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Announcing the 2024 Restaurant and Chef America's Classics Winners

JBF Editors

February 28, 2024


Today we announced the six recipients of our 2024 America's Classics Award presented by HEINZ. A Restaurant and Chef Awards category, the America's Classics Award is given to locally owned restaurants that serve quality food, have timeless appeal, and reflect the character of their communities.

This year’s winners join the ranks of over 100 restaurants across the country that have received the award since the category was introduced in 1998. They will be celebrated at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony on Monday, June 10, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

The 2024 James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award presented by HEINZ winners are:

America's Classics: California

San Francisco, CA
Current Owner: Kevin Chen

San Francisco is one of the greatest Burmese restaurant cities in America, but of them all, Mandalay might be the best of the bunch. Open since 1984, this unfussy restaurant near the city’s Richmond District was not the first Burmese restaurant to open in San Francisco but is the oldest still in operation today. Current owner Kevin Chen tells the New York Times that his family members who started the restaurant wanted to introduce the American dining public to Burmese food, which was at that time, all but impossible to find. The country’s cuisine pulls influences from India, China, and Thailand, all of which border Myanmar. Today most diners at Mandalay order the famous tea leaf salad, which leans more traditional than versions offered at other local Burmese spots. Here, it’s a bevy of crunchy sesame and lentil seeds, ground shrimp, fried garlic, and peanuts with fermented imported tea leaves all tossed tableside with a squeeze of lemon and peppers. Other standout dishes include the slightly sour samusa soup made filled with falafel, samusa, potatoes, lentils, shredded cabbage, and mint leaf, as well as the Mandalay special noodle. A platter of wide noodles swim in a fragrant coconut broth with chicken, onion, and fried thin noodles scattered on top.

America's Classics: Mid-Atlantic

Vietnam Restaurant
Philadelphia, PA
Current Owner: Benny Lai

The Lai family was among the first wave of Vietnamese refugees who came to Philadelphia to build a life on hard work and entrepreneurship fueled by lemongrass-scented feasts. The founding couple, Nhu Lai and Thuyen Luu, fled Vietnam by boat with their eight children after being stripped of their sandal factory in 1978. After nearly a year in a Malaysian refugee camp, they arrived in Philadelphia in 1979, began with a grocery, then quickly transitioned to a modest restaurant space in Chinatown in 1984. By 2000, after handing the business over to their son, Benny, moving to a larger multi-floor space next door, and undergoing a decor makeover evoking French colonial accents, the family secured Vietnam’s place as one of Philly's favorite date-night destinations for classic Vietnamese cuisine. From barbecue platters laden with grilled meats, stuffed grape leaves, and Philly’s crispiest spring rolls, to nước chấm–splashed vermicelli bowls, fragrant noodle soups, lemongrass stir-fries, and clay pots sizzling with caramelized pork, Vietnam’s kitchen has remained a model of consistency for decades. A second branch in West Philadelphia, Vietnam Café, has become a neighborhood favorite there, too, while the family’s neighboring market, Fu Wah, has become a standard-bearer for its banh mi.  

America's Classics: Midwest

Pheasant Restaurant and Lounge
Brookings, SD
Current Owner: Georgiana Olson and Michael Johnson

A colorful eight-foot bird sculpture welcomes diners to the Pheasant Restaurant and Lounge, the oldest full-service restaurant in Brookings, South Dakota. Family-run for three generations, the Pheasant was born in 1949 as a gas station café. Current chef and manager Michael Johnson’s grandparents, Georgiana and Ronald Olson, purchased the Pheasant in 1966 and ran it concurrently with a pizzeria in Madison, South Dakota, before moving to Brookings, a college town north of Sioux Falls in eastern South Dakota. The menu is full of iconic mid-century dishes of the upper Midwest, like hot roast beef on homemade white bread with mashed potatoes and gravy; Nordic waffles (vafler) made with cardamom and folded around smoked salmon or gjetost; classics, like chef salad, spätzle, and liver and onions; and riffs on comfort food like duck wings, bison steak au poivre, and a lamb burger with local jalapeño jelly and peanut butter. The Pheasant sources from local farmers, serving South Dakota’s state “nosh” chislic (cubed, deep-fried sheep meat)— made with lamb from Sturdy Post Ranch in rural Ward, South Dakota. Johnson introduced pheasant salad to the menu in homage to the restaurant’s name and South Dakota history – WWII troops traveling through the state were treated to pheasant salad sandwiches en route to deployment. Paula Olson-Meyer and Karen Olson-Hernandez, the Olsons’ daughters, each ran the restaurant before passing the torch to Meyer’s son, Michael Johnson and partner Trevor Clements. Under Johnson’s leadership, the Pheasant remains a community anchor while being open to change. As it updates accessibility for patrons and staff with disabilities, supports local musicians, and serves $9 “early bird” dinners, Pheasant Restaurant and Lounge embodies the good, simple food and hospitality of South Dakota.

