The red carpet at the James Beard Awards Chicago

The biggest food awards ceremony in the world, the James Beard Awards, is coming up at Chicago's Civic Opera House on May 2. This year marks the second time the esteemed ceremony has been held outside of its founding city of New York, and appropriately enough, Chicago has several restaurant and bar contenders up for big awards.

Further proof of the city's world-class dining scene is exemplified by this year's Chicago James Beard Award nominees, which feature Chicago restaurants prominently in various categories. From restaurant design and service to dessert menus and wine, Chicago spots span a wide spectrum, showcasing our multifaceted talent pool in the hospitality arena.

Cherry Circle Room James Beard Awards

Cherry Circle Room (pictured above), the gorgeous restaurant inside the Chicago Athletic Association hotel, picked up a nomination for Outstanding Restaurant Design for the work done by Land and Sea Dept. The downtown hotel represented well in that category, because another contender is Cindy's Rooftop, designed by Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors.

One of the most exciting awards of the night is the Outstanding Restaurant award, which is a biggie. This is basically the equivalent of the Academy Award for Best Picture. This year, Chicago's world-famous Alinea got a nomination, and considering the endless accolades racked up over the years, not to mention the restaurant group's successful expansion with new concepts in Fulton Market, this could be Alinea's year. One of Alinea Group's spots, Next, earned a nomination for Rising Star Chef of the Year thanks to Jenner Tomaska.

North Pond James Beard Awards

The oldest Chicago nominee of the bunch is a seasoned service vet, which is no wonder Topolobampo routinely racks up the nods for Outstanding Service. The fine dining masterwork of famed chef Rick Bayless, Topolobampo is one of the most unique Mexican dining experiences in the world, acclaimed both for its meticulous cuisine and its top-tier service. Also nominated in that category is Lincoln Park's famed fine dining destination, North Pond.

Now time for dessert, and you'll definitely want to save room for anything Meg Galus makes at BOKA or Swift & Sons. The dexterous pastry chef is up for Outstanding Pastry Chef, not surprising at all considering the impressive caliber of her handiwork across different menus and styles.

The Boka group fared well this year, as Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz also earned a nomination for Outstanding Restaurateur. Along with BOKA, their local empire includes Girl & the GoatMomotaro, Swift & SonsLittle GoatGT Fish & Oyster, and others.

Andrew Zimmerman Sepia James Beard Awards

Then there's the Best Chef: Great Lakes category, which is wholly dominated by Chicago chefs. This year's roundup consists of Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice, Curtis Duffy of Grace (closed), Lee Wolen of BOKA, Erling Wu-Bower of Nico Osteria, and Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia. Zimmerman's West Loop staple was also nominated for Outstanding Wine Service.

Good luck to all the nominees! You make Chicago proud. And delicious.


Snag a table at these nominated restaurants on your next visit to Chicago, and if you're here for James Beard Eats Week April 22-May 2, join in the citywide restaurant celebration with special dishes and menus honoring the culinary legend.

Photos: James Beard Awards 2015 (Adam Alexander), Cherry Circle Room (Clayton Hauck), North Pond, BOKA, Andrew Zimmerman