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Uwishunu Feature published on June 14, 2022

Yes! Cristina Martínez Wins James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic

The owner of South Philly Barbacoa and Casa Mexico shines at the prestigious awards ceremony...

Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

South Philly underdog stories are nothing new. But this one may be our new favorite.

Chef Cristina Martínez — owner of acclaimed Mexican restaurants South Philly Barbacoa and Casa Mexico — was named best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region at the 2022 James Beard Awards on June 13, 2022.

This year marked Martínez’s second nomination in the best chef in the Mid-Atlantic category and her first James Beard Award win overall. Before 2022, she had been named as a semifinalist in the category every year since 2017.

A crowd gathers at the exterior of South Philly Barbacoa in the Italian Market A crowd gathers at the exterior of South Philly Barbacoa in the Italian Market

— Photo by K. Kelly for Visit Philadelphia

Martínez serves tacos, tamales, consommé and more at South Philly Barbacoa , a colorful and flavorful Mexican spot in the Italian Market . In 2020, she expanded her presence along South Ninth Street, opening the affordability-focused Casa Mexico a few doors down from her now-iconic South Philly Barbacoa location.

In addition to her cooking accolades, Martínez is lauded in the community for her work with the city’s immigrant population.


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South Philly Barbacoa is open at 5 a.m. for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Lines often trail out the door, and customers gather around the communal tables, along the wall counter and at a few outdoor tables until close at 3 p.m.

Two people exchange dishes full of food at Casa Mexico Two people exchange dishes full of food at Casa Mexico

Casa Mexico — Photo by S. Ramones for Visit Philadelphia

Casa Mexico is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and recently expanded into a larger space previously occupied by longstanding punk rock venue Connie’s Ric Rac. The menu features family recipes handed down over five generations.

Philly & the James Beard Foundation Awards

The 2022 James Beard Awards signaled that Philadelphia’s dining scene remains one of the best in the country as the restaurant industry bounces back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four Philly chefs and restaurants were 2022 nominees for the prestigious awards, which were handed out at a swanky ceremony in Chicago, Illinois.

Martínez was one of three Philadelphia finalists in the Mid-Atlantic category for 2022. Also nominated: Jesse Ito of Royal Izakaya in Queen Village and Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon of Kalaya Thai Kitchen in Bella Vista .

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