America's Classics: New York State

Sylvia’s Restaurant
New York, NY
Current Owners: The Woods Family

Sylvia’s Restaurant is a Harlem, New York City institution. The late owner, Sylvia Woods, dubbed “The Queen of Soul Food,” founded the now-iconic restaurant in 1962 after buying the luncheonette where she worked as a cook and waitress for 16 years. For over 62 years Sylvia’s has been serving her traditional South Carolina soul food—like the world-famous barbeque ribs, fried chicken, and smothered pork chops—to Presidents, governors, mayors, heads of state, dignitaries, and her beloved Harlem community. Sylvia’s continues to be a family legacy, helmed today by her son, Kenneth Woods. Together the family has built the brand to include a nationwide line of food products, catering and special events divisions, cookbooks, a real estate holding company, and community service through scholarships and myriad philanthropic endeavors. Sylvia’s Restaurant is the embodiment of American entrepreneurial self-determination and will remain one of America’s Classics for decades to come.

America's Classics: Southeast

Wade’s Restaurant
Spartanburg, SC
Current Owners: Hamp Lindsey, Wade Lindsey III, and Anna Lindsey Liles

For 77 years, Wade’s Restaurant has called Spartanburg, South Carolina home. The family-run restaurant considers its 130+ employees the heart of its operation. Founded in 1947 by Wade and Betty Lindsey, Wade’s follows family recipes for its Southern meat-and-three menu, though possibly in larger quantities than Betty could have ever imagined. Today, 2,500 guests visit Wade’s daily; 3,500 made-from-scratch yeast rolls are served; along with 750 turkey plates and more than 1,500 orders of mac and cheese. Everything is made fresh from whole foods and served at a fair price. It’s a place where tea is steeped the old-fashioned way, and chicken is breaded by hand. The Lindsey children, Hamp and Carole, took the helm in 1977 and now grandkids Wade and Anna have joined the team and lead operations alongside Joey Basso. Sonya Hunter and Ray Pearson lead the charge in the kitchen and have been part of the Wade’s Restaurant family for more than two decades. But every team member is made to feel valued, and it shows up as part of the warm, yet efficient, hospitality. “We want our employees to be proud to wear the Wade’s logo,” says Hamp. “Come taste our Southern hospitality.”

America's Classics: Southwest

Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge
Las Vegas, NV
Current Owners: Nat Carasali and Bill Paganetti (†)

Opened in 1972 by Nat Carasali and Bill Paganetti, the Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge has been a Las Vegas icon for over 51 years. It’s appeared in movies like Casino and Show Girls, has been frequented by mobsters and celebrities, and it’s best known for its over-the-top pink and purple neon nights, fire pits, faux botanicals, oversized drinks in the cocktail lounge, and massive platters of diner classics in the family-friendly restaurant. What really makes it special is the welcoming atmosphere. It’s a place where pit bosses, dancers, bartenders and other Vegas industry folk can come after a late shift. It’s a haven, a safe place, described as somewhere no one gets bothered and where longtime waitresses will remember your name. It’s also a place where people want to work and want to stay. Peggy Orth began waitressing at the Peppermill when she was 17, about a year and a half after the restaurant first opened. Decades later, she’s now general manager and her son Nicholas is the executive chef. Not much has changed in the last five decades, and that’s just how everyone likes it.

Read the full press release.


The James Beard Awards are presented by Capital One

In Association: Chicago O’Hare and Midway International Airports and Hilton

Premier Sponsors: Acqua Panna® Natural Spring Water, American Airlines, HMSHost, S.Pellegrino® Sparkling Mineral Water, and Stella Artois

Supporting Sponsors: HexClad and Skuna Bay Salmon

Reception Sponsors: Ecolab, Kendall College at National Louis University, and Windstar Cruises

Additional Support: Plugrà Premium European Style Butter and VerTerra Dinnerware

Broadcast Partner: Intersport

Proud Hosts: Choose Chicago and Illinois Restaurant Association

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