Everything old is new again at this year's edition of the Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites competition. Behind-the-scenes changes in the judging process elevated some winners from previous years back into the spotlight.
Pearland's Grazia Italian Kitchen returned to the winner's circle for the first time since 2016, taking home people's choice for its wagyu ribeye burnt ends over cheddar grits. Fellow Pearland spot Killen's Barbecue, last year's people's choice and entree category winner, took second place in the people's choice for their ultra-popular pork belly burnt ends.
Other winners included Houston classic Ouisie's Table in the entree category and Woodlands restaurant Broken Barrel in the appetizer category (see full list of winners below).
Highlights from among the non-winning entries included burrata and truffle ice cream in a chive waffle cone —a collaboration between Roost chef Kevin Naderi and Sweet Bribery chef Sharon Leonard — homemade hot dogs an everything-seasoned buns from Revival Market, venison puffs from Yauatcha, and shrimp etouffee from Eunice. Unofficial award for the longest line of the night went to Gus's Fried Chicken, who were frying chicken on-site. Special shout out to Tiny's Milk & Cookies for giving away hundreds of their ultra-popular chocolate chip cookies.
Some 40 media judges from radio, TV, print, and online media had the allegedly difficult task of evaluating the entries from the 118 participating restaurants. Instead of two rounds of judging as in previous years, this time restaurants only had one opportunity to make an impression on the panel.
The sold-out event — unofficially the kick-off of Rodeo season ahead of the trail rides and barbecue cook-off — draws 5,000-plus to NRG Center. In addition to food from some of the city's top restaurants, attendees may sample some of the 500 wines that earned medals in the annual International Wine Competition. Thankfully, those who missed the festivities have the opportunity to sample many of the vintages in the Rodeo's wine garden.
Here's the complete list of winners:
Outstanding Showmanship Award
Grand Champion: Brothers Produce
Reserve Grand Champion: Cupcake Kitchen
People’s Choice Award
Grand Champion: Grazia’s Italian Kitchen – Wagyu Ribeye Burnt Ends over Sharp Cheddar Stone-ground Grits
Reserve Grand Champion: Killen’s BBQ – Pork Belly Burnt Ends
Tasty Tradition Award
Grand Champion: Trentino Gelato – Dulce de Leche Gelato Pop
Reserve Grand Champion: Black Walnut Café – Carnitas Tacos
Trailblazing Appetizer Award
Grand Champion: Broken Barrel – Crispy Plantain with Pulled Pork
Reserve Grand Champion: Uchi Houston – Kiwi Salmon
Third Place: The Art Institute of Houston – Smoked Buffalo Street Taco
Lone Star Entrée Award
Grand Champion: Ouise’s Table – Short Rib Tacos with Poblano
Reserve Grand Champion: Merlion – Ribeye Kang Kari (Yellow Curry)
Third Place: Sonoma Wine Bar & Restaurant – 44 Farms Red Wine 7-hour Braised Short Rib with Herbed Mashed Potato & Heirloom Carrots
Two-Steppin’ Dessert Award
Grand Champion: Ashley Cakes – “Royal” Mini Cake Shot
Reserve Grand Champion: Red Desserts Dive – Bourbon Caramel Cupcake
Third Place: Seasons 52 – Belgian Chocolate S’more
Cultivated F+B – “Guajillo” Short Rib Taco
Trail Boss Food Truck Award
Grand Champion: Bayou City Eats – Seared Shrimp with Herbed Grits