His take on Japanese cuisine changed Sacramento’s dining scene. Now he’s up for a national honor

Craig Takehara, the chef behind Sacramento’s Binchoyaki restaurant, has been named a semifinalist for one of the nation’s most prestigious culinary awards.

The James Beard Awards are out and Takehara is among the semifinalists for Best Chef (California). Takehara is Sacramento’s lone semifinalist in the field.

Finalists will be announced March 23. The winners gala will be June 5 in Chicago.

Binchoyaki’s cuisine, its website explains, is based on a style of Japanese cooking called sumiyaki. “Sumi” or “Bincho,” is Japanese for charcoal; “Yaki” translates to “Grill.”

Seated in the heart of what once was Sacramento’s Japantown, Binchoyaki is Takehara’s take on Japanese Izakaya barbecue dining with its focus on grilled meats and small plates. It has turned heads and drawn a loyal and growing following since its 2016 opening on 10th and W streets.

The Bee in a 2016 piece on the then-emerging restaurant remarked on its contribution to Sacramento’s evolving dining scene, its unassuming Southside Park space and the rewards found inside.

“Such determined modesty only makes the magic produced within this space more striking,” The Bee wrote.

Last year, Binchoyaki was named among The Sacramento Bee’s Top 50 restaurants and its top five dining destinations in downtown Sacramento.

“There’s a world of Japanese food outside of sushi, and Craig Takehara and Toki Sawada are determined to help customers explore it through their Southside Park izakaya,” The Bee’s Benjy Egel wrote.

Takehara, a Kennedy High School graduate and alumnus of fine-dining French and Japanese kitchens in Southern California, and his wife, the pastry chef Tokiko Sawada, co-own the space at 2226 10th St. The two met as culinary students in Southern California. Sawada’s resume, too, contains tours at numerous Orange County and Los Angeles kitchens.

The Sacramento Bee’s 50 best restaurants of 2022: Where to eat around the region

The James Beard Foundation’s Restaurant and Chef Awards were established in 1990 and were first awarded in 1991.