To Dine For
Whatever you crave—be it comfort food, global fusion, handmade pasta or something completely off the wall (nitro wasabi-flavored peas, anyone?)—you’re likely to find it here on our list of the year’s 25 Best Restaurants.
Seared wild Alaskan halibut from Iovino’s Cafe is served over a stir-fry of carrots, snow peas,
honshimeji mushrooms, red peppers, asparagus, baby bok choy and mung bean sprouts with a black berry-mirin glaze.
What are today’s diners looking for? Well, in my opinion, they’re seeking places where the food is utterly out-of-the-ordinary but the mood is upscale-casual enough that you can wear jeans (OK, expensive jeans). And increasingly, we have more of these in the Pittsburgh region.
The kitchens at these destinations are presided over by an ever-rising tide of chefs who focus on fresh and local ingredients and make nearly everything from scratch—whether that results in rabbit rillettes or potato gnocchi, veal stock or fennel sausage. We also have more variety to choose from. Try the bocadillos and mojitos at Seviche, where a new-style raw bar meets a colorful cocktail lounge, or visit the hip new Bar Nine for small bites from the fancy menu next door at Nine on Nine. Choose any of the destinations on our list and you’re in for something fun and different.
This year’s special-awards categories reflect a happy trend of attracting—and retaining—great food talent in 2007: Matthew Porco returned home after a stint at Veritas in New York City to open Mio Kitchen & Wine Bar, our “Best New Restaurant” winner; Trevett Hooper, this year’s “Rising Star Chef”, came back to open Legume after five years of soaking up southern California’s vibrant culinary scene; and Douglass Dick, our “Chef of the Year”, garnered national recognition with a write-up in Gourmet magazine as one of “America’s Best Farm-To-Table Restaurants.” The restaurants profiled in these pages, selected by Pittsburgh magazine’s Restaurant Review Panel, are more proof that it’s great to live in this region right now—especially if you’re hungry.
ALCHEMY MENU AT BIGELOW GRILLE
Chef Kevin Sousa
1 Bigelow Square, downtown
Prix-fixe Alchemy menu, $100 per person
Kevin Sousa’s Alchemy menu ranks among our top 25 for the second time in a row—an unusual feat, because it’s the menu receiving recognition rather than the restaurant itself. His 12- to 16-course offering, launched in early spring, shows an impressive evolution that goes beyond simple mastery of molecular gastronomy techniques. The high-tech wow factor still exists, thanks to elaborate lab equipment in the kitchen and food-science savvy that creates flavored powders, encapsulated liquids and other food feats in physics. But there’s also a new refinement in these dishes that needs to be seen—and tasted—to be believed.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: “Sushi” made of uni (sea urchin) ice cream, shaved ice made of toro (tuna belly) infused with pineapple-soy-dashi broth, nitro wasabi-flavored peas made with liquid nitrogen, soy-sauce lentils and melt-in-your-mouth avocado candies.
Editors’ note: The Alchemy menu is no longer being served at Bigelow Grille; chef Kevin Sousa is now chef at Red Room Café and Lounge, where he serves an Alchemy-like menu à la carte.
Executive Chef Jessica Gibson
711 Washington Road,
Mount Lebanon’s answer to the urban bistro offers up an inviting ambience and an eclectic menu. Everything from American comfort-food favorites such as filet mignon with gorgonzola to Asian-inspired seafood are on offer. Owners B DeFrancis and Richard Fuchs deliver the details that make a special evening, from the fun list of martinis to windows that fold open to bring in fresh air on a warm night.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Lamb loin chops with pesto beurre blanc and red-wine mushroom risotto.
Executive Chef and Owner Douglass Dick
908 Main St., Sharpsburg
In 2007, Gourmet magazine named Bona Terra one of “America’s Best Farm-To-Table Restaurants”—and this distinctive chef-owned place lives up to the national hype. The freshest local ingredients, often sourced that same day by chef Douglass Dick, show up in creative and constantly evolving ways (the menu changes daily). The food is satisfying yet surprising, creative yet unfussy, and the comfortable dining room invites you to linger. Warning: People have been known to call five months in advance to score a table on a busy weekend night.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Seared scallops with vinaigrette made from local strawberries.
