Here are 2024's James Beard Award nominees in Los Angeles — and all of California

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 18: clockwise from top left: Lucena chon, hiramasa collar, and pancit with blue prawns from Kuya Lord on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA.(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
Lord Maynard Llera, of Filipino restaurant Kuya Lord, is in the running for the category of best chef: California this year. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

In January, 18 of L.A.’s most beloved pop-ups, restaurants, bakers, rising-star talents and established names earned nods as semifinalists for the 2024 James Beard Foundation Awards. This morning, only two have been chosen as finalist nominees.

The annual accolades celebrate multiple facets of the hospitality industry — including beverage programs, outstanding restaurateurs, leadership, new restaurants, emerging talent and pastry chefs — and serve as one of the country’s most prestigious honors in the field. Though this year’s Los Angeles semifinalists included a broad mix of stalwarts and new businesses, just two, along with an Orange County bar, will proceed to the awards ceremony held June 10 in Chicago.

Lord Maynard Llera in the dining room of Kuya Lord.
Lord Maynard Llera had wanted to open a restaurant for decades. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Lord Maynard Llera of celebrated Melrose Hill restaurant Kuya Lord is L.A.’s only contender in the category for best chef: California this year. Llera debuted his Filipino barbecue operation as a pandemic pop-up from his home in La Cañada Flintridge, then in 2022 evolved Kuya Lord into a casual but equally lauded restaurant where his pancit, lechon and sweet sausages come served alongside more modern dishes such as just-charred grilled hiramasa collars and hearty mushrooms with tofu in makrut-lime green goddess dressing.

L.A. Times Food critic Bill Addison called Llera “a gripping new expressionist of Filipino cooking — a talent whose time had arrived.” The Bestia and h.wood Group vet dreamed of opening his own restaurant for more than 20 years; now, he’s in the running as one of the best chefs in the state.

Llera found out while on a family visit to the Philippines. When reached this morning, he said he was almost at a loss for words.

“Being a semifinalist already felt like a win to me,” he told The Times. “Now being one of the finalists is surreal. I never dreamt of it or never thought of being nominated. It means a lot to me and the restaurant because it will give highlights to Filipino cuisine, for pushing forward.”

Arturo Enciso and Ana Belén Salatino
Gusto Bread, from Arturo Enciso and Ana Belén Salatino, is nominated for outstanding bakery. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

One of the L.A. area’s most considerate champions of heritage grain and naturally leavened breads and pastries can be found in Long Beach. Artisanal panadería Gusto Bread, which sources organic, sustainable and local grains, produce, honey, flours, spices, coffee and beyond, is in the running for the nationwide category of outstanding bakery.

What began with a small wood-fired oven in 2013 became a cozy cottage bakery hosted in the former living room of owners Arturo Enciso and Ana Belén Salatino; they began distributing their baked goods at farmers markets, and as word of mouth grew so did their business. Gusto launched its bricks-and-mortar bakery in 2020, and ever since, crowds have lined up for the pan dulce, whole loaves, jalapeño-studded bolillos, mole empanadas and other signatures that embrace and showcase culture and heritage through baking.

Ambitious Anaheim tiki bar Strong Water, with its dozens of flaming, large-format classic, original and even nonalcoholic odes to the tropical drink, is a finalist in the national category of outstanding wine and other beverages program. Husband-and-wife team Robert Adamson and Ying Chang found success with their Anaheim speakeasy, the Blind Rabbit, but in Strong Water they really made waves.

Theming is de rigueur for a tiki bar, but this one includes an elaborate backstory and immersive decor tied to the tale of its sunken ship. L.A. Times named Strong Water as one of the top tiki bars in Southern California, not only for its classics done well but also its thoughtful and modern updates to the standards.

The only other Southern California nomination can be found in San Diego, where Tara Monsod of Animae is a finalist in the best chef: California category.

In Northern California, Carmel-by-the-Sea’s Chez Noir is a finalist for best new restaurant; the Morris in San Francisco is a contender in outstanding wine and other beverages program; Pacific Cocktail Haven, also in San Francisco, is up for outstanding bar; and Geoff Davis of Oakland’s Burdell, Rogelio Garcia of Calistoga’s Auro, and Buu "Billy" Ngo of Sacramento’s Kru are finalists for best chef: California. Farmer Mai Nguyen, of Sonoma County's Farmer Mai, is nominated for a leadership award.

The 2024 James Beard Foundation Awards winners will be announced at a ceremony on June 10 at Lyric Opera of Chicago. The full list of 2024 finalists can be found here.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.