Fresh Takes on Spring

Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman, Queen Of Seasonality, Shares Her Secrets

Photography by Teresa Rafidi

At José, the lauded chef takes a hands-on approach to every dish.

We have no dearth of culinary talent in Dallas. I caught up with José on Lovers chef and creative powerhouse Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman early this year, just after her James Beard Foundation Award nomination for Best Chef: Texas. This represents the third time the organization has nodded to her extraordinary talent.

Spring is ever a time of renewal, but for Quiñones-Pittman, such rejuvenation is merely part of the everyday landscape.

“Every year, we try to do better than the previous year,” she says. Like her mother, she’s a documentarian at heart, recording the ephemeral passage of time. “I try to look back and see where I was the year before and figure out how to make it better. As long as you’re doing that and are constantly in a state of development,” she says, then you’re true to yourself. It’s how she steers away from trends.

This year has seen her shift from nights at the kitchen pass or alongside her cooks on the line to increased time among guests in the dining room—a focus that corresponds with a desire to strengthen the already strong bond between back and front of house and the palpable connection to the neighborhood. She’s also been stepping out to Austin, the Bahamas, or Mexico City for events and to build connections. “We’re now reaching other parts of the country with what we do,” she says—reaching farther with her magic of masa, mole, and aguachiles.

One thing that hasn’t changed is a commitment to seasonality. Certainly, direct relationships with farmers and ranchers have become more challenging due to José’s volume: with 200–600 reservations per night, “it’s really difficult to call a farmer and say, ‘Hey, I don’t want one pound of mushrooms, I need 30 pounds. But we still try,” Quiñones-Pittman says. A relationship with Texas Fungus is but one of many that remain vital. During the pandemic, close ties with farmers were, ironically, both easier given the smaller volume, and deeply intuitive as a matter of mutual survival. Now what remains is the ode to peak produce that each of four seasonal menu changes allows.

Such odes are natural to Quiñones-Pittman: “You bite into a Demases [Farm] strawberry when it’s at its peak, and it’s like candy,” she gushes, ever eloquent about such ultra-local delights. “It’s just the juiciest, sweetest—but also slightly tart—brightest-tasting strawberry you’ve ever had in your life.” Last spring’s menu included a simple strawberry aguachile that married shrimp and serrano chile and let the berries steal the spotlight.

Then “watermelon had its moment last year,” Quiñones-Pittman says. Fortunately, the best melon season she’s known in ages struck just as the endless, scorching Texas summer reached new heights. As the staff witnessed guests frenetically ordering the watermelon salad with pickled red onions, goat cheese, and a pepito pesto, Quiñones-Pittman could understand: “It’s just so sweet and crisp and crunchy and delicious.” By the same token, honeydew and cantaloupe joined watermelon and cucumber in a crudo with ahi tuna.

“I think because of my [Mexican American] upbringing, where most of the fruits we ate had lime, chile, and salt on them,” the intuitive combination of fruit, lime, and chile (fruit, acid, heat) with fish is second nature to Quiñones-Pittman, and the daily crudo is a brilliant canvas for it.

Always, Quiñones-Pittman looks to the present and future to push her culinary creativity, but she also reveres tradition and the past. As Dallas’s restaurant scene ignites with new, high-octane openings, she worries: “We’re forgetting about the mom-and-pop restaurants that have been around for years and are delicious,” she says.

These are the restaurants she and her husband, chef Daniel Pittman, frequent on Mondays, their day off. These are the often hole-in-the-wall spots where they teach their two daughters to be respectful to servers and see the labor behind every institution. Just as through farm visits, they’ve taught them to know the blackberries and melons of North Texas and the local, pasture-raised hens that may undergird a chicken dish. It’s all part of their education—and ultimately a deep commitment to renewal.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman’s team at José on Lovers went above and beyond any strictly culinary mission. Here are highlights from a restaurant that continues to give.

The team served 122,241 meals to Front Line responders and was the largest recipient of funds from the Feed the Front Lines Organization during COVID-19’s peak (2020 and into 2021).

Staff arrived Monday–Friday at 3 a.m. to prepare 1,000 breakfast tacos to be delivered to Parkland Hospital at 6 a.m. The team then prepared upwards of 2,500–3,500 box lunches to be delivered to UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas’s VA Hospital, Zale Lipshy Pavilion—William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, Methodist Hospital, Presbyterian Hospital, and other locations. (A separate team arrived at 3 p.m. to prepare to-go orders for the restaurant, which transitioned from in-house dining to grab-and- go within three days.)

José on Lovers partnered with local purveyor Chefs Produce to sell produce boxes from its parking lot for guests avoiding grocery stores. They offered eggs, milk, bread, fruit, and vegetables.

To help meat purveyor Crystal Creek sell its product and employ its staff, the restaurant added a protein pick-up. “Guests were having fun building their pantries from our vendors with everything from broccoli rabe to brisket,” says Quiñones-Pittman.
FB & IG: @joseonlovers

Bring home the vibrancy of Quiñones-Pittman’s dynamic modern Mexican cuisine with these four spring recipes.

Aguachile Verde

Elotes with Chile Sauce

Carrot Habanero Soup

Arroz con Leche de Fresa y Jamaica (Strawberry-Hibiscus Rice Pudding)

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EVE HILL-AGNUS teaches English and journalism and is a freelance writer based in Dallas. She earned degrees in English and Education from Stanford University. Her work has appeared in the Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, and the journal Food, Culture & Society. She remains a contributing Food & Wine columnist for the Los Altos Town Crier, the Bay-Area newspaper where she stumbled into journalism by writing food articles during grad school. Her French-American background and childhood spent in France fuel her enduring love for French food and its history. She is also obsessed with goats and cheese.