What's the usual way to nab a "Best Chef" award from the James Beard Association? Find a cozy, wood-panneled room, and fill it with no more than a dozen tables, swathed in swan-white linens. Top the tables with foie gras, caviar, kobe beef, and the other exclusive sorts of treats that keep diner's tabs in the triple digits. Oh, and be born a white dude.

Young Joni

Ahem. That's not the road chef Ann Kim took before she won the coveted title for the midwest in 2019, thankfully. She's the first Asian woman to take the title in the region, and she did so by creating a bustling pizzaria in an airplane-hanger sized room, but one that manages to retain some intimacy thanks to the segmentation of the space into small islands, each facing either a friendly bar or a massive wood burning oven. It's into the latter that the rounds of dough are quickly fired, their high heat creating pies that have both a lovely char, and an appealing softness. Other items on the menu are just as accomplished, and, often, fired in those ovens, like a pear-laden grilled kale salad, or the no-holds-barred spicy and sweet spare ribs. The drinks menu—classic cocktails, a wide range of artisinal beers, and gently priced wines—is crafted to appeal to the large groups of partiers who come here. At my most recent meal, some three tables sang "Happy Birthday", and one even brought their own mylar balloons, and party hats. The room is so big, celebrations of these sorts can go on without disturbing the canoodling couples at the chef's counter. A very fun place to dine!