2020 James Beard Award Semifinalists include Barrio Bread, BOCA, Whiskey Del Bac, Mi Nidito

This year, Tucson has four nominees to cheer on!

The James Beard Foundation announced their 2020 Restaurant and Chef Award semifinalists Wednesday morning.

This year, Tucson has four nominees to cheer on:

  • Outstanding Baker – Don Guerra, Barrio Bread
  • Outstanding Hospitality – Mi Nidito Restaurant
  • Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Producer – Stephen Paul, Whiskey Del Bac/Hamilton Distillers
  • Best Chef (Southwest) – Maria Mazon, BOCA Tacos y Tequila

This is Barrio Bread’s second nomination in a row. It was also the only Arizona bakery in the Outstanding Baker category. If you haven’t tried their bread, you must; it is truly world class.

Heritage loaf at Barrio Bread (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Heritage loaf at Barrio Bread (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Mi Nidito Restaurant, one of Tucson’s beloved longtime family restaurants, was the only Arizona restaurant nominated in the Outstanding Hospitality category. For more information, read our September 2019 article Mi Nidito’s longstanding legacy surpasses White House-inspired fame.

Interior at Mi Nidito

Interior at Mi Nidito (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Whiskey Del Bac/Hamilton Distillers was the only Arizona producer listed under the Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer category.

“I’m a little shocked,” Paul said. “I’ve always had a very profound sense of place living in Baja Arizona and love of this place. I also want to say this original idea was my wife’s idea. The distillery’s been a team effort over the last nine years. I have to credit my team, specifically our head distiller Nathan Thompson Avelino. He played a critical role in refining our whiskeys. My daughter Amanda helped me form the company and has been critical in our development.”

The award-winning distillery established its name with its distinctive American single malt whiskey from the Great American Southwest. They are one of the few in the country that malt their own barley; they do so with mesquite fire. They are also one of the few solely devoted to making American single malt whiskey.

Stephen Paul, owner of Hamilton Distillers, labeling Whiskey Del Bac Distiller's Cut (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Stephen Paul labeling Whiskey Del Bac Distiller’s Cut in 2017 (Credit: Jackie Tran)

For the first time, I have no words,” Mazon said. “I’m speechless. Literally speechless.”

When Visit Tucson senior director of communications Dan Gibson congratulated her on the award, she thought he was playing a rude joke on her. Even though she has been on television shows countless times at this point, she’s still speechless at the James Beard news.

BOCA Tacos gained fame with its creative salsas and tacos. The sky’s the limit with Mazon’s salsas; she even uses Girl Scout Cookies in her salsas when it’s the season.

Chef Maria Mazon from BOCA Tacos y Tequila at Vida (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Chef Maria Mazon from BOCA Tacos y Tequila at Vida (Credit: Jackie Tran)

According to the James Beard Foundation website, the awards ceremonies will be held in Chicago and New York:

The 2020 James Beard Awards Gala will take place on Monday, May 4, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The 2020 Leadership Awards will be held on Sunday, May 3 in Chicago, and the 2020 Media Awards will take place on Friday, April 24, at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers in New York City.

For more information, visit jamesbeard.org.

Jackie is a food writer and photographer native to Tucson. He loves corgis and still thinks rickrolling is funny. If you'd like to stalk him, visit jackietran.com and his Instagram @jackie_tran_.