Austin’s Chefs, El Naranjo, Nixta Tqueria, Win James Beard . Awards

Austin’s chefs were so well represented at the James Beard Foundation Awards Monday night that two local restaurants took home the prestigious award – more than any other city in Texas.


Chef Eliana de la Vega from El Naranjo, 2717 S. Lamar Blvd. Chef Edgar Rico of Nesta Taqueria, 2512 E. 12th Street, was named Best Emerging Chef at Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

Nearby, Houston’s Julep for Outstanding Bar Program has been recognized as the only other reference in the Lone Star State. The award has often been compared to high-quality awards such as the Academy Awards or Grammys for food.

De la Vega told Ostonia she didn’t expect to win – she hadn’t even prepared a letter – she was just happy to spend the weekend with her husband and business partner Ernesto Torrealba. De la Vega said she considers it a joint prize for the two of them.

“It was a bit shocking, emotional, a little bit of everything. When we had to move from Mexico to here, I thought at some point, you know, it had to make sense,” de la Vega said. “Finally we became known as love.” And sharing the traditions from Mexico that we are so proud of.”

De la Vega said that when she originally started El Naranjo in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1997, it was “the perfect place, the perfect life, and everything perfect.” After the economy collapsed, de la Vega and her family were forced to move to the United States

They bounced from New Mexico to San Antonio, when she was asked to create and lead the Culinary Institute of America’s Latin American Studies Program, which she accepted. Soon, they moved to Austin and started running a food truck for their lost restaurant in Oaxaca before they could build a brick-and-mortar store in 2012. The rest is history.

De la Vega said she’s proud to share the stage with Rico and represent her native cuisine, and only hopes she can live up to the hype for the newcomers.

“To recognize Mexican cuisine as one of the best in the world, I think it’s huge,” said de la Vega. “Maybe there will be new people who don’t even know we exist and they may have higher expectations, so (I’m trying) to rise to the challenge for now.”

Rico echoed de la Vega’s pride in his emotional acceptance speech, noting that it’s huge for “la raza,” which translates directly to “race.”

“Honest with God, I wasn’t expecting to win this award tonight, but it was an experience to get here,” Rico said. “This is huge for La Raza, it is huge for my people. For all kinds of tacos, anything is possible.”

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