Executive Chef Joseph Nolan
12th and East Carson streets, South Side
The flavors of the French and Italian Riviera are a specialty at this bistro, which has been a fixture on the South Side for 22 years. The menu offers up dishes such as spicy tomato and saffron bouillabaisse or filet mignon with dark beer and gorgonzola sauce. The dining room invites you in with crisp decor and artful touches. In the summer, you’ll recollect the charms of Europe as you linger over house-made dessert and espresso at one of the tables clustered on the sidewalk.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Signature appetizer of grilled calamari dressed with spicy citrus marinade.
Chef Alan Peet
229 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside
Mediterranean-inspired fare meets an upscale casual vibe at this East End favorite. What’s fresh from local purveyors is reflected on the menu, which features dishes such as roasted beets with dried sour-cherry dressing, light-as-air ricotta cavatelli with house-made fennel sausage or Elysian Fields Farm lamb osso buco. There’s a small, charming dining room with jewel-toned walls, a tented area out front with heat lamps and a bar with low lighting and cushioned banquettes—all make a great backdrop for the elegant food and appealing wine list.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Seared scallops, red-pepper casereccia, jumbo lump crab and parsley-roasted garlic butter.
DISH OSTERIA AND BAR
Chef Michele Savoia
128 S. 17th St., South Side
Few restaurants manage to be bustling and romantic at the same time, but this intimate South Side gem located just blocks from Carson Street pulls it off beautifully. The rustic Italian food draws all ages to the small, pretty dining room. Here, simple dishes such as orange and fennel salad with arugula or fresh pasta with wild mushrooms truly shine. Daily specials are the heart of the menu—each day brings four to five options for appetizers and three to four choices for entrees. The hip, handsome (and usually smoky) bar is in the adjacent room and serves up great cocktails and food (the kitchen doesn’t close until midnight). Good news: This previously cash-only spot now takes credit cards.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: House-made potato gnocchi with lamb ragù.
Executive Chef Derek Stevens
1150 Smallman St., Strip District
At this sophisticated multilevel restaurant, the contemporary American menu showcases the very best ingredients from our region and beyond. Look for lots of house-made touches as well—one of chef Stevens’ specialties is breaking down whole hogs to make bacon, prosciutto, pulled pork, charcuterie and more. Long after the meal is over, you’ll remember dishes such as a salad of arugula, house-made lamb bacon, smoked lamb, fig-balsamic vinaigrette and blue cheese; or wild Texas shrimp, Anson Mills white-corn grits, braised greens and scallion-lager sauce. The main dining room, dressed in soothing greens with soaring ceilings, offers a view of the bustling open kitchen, and just adjacent is the spacious, inviting and elegant lounge. You’ll find all the accessories of fine dining, from the chef’s tasting menus and well-crafted wine and cocktail lists to the American farmstead cheeses and house-made desserts.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Smoked pulled pork, homemade tortilla, roasted tomatillo puree, refried black lentils, crumpled Capriole goat cheese.
Chef and Owner Jeff Iovino
300A Beverly Road, Mount Lebanon
At this bright, charming restaurant, Jeff Iovino, winner of our “Rising Star Chef” award last year, and his co-chef, Mike Humphries, create a global fusion menu with a focus on fresh seafood and creative vegetarian fare. New specials augment the menu each week and reflect the opening or closing of fishing seasons and the arrival of seasonal produce. The flavors of Asia, Italy, India and beyond emerge in dishes such as seared halibut with a blackberry-mirin glaze, porcini-braised lamb ragù and vegetarian Thai red curry—and since it’s BYOB, you get to take along your favorite wine for your culinary voyage around the world.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Seared and sliced duck breast with duck-confit fried rice, baby bok choy, ginger and garlic with tempura asparagus and a cranberry-merlot demi-glace.
