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South Philly Barbacoa's Cristina Martinez accepting the award for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic at the 2022 James Beard Awards in Chicago. Photo: James Beard Foundation
South Philly Barbacoa's Cristina Martinez accepting the award for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic at the 2022 James Beard Awards in Chicago. Photo: James Beard Foundation

South Philly Barbacoa’s Cristina Martinez wins James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic

Not only is the Philly-based chef’s spot home to some of the best barbacoa in the region, but she’s also uplifted the community with The People’s Kitchen.

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South Philly Barbacoa may still appear as an everyday neighborhood spot on South Ninth Street in Philadelphia, but on the back of its founder Cristina Martinez, the restaurant has transformed into one of the Mid-Atlantic region’s best of any cuisine over the last few years.

That was further solidified on Monday, June 13, as Martinez was awarded the Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic Award at the 2022 James Beard Foundation Awards in Chicago.

For her barbacoa, which has a recipe rooted in Martinez’s home country of Mexico, she’s won the city, region, and country’s attention alongside her husband and business partner, Benjamin Miller.

Every part of the process is sourced from Mexico, from the corn received from a Zapatista community in Chiapas, Mexico to the cheese and green tomatoes used for salsa from Oaxaca.

That effort has seen Martinez be featured by some of the biggest news outlets in the U.S., and two Netflix spots — one on Chef’s Table, and another on Ugly Delicious.

Rather than rest on her laurels, Martinez has used that fame to continually advocate for her community and some of the biggest issues near and dear to her heart. Those issues range from advocating for undocumented immigrants and providing affordable meals at her restaurant, to starting the People’s Kitchen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The People’s Kitchen was started in partnership with the 215 People’s Alliance, and was able to provide between 215 and 300 meals a day to families in need during the height of the pandemic.

The James Beard Award, while the biggest award for Martinez’s trophy chest is far from the only one she has. Two years after starting South Philly Barbacoa, Martinez took home Eater Philadelphia’s Top Chef Award in 2018. AL DÍA also recognized Martinez and Miller as AL DÍA Top Entrepreneurs in 2021.

She was nominated at the awards alongside three other Philly chefs in Jesse Ito of Royal Izakaya, Chutatip ‘Nok’ Suntaranon of Kalaya, and Ellen Yin, who was nominated for the Top Restaurateur Award.

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