Spain. The food is outstanding—you’ll definitely want to try the ramen, pork belly bao, and cedar campfire black cod, or throw a suckling pig party—and Chang’s relentless community service brings Pagu to the next level. During the pandemic, she co-launched two different initiatives, Project Restore Us and Off Their Plate, aimed at getting groceries and meals to food-insecure families of essential workers and others in need; she collaborated with friends in healthcare and hospitality to author health and safety procedures used nationwide; and she was an early adopter in implementing a proof-of-vaccine policy for indoor dining.

310 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-945-9290,

Red Rose in Lowell

Outstanding restaurant semifinalist

If you want Cambodian food in Greater Boston, head to Lowell, home of the nation’s second-largest Cambodian community. Red Rose Restaurant is a mainstay in the dining scene, offering a wide-ranging menu that showcases Cambodian dishes alongside a few options from Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai cuisines as well.  The beef lok lak with fried rice is the fan-favorite here, as well as rice noodle soup.

716 Middlesex St., 978-452-5400.

Overhead view of a white bowl of soup on a white marble table. The soup is full of duck confit, scallions, rice noodles, and shiitake.

Cicada’s duck noodle soup. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Vinh Le of Cicada Coffee Bar in Cambridge

Emerging chef semifinalist

On any given weekday, you’re likely to stumble upon a Boston staffer grabbing an iced Sea Salt Shaker (Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk and Maine sea salt) from Cicada, or settling onto the magical back patio with a bowl full of fresh rice noodles tossed with herb pesto, crispy shallots, chili paste, and cured salmon. We adore anything chef Le does, from his Nem Kitchen pop-up days to Cicada, and can’t wait for his next project, the Eaves, at Bow Market in Somerville. His food is fantastic on its own, but he makes the experience even better with his artistry, whether it’s restoring the café’s furniture or curating its art selection and playlist. This place has serious vibes, and you’ve got to check it out if you haven’t yet. (Say hello if you spot us!)

106 Prospect St., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-714-4766,

Slices of raw scallop are garnished with big toasted corn kernels and sliced green chili peppers, all sitting in a bright yellow broth.

La Royal’s scallop and blue cod ceviche. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

La Royal in Cambridge

Best new restaurant semifinalist

This one won our heart, too, snagging our 2022 Best New Restaurant award in the annual Best of Boston issue. (It also landed on Esquire’s national best new restaurant list, a pretty sweet accolade.) La Royal, a beautiful and fun Peruvian restaurant in Cambridge’s quiet Huron Village, comes from Maria Rondeau and JuanMa Calderón, the dynamic duo behind Somerville Peruvian hit Celeste, also an award-magnet both locally and nationally. Where Celeste is small and intimate and focuses on the sort of homestyle cooking you might find in Lima, La Royal broadens its survey of Peruvian cuisine to highlight dishes from all over, like patarashca, an Amazonian whole grilled fish or arroz con pato, a northern duck and rice dish. We especially love the ceviche, the hearty pastel de choclo, and the tasty cocktails, from passionfruit pisco sours to the herbal bite of Andean digestif Matacuy.

221 Concord Ave., Huron Village, Cambridge, 617-823-1595,

Rebel Rebel in Somerville

Outstanding wine and other beverages program semifinalist

The Boston area has a penchant for quirky, intimate wine bars, and Rebel Rebel—a cozy little nook at Somerville’s Bow Market from wine expert Lauren Friel—might be the quirkiest, most intimate of them all. Come for the excellent natural wine selection (and bring some snacks from other Bow Market vendors); stay for the self-proclaimed “no bullshit” vibes, “rad people,” and unwavering commitment to social justice. Keep an eye on the events calendar for educational-meets-fun wine classes and more, typically held at sibling space Wild Child on Bow Market’s second floor.

1 Bow Market Way, Union Square, Somerville, 671-721-7773,

Overhead view of a table full of Green food and wine, with diners' hands reaching in to grab glasses and food.

A spread of food at Krasi. / Photo courtesy of Krasi

Valentine Howell of Krasi in Boston

Best chef: Northeast semifinalist

Krasi is the ultimate date-night spot for lovers of Greek wine and food. Howell and the team keep the crowds coming with a seemingly endless array of Greek charcuterie and cheeses, fresh breads, dips (including a delightful DIY tzatziki situation, a pandemic pivot from the earlier tableside presentation), and hearty entrees, including an ever-changing rotisserie dish. Complement it all with the largest all-Greek wine list you’re likely to see outside of Greece.