JOSEPH TAMBELLINI RESTAURANT
Executive Chef Joseph Tambellini
5701 Bryant St., Highland Park
Starting at the age of 12, Joseph Tambellini worked downtown at his father’s place, Robert Tambellini Restaurant, which was open from 1965 to 1991. Last year, he opened his own Italian-inspired restaurant, co-owned by his wife, Melissa. Come for an upscale casual vibe and refined classical Italian cooking where traditional favorites are done right—the veal marsala stars a house-made veal stock that takes four days to make. The chef’s four to six daily specials are contemporary items created by Tambellini. Each entree comes with seasonally inspired salad and a “secondi” pasta course, which changes daily. The wine list has a
focus on Italian and California varietals.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: In the summer, grilled fish or soft-shell crabs; in the winter, anything braised.
Executive Chef Danielle Cain
2000 Smallman St., Strip District
Danielle Cain, who previously worked as the executive sous chef at Soba for two years, is heading up the kitchen here now that former chef Brandy Stewart has departed. (In a chef’s game of musical chairs, Stewart is now at Soba.) Kaya’s menu will continue to deliver a fresh infusion of island spice with dishes such as spicy lentil and corn beignets with green-curry dipping sauce or jerked chicken with corn bread and greens. Comfy banquettes and tables share space in the main room with a cocktail bar lined by palm-tree stools—this is tiki done with taste, from the fun vibe to the fruity cocktails.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Honey-glazed pork belly on sour-apple and iceberg slaw.
Chef de Cuisine Dave Racicot
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Wharton Township, near Farmington, Fayette County
Prix-fixe menus from $98 (four courses and dessert) to $135 (12-course Grand Tasting)
Accolades keep rolling in for the French-inspired fare created by chef de cuisine Dave Racicot at this luxurious and modern resort restaurant—exactly why local food lovers will drive 70 miles from Pittsburgh to indulge. This year, Lautrec received Five Diamond ranking from AAA, making it the only dining room between Philadelphia and Chicago with that status. The formal dining room, swathed in rich crimson and golden fabrics, is located inside the resort’s imposing white chateau. As you’d expect, all the extras are here, from the award-winning wine list and custom “champagne carte” to cheese trolley service.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Braised beef short ribs with blue-cheese gratin, grain mustard, celery and cassis puree.
Executive Chef Mark Collins
2104 E. Carson St., South Side
This restaurant’s bright and charming space evokes a Left Bank bistro in Paris—yet the modern fare is anything but old-fashioned French. The seasons inspire the frequently changing menu—spring brings dishes such as asparagus salad with smoked bell-pepper vinaigrette and chevre or grilled quail with fava bean and morel mushroom ragoût. The vegetarian offerings, such as the “boeuf” bourguignon, which captures the dish’s meaty flavor with firm chunks of seitan (wheat gluten) and hickory smoke, are creative and different. The carte du vin offers intriguing choices by the glass or bottle, and desserts such as a chocolate and smoked almond terrine with gray sea salt have a sweetly sophisticated spin.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Veal-cheek ragoût with marsala, asparagus and shiitake mushrooms over house-made fettucine.
Executive Chef and Owner Trevett Hooper
1113 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square
Trevett Hooper, the winner of this year’s “Rising Star Chef” award (see page 78), creates a focused, constantly changing “Americanized-French” menu at his year-old neighborhood gem. Just 14 tightly packed tables are nestled along the walls—enjoying meals at this homey spot tends to feel more like a fun dinner party than a formal night out. Hooper makes the most of local meats, for example, using every part of a rabbit to make confit, sausage, rillettes and pâté. In the summer, local organic produce drives the one-page menu, which offers a short list of appetizers and about six entrees. You’ll usually find one creative vegetarian option, house-made pasta (made with local eggs), plus a couple of appealing side dishes and classic desserts—don’t miss the chocolate-truffle cake.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Sweet-potato ravioli with brown butter and sage.
