The Winner Of 2022's James Beard Award For Outstanding Restaurant

The James Beard Foundation sets a high bar for those who would aspire to win the award for its "Outstanding Restaurant" citation. The restaurant needs to "demonstrate consistent excellence in food, atmosphere, hospitality, and operations, while contributing positively to its broader community," per Citizen Times.

While the competition for this particular category is always stiff, in the end it was Chai Pani — an Indian street food-themed restaurant located in North Carolina's 12th most populous city, Asheville, that would win the heart of judges to be named James Beard Outstanding Restaurant of 2022.

Asheville may not exactly be at the heart of America's gourmet universe, but Chai Pani's chef, Meherwan Irani isn't an unknown quantity to the cooking world, either.  He's already been nominated for a James Beard Award five previous times, per Chai Pani Asheville. The restaurant was also named one of the 50 most vibrant and delicious restaurants of 2021; a move which The New York Times states that it was "most excited about right now." So its safe to say that a high award of the kind the James Beard Foundation just bestowed on the restaurant was a long time coming.

Chai Pani's chef tries to bring India to his diners

The Mountain Xpress states that the brightly-lit, vibrantly-colored Chai Pani is a reflection of the lives of owners Meherwan and Molly Irani, both of whom grew up in India. Meherwan was the child of a Hindu mother and a Parsi father that, the restaurant's brand director Michael Files says, helped the chef gain an "appreciation for differences in food, culture and the stories behind them," per Mountain Xpress.

These qualities would prove to be specially critical because Chai Pani — which translates into "tea" and "water" per Chai Pani Ashville – wasn't just serving regular Indian curries. Chef Meherwan says to Mountain Xpress: "There's no template for street food in India. It evolves to meet the needs of the people, but it does so with this vibrancy and this energy and this life force to it. For me personally, capturing that and encapsulating it somehow in this thing that is Chai Pani is what drives me. It's not just the food; it is the feeling, the energy of India." 

He goes on to adds, "I know I can't take every Chai Pani customer to India to experience it, so our mission is to bring back as much of that as we can and do our best to provide that nourishment not just with the food, but with the soul of India."