48 Gloucester St., Back Bay, Boston, 617-536-0230,  

Roti is tightly wrapped around unseen fillings, like a burrito. There's a side of fries.

Chapati wrap at Tawakal Halal Café. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Yahya Noor of Tawakal Halal Café in Boston

Best chef: Northeast semifinalist

This homey restaurant in East Boston showcases heartwarming, filling Somali food, with flourishes of other cuisines from East Africa and the Middle East. Start with a warm mug of shaah, a spiced tea, and then work your way through an order of crispy sambusa, stuffed with potatoes, corn, spinach, and carrots. Our entrée pick is the Tawakal plate: chapati strips cooked in tomato sauce, which leaves them soft like a wide, al dente noodle, tossed with your choice of beef, chicken, or spinach and chickpea stew. No matter what you get, you must buy a bottle of the mango-based house hot sauce to take home.

389 Maverick St., East Boston (with plans to move elsewhere in East Boston in 2023), 617-418-5890,

A big black bowl is full of sliced bowl and red broth garnished with plenty of chili pepper flakes and chopped scallions.

Yunnan Kitchen’s boiled pork in chili oil. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Yisha Siu of Yunnan Kitchen in Boston

Best chef: Northeast semifinalist

If you eat a lot of Chinese food in Boston, you’re probably most familiar with Sichuan cuisine, a bit of Hunan here and there, and some hints of other regional cuisines. Yunnan, or Dian, cuisine, from southwestern China, is much harder to find around here, except for a few noodle shops. Siu’s brilliant new South End restaurant, Yunnan Kitchen, is helping Bostonians get to know this irresistible cuisine through a wide-ranging menu, packed with ingredients you might associate more with southeast Asian cuisines, like Thai chili, lime, and fresh mint. Order anything from the “Yunnan signatures” portion of the menu; we’re partial to the sticky rice pancakes with condensed milk; fried pea flour jelly with chili powder dip; wood ear mushroom salad with chili oil and herbs; mint beef; and boiled pork with chili oil. Try a refreshing wine- or sake-based cocktail with your meal.

1721B Washington St., South End, Boston, 617-936-4123,

A jar labeled Sekali Chris Crisp is full of a dark red condiment.

A jar of chili crisp from Sekali. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Derrick Teh of Sekali in Boston

Best chef: Northeast semifinalist

Greater Boston has a major lack of Malaysian food, and that’s a real shame—but Teh is working to fix that, one sold-out pop-up at a time. Catch Teh and the Sekali team at a variety of restaurants and breweries around the area, doing everything from casual takeout pop-ups with dishes like pork ribs with salted egg yolk sauce or nasi lemak to chili crisp and kaya jam deliveries to stunning seated collaboration dinners with restaurants like Cambridge’s Momi Nonmi. While a brick-and-mortar location will hopefully come to fruition in the future, for now, watch Sekali’s Instagram account for event announcements, or, better yet, sign up for the newsletter here—and be ready to RSVP the minute an email goes out.

Ellie Tiglao of Tanám in Somerville

Best chef: Northeast semifinalist

This one is bittersweet as Tiglao closed acclaimed Somerville restaurant Tanám earlier this month, following compounding pandemic-related challenges, from customer and staff shortages to increasing costs of goods. But what Tiglao and the team—Tanám operated as a worker cooperative—were able to create over four years (and even more before that as a pop-up) will leave a lasting impression on the Greater Boston dining scene. While the overall concept was what Tiglao described generally as “narrative cuisine,” weaving storytelling into dining, the restaurant was one of Greater Boston’s only places showcasing Filipino food, including hands-on kamayan meals, communal feasts spread across banana leaves. We don’t know what Tiglao will do next, but we can’t wait to find out.

1 Bow Market Way, Union Square, Somerville,

Douglass Williams of Mida in Boston

Best chef: Northeast semifinalist

Williams knows how to take a plate of pasta up a few notches, turning classics like bucatini all’Amatriciana and paccheri Bolognese into the carbo-load of your dreams. (Add the impossibly buttery, garlicky focaccia to your order while you’re at it…and while we’re happy to eat pasta, pasta, bread, and more pasta, might we also suggest the sticky-sweet glazed duck wings?) But it’s his warm hospitality that has made Williams a household name in Boston and beyond, with Mida—now with a location in Newton, too—a favorite neighborhood haunt for Italian delights.

782 Tremont St., Roxbury/South End, Boston, 617-936-3490; 261 Walnut St., Newton, 617-546-8010;