MIO KITCHEN & WINE BAR
Executive Chef Matthew Porco
225 Commercial Ave., Aspinwall
The winner in this year’s “Best New Restaurant” category (see page 76), Mio, lives up to its distinction. Taking inspiration from his time as the chef de cuisine at Veritas in New York City, chef-owner Porco has created an upscale but comfortable spot where the wine is equal to the food. Dishes are rich and concentrated in flavor—this is comfort food elevated to the next level—and offer excellent pairing possibilities with a list of 175 wines (about 25 by the glass). Local ingredients dominate the seasonally changing menu, and everything from pillowy gnocchi to lamb bacon is house-made. Save room for the don’t-miss desserts from creative local pastry chef Barbara Ferguson. Midday diners take note: Porco introduced his first lunch menu in April.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Tender braised short ribs with fava bean and wild-mushroom risotto.
NINE ON NINE
Chef Richard DeShantz
900 Penn Ave., downtown
This chef-owned downtown restaurant has changed things a bit since winning last year in our “Best New Restaurant” category. In the tastefully decorated dining room, all meals are now prix-fixe (starting at $47 for three courses). The focused menu changes every month, and the six dishes in each category run toward simple elegance: Think wild-mushroom risotto with shaved truffles or a “surf-and-turf” dish of pork belly with seared scallop and spicy miso sauce. Next door is the recently opened Bar Nine, a chic, comfortable lounge where you can order food à la carte. There’s talk of lunch service—prix fixe in the restaurant and more casual à la carte at the bar—beginning in August.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Braised veal shanks with mustard-encrusted veal sweet-bread, spinach and whole grain mustard sauce.
Chef Derek Maceiko
703 Washington Road, Mount Lebanon
You could travel to Naples for the perfect thin-crust pizza—or you could simply get in line for a table at this Mount Lebanon mainstay. This year brought a new arrival from Italy, a brand-new wood-fired oven that stays at a constant 1,100 degrees and cooks each pizza in a minute flat. Beyond pizza, the menu offers authentic Italian pasta dishes and house-made desserts such as cannoli and tiramisù. The dining room’s walls and Tuscan tiles have charm, but even more charming is the bustling outdoor patio and cozy wine bar, Enoteca del Pizzaiolo, which won “Best Wine Bar” in this magazine’s “Best Of Pittsburgh” issue last year.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Authentic Marguerita pizza, made with San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil and parmigiano reggiano.
POINT BRUGGE CAFÉ
Executive Chef Kevin Hunninen
401 Hastings St., Point Breeze
If you want neighborhood-restaurant envy, visit this bright, inviting bistro for its signature meal of Belgian frites and fragrant, steaming mussels. (Fair warning: “No reservations” means there’s often a wait.) The dining room, with its warm wood accents and handsome metalwork, feels comfortable enough for weeknight suppers and easy Sunday brunches but special enough as a place to take a date or out-of-town guests. Belgian-style beers are emphasized at the clean-cut bar, with 70 types in the bottle and four on draft. Susie Treon, retired executive chef of Café at the Frick, makes the decadent desserts and the Belgian Liège waffles, which are served at the bustling Sunday brunch.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Red-curry mussels and Belgian frites with basil mayonnaise.
RED ROOM CAFÉ AND LOUNGE
Chef Christopher Bonfili
134 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty
At this hip East Liberty haunt, you can choose from tables in the window-lined dining room or the deeply burnished leather sofas by the bar—if you can get a seat at either, that is. The Red Room’s fresh global-infused New American fare and fun urban vibe draw a well-dressed crowd, especially on weekend nights. On the menu, you’ll find elegantly simple preparations and local ingredients in dishes such as strip steak with grilled ramps or rissoles with fava beans and sautéd morel mushrooms. The house-made desserts are constantly changing, but there’s one staple you don’t want to miss—the dark-chocolate and croissant bread pudding.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Pan-roasted bacon-wrapped heritage pork tenderloin (from a breed of pig known for marbling) with cheesy grits, wilted greens and blackberry demi-glace.
Editors’ note: Kevin Sousa, former chef at Bigelow Grille, is now chef at Red Room.
Executive Chef and Owner Yves Carreau
930 Penn Ave., downtown
A little over a year after opening, this colorful, Miami Beach-style hot spot has fully transitioned from a hip bar with a well-dressed cocktail crowd to a dining destination. The fusion menu is split 50/50 between Latin-inspired cooked tapas and seven seviche bar offerings: Made with fresh sushi-grade seafood, these range from a traditional salmon “fire and ice” seviche with spicy habañero peppers and cooling prickly-pear granita or Asian tartare seviche with ahi tuna, sushi rice, wasabi mayo, tobiko caviar and crisp, fried lotus root. It’s a scene on the weekends, just as you’d expect from
a place with mojitos and caipirinhas this good.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Shrimp seviche with mango and blackened tomatillo served with crisp malanga chips.
Executive Chef Brandy Stewart
5847 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside
Executive chef Brandy Stewart is heading up the kitchen here after her winning three-year stint in the same position at Kaya in the Strip District. No newcomer to Soba—she previously did turns as the wok cook at Soba and as Mr. Shu’s assistant at Umi—she’ll continue to create the restaurant’s contemporary pan-Asian fare with dishes such as seared rare tuna with kim chee or pork rubbed with Indian spices. The restaurant’s three floors of swanky dining feature walls of dark slate and natural stone, shimmering gold fabric and atmospheric lighting. This vibe continues in the bar (thankfully smoke-free), where cushioned banquettes are ideal for unwinding over ginger-infused Sobatinis and small plates of lobster maki and Korean barbecue ribs.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Striped bass with lump crab-potato rissole, tempura asparagus, spicy mango relish and cashew-basil coconut sauce.
Executive Chef Yves Carreau
947 Penn Ave, downtown
The West Coast-driven wine list, with more than 100 options by the glass, gets top billing at this comfortable restaurant in the Cultural District. The extensive menu offers an eclectic mix of dishes that call to mind the cuisines of France, California, India, Asia and beyond; it changes several times a year to reflect the seasons. The dining room, located on the ground floor of the Courtyard Marriott, is large yet still feels cozy thanks to terra-cotta colored walls, vineyard murals and warm lighting.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Bourbon-glazed grilled duck breast, warm charred bok choy and soba noodles.
Chef Courtney McFarlane
4601 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield
What becomes a legend most? In this city, it’s lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and a slice of American cheese. Simply put, Tessaro’s burgers tower above the rest. They are justifiably famous—and famously simple. Everything here is done in-house, including the butchering. Burgers are grilled over a hardwood grill of red oak, which adds to the flavor. The vibe inside this family-owned restaurant is cozy neighborhood tavern meets busy burger joint. Squeeze into a seat at one of the denim-clad tables, dive into your dinner, and you’ll know why this place is a comfort-food landmark.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Gourmet melted-dry-blue cheese burger.
Co-chefs: Pusadee Tongdee, Busaba Tongdee
242 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside
This stylish restaurant is a go-to destination for upscale Thai food. On the menu, well-made classics such as pumpkin curry or pad Thai join contemporary fare such as green-curry linguine. The dining room is chic and inviting, and the picturesque bar serves up creative cocktails such as the Chaing Mai-garita, made with tequila, Grand Marnier and green guava juice, or the Fuzzy Dragon, made with pomegranate liqueur, peach vodka and dragon-fruit juice.
Chef Team’s Favorite Dish to Make: Coriander-garlic filet mignon with ginger-roasted parsnips.
UMI JAPANESE RESTAURANT
Chef Mr. Shu
5849 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside
At this Japanese food haven, the sushi chef’s knives exemplify grace in motion, the glistening sashimi and sushi are expertly prepared, and the sake is top-shelf. The tranquil simplicity of the dining room, accented with warm wood and Asian-themed artwork, provides a quiet backdrop, and the gemlike fish on the plate takes center stage.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Omakase (which loosely translates to “trust the chef”), a multicourse meal with items such as toro tartare and sawara seared with hot sesame oil.
Chef Sabatino “Sam” DiBattista
565 Lincoln Ave., Bellevue
Don’t be surprised if you walk into this comfortable, friendly, family-owned restaurant and get a hