Stories / Awards

Announcing the 2020 America's Classics Winners

JBF Editors

February 20, 2020


Tacos photo courtesy of Vera's Backyard Barbecue
Photo courtesy of Vera's Backyard Bar-B-Que

Today we're excited to announce the six recipients of our 2020 America's Classics Awards. For the past week, we've been revealing the honorees day by day with the help of chefs and influencers from across the country (take a peek at our Instagram to see the videos). These awards are given to regional establishments, often family-owned, that are cherished for their quality food, local character, and lasting appeal. Read on to learn more about this year's winners, who will be honored at the James Beard Awards Gala at Lyric Opera of Chicago on Monday, May 4.


Lassis Inn photo courtesy of Lassis Inn
Photo courtesy of Lassis Inn

Lassis Inn
518 E. 27th St., Little Rock, AR
Owners: Elihue Washington Jr. and Maria Washington

In Arkansas, ordering buffalo ribs will land you a plate of fried fish—seasoned, battered ribs cut from local big-boned buffalo fish. In Little Rock, the place to eat them is Lassis Inn. Founded by Joe and Molassis Watson in 1905, it started as a sandwich shop out of their home, with Joe later adding catfish and buffalo ribs to the menu. Lassis Inn (the name is a shorthand for Molassis) later became a meeting place for Civil Rights leaders like Daisy Bates during the ’50s and ’60s. Under current owners Elihue Washington Jr. and his wife Maria, it remains a community hub—a gathering spot where people come for buffalo ribs, cold beer, and warm conversation.

Zehnder's exterior photo courtesy of Zehnder's of Frankenmuth
Photo courtsey of Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth

Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth
730 S. Main St., Frankenmuth, MI
Owner: Al Zehnder, Susan Zehnder, and Martha Zehnder Shelton

Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, a chicken-dinner behemoth positioned between Detroit and Michigan’s summer lake destination, is decidedly on the beaten path. William Zehnder, Sr. and his wife Emilie bought a former hotel in 1928. Today the restaurant — part of a complex, run by third and fourth generation family members, that includes a hotel, waterpark, and golf course — can accommodate 1,500 guests and brings in close to a million people each year. Road-trippers come for family-style meals of crisp-skinned fried chicken, dressing, mashed potatoes, liver pâté, cranberry relish, cottage cheese, and more, all replenished until worn-out diners signal they’re ready for a scoop of sherbet with a paper American flag planted alongside the maraschino cherry. Then it’s time to pose for photos with a patient mascot in a rooster suit.

Puritan Backroom sign photo courtesy of Puritan Backroom
Photo courtesy of Puritan Backroom

Puritan Backroom
245 Hooksett Rd., Manchester, NH
Owner: Arthur Pappas, Chris Pappas, and Eric Zink

In 1906, friends Arthur Pappas and Louis Canotas left Greece in search of a sweeter life. They opened the Puritan Confectionary Company in Manchester in 1917, the first in a line of ice cream shops and restaurants throughout the city. Their children followed in their footsteps, opening the Puritan Backroom in 1974. Today this location also includes a bustling takeout business and a conference and event center. Customers still line up for Puritan ice cream, and crowd into booths for American comfort food and Greek classics. Above all, they come for chicken tenders (which the Backroom claims to have invented), along with a mudslide or two, another house specialty. This New Hampshire mainstay has become a required stop for candidates passing through on the campaign trail. In an era of division, it is a rare nonpartisan space where everyone feels welcome. Today the restaurant is run by third-generation owner Arthur Pappas, son Chris, and son-in-law Eric. Chris Pappas, who caught the political bug growing up at the restaurant, is currently a New Hampshire congressman.

Oriental Mart exterior photo courtesy of Oriental Mart
Photo courtesy of Oriental Mart

Oriental Mart
1506 Pike Pl., #509, Seattle, WA
Owner: Mila Apostol and Joy Apostol

In 1971, Mila Apostol opened Oriental Mart also known as “O’Mart” in Pike Place Market to give fellow Filipino immigrants the groceries and culture they missed from back home. Eventually, Mila and her eldest daughter Leila raided their store shelves to make adobo and sinigang for farmers delivering produce to the market. Word spread to Filipino flight crews and cruise ship workers, but also to Seattle at large. Today, Mila’s daughter Joy runs the retail side of their market stall, while Leila oversees a counter in the style of the Philippines’ turo restaurants, filling her glass hot case with the fried noodles known as pancit, juicy longanisa, and long-simmered adobo. There’s always sinigang; Leila adapts the classic tamarind-sour soup to its Northwest surroundings with salmon collars procured from neighboring fish vendors.

El Taco de Mexico exterior photo courtesy of El Taco de Mexico
Photo courtesy of El Taco de Mexico

El Taco de Mexico
714 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO
Owner: Sasha Zanabria

Among Denver’s thriving Mexican food culture, El Taco de Mexico is a lodestar whose appeal cuts across lines of race, class, and age. Maria Luisa Zanabria, a native of Mexico City, arrived in the city in 1985, first opening a trailer on Santa Fe Drive in Denver’s Art District. Her business grew into a small taqueria with a bright, bumblebee-yellow exterior. The serious, focused cooks (all women) keep pace with the all-day crowds, turning out tacos (carne asada, al pastor, and lengua are among the options), enchilada, gorditas, and weekend menudo. The restaurant’s crowning glory is the pork burrito, smothered in green chile humming with earthy spice. Made extra-heaping as a breakfast burrito stuffed with egg and chorizo, it brings bleary-eyed devotees back to life.

Armando Vera and bbq pit photo courtesy of Vera's Backyard Bar-B-Que
Armando Vera (photo courtesy of Vera's Backyard Bar-B-Que)

Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que
2404 Southmost Blvd, Brownsville, TX
Owner: Armando Vera

Armando “Mando” Vera and his family practice a near-lost art in South Texas: barbacoa de cabeza (barbecued cow’s head) buried underground in a brick-lined pit and smoked for up to 12 hours. The tradition stems from the region’s 19th century vaquero-cowboy culture; Vera’s father opened a restaurant serving the specialty in 1955. Barbacoa is for weekend feasts. Customers request meat by the pound or half-pound (cachete, or cheek meat, is a rich and popular cut) and then build their own tacos with tortillas, homemade garnishes, onion, and cilantro that come with each order. Brownsville is a four-hour drive from San Antonio, the closest major Texas city, but the chance to savor this disappearing border-town delicacy merits a pilgrimage.

The 2020 James Beard Awards are presented by Capital One. Read the full press release.


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