The Year's Best - 2009 ChowDown Awards

December 29, 2009

It's the end of the year, and time for us to recognize the people, places, and things that impressed us the most during the previous year.

Opening of the Year

Haven. Chef Randy Evans has been without a kitchen since Ike did a number on Brennan's, and rumors of his environmentally responsible Modern Texas Cuisine project were buzzing around the foodie community. Unlike many hotly anticipated restaurants, Haven opened with all cylinders firing, delighting patrons with its tightly focused, well executed menu.

Honorable Mentions: Tesar's, Ciao Bello, Chez Roux, Stella Sola

Event of the Year

Tenacity Dinners. Culinary magician and Houston rock star chef Randy Rucker (@greensandbeans) doesn't need a fixed location to practice his art. So he's organized periodic underground dining events, assisted by some of H-Town's top culinary talent. Foodies flock to the events, expecting to be wowed by Rucker's creations, and they walk way with their expectations exceeded. The best measure of their success: Every Tenacity dinner sells out minutes after it's announced, but you can read and drool on Rucker's blog.

Honorable Mentions: Fried Chicken Throwdown, Pork Belly Throwdown, Blogger Trip to the Inn at Dos Brisas

Foodie Accessory of the Year

Apple iPhone. The iPhone lets a foodie roam all around the Houston area and still keep his finger on the pulse of the food community. Apps like Yelp and UrbanSpoon give insight into previously unknown-to-you restaurants, and the map application's traffic display keeps you on schedule. The good enough camera lets you record your dining experience in excruciating detail, so you can share it with the world with a Twitter or blog client. You can even keep tabs on your bank account.

Honorable Mentions: Thermal immersion circulator, bottle of Tums, Randy Rucker's e-mail address

Burger of the Year

Tie: Tesar's Magic and Beaver's Burger. New York and Chicago can fight over who has the best pizza (it's NYC) but Houston stands alone as the city with the best burgers in the country. And while legendary burger joints like Christian's Totem continue to turn out an excellent product, two local chefs have raised the bar considerably in the burger world.

John Tesar has put together a superlative burger. Tesar's Burger Bar (located inside his Woodlands restaurant) offers several different burgers, but the purist Magic is our favorite. It's the iconic bacon cheeseburger taken to its ultimate conclusion with top quality ingredients and meticulous execution.

Johnathan Jones (@PapaBeav) takes a slightly different route at Beaver's, with equally impressive results. Ground sirloin is masterfully combined with brisket and ground bacon, and combines this unique patty with carefully selected components to produce a burger unlike anything we've tasted.

Which is better? We can't say. But we can say that a Houston burger lover needs to try them both.

Honorable Mentions: Christian's Totem, Farrago, Beck's Prime, Jasper's

Foodie of the Year

Katherine Shilcutt. Making the transition from blogger to the mainstream media isn't easy, but Shilcutt did so with style and verve. Her arrival at the Houston Press shook the cobwebs off the food writing at that alternative paper, and her Food Fight articles stimulate discussion (sometimes heated) throughout the foodie community. Her great twitter comments (@she_eats) complete the triple threat.

Honorable Mentions: Jenny Wang, Misha G., J.C. Reid, Jodie Eisenhardt

Critic of the Year

Alison Cook. The explosion of new media and food blogs brought many new voices sharing their opinions about dining, but one voice stands above all the rest: Alison Cook, the Chronicle's food critic. Her flowing prose takes the reader to the restaurant without leaving home, and her insightful analysis delves below the surface and educates the reader as well as entertains. Unlike many traditional journalists, Cook has embraced both twitter (@alisoncook) and blogging, and her Cook's Tour blog is a must follow for any Houston foodie.

Honorable Mentions: Robb Walsh, Ken Hoffman, Greg Morago

Restaurateur of the Year

Tony Vallone. Year after year, Houston's legendary restaurateur keeps his flagship restaurant Tony's at the forefront of Houston's culinary scene, and now he has another out-of-the-park hit with Ciao Bello, bringing authentic Italian cuisine to a packed house since opening day. In an industry where being around five years makes you and old timer, Vallone has been doing this for forty years, and is still at the top of his game. He's even on Twitter (@TonyVallone).

Honorable Mentions: Monica Pope, Bryan Caswell, Mark Cox, Alex Brennan-Martin

Chef of the Year

Plinio Sandalio. While the executive chefs get all the attention, we feel that pastry chef Plinio Sandalio is doing the most creative work at any restaurant in Houston. Patrons are visiting his restaurant, Textile, just to experience Plinio's remarkable dessert tastings, which stretch the definition of dessert beyond what's being done anywhere else in town. His blog always makes us hungry, and he's active on twitter (@psandalio) as well.

Honorable Mentions: John Tesar, Randy Rucker, Jason Gould, Jonathan Jones

Restaurant of the Year

Beaver's Ice House. We loved the concept of a local upscale BBQ joint, and thought the initial incarnation of Beaver's was off to a promising start. But it took the addition of local star Jonathan Jones (@PapaBeav) at the helm to fully realize the possibilities. Beaver's delivers great BBQ, innovative Gulf Coast seafood, and stellar burgers in a setting that would be off-the-charts cool no matter where it was located. Beaver's has become more than a restaurant; it's the unofficial hangout of the Houston foodie community, and a great place to run into one of Houston's top chefs when he's not under his toque.

Honorable Mentions: Tony's, Indika, Tesar's, Feast

Copyright 2023 Nurick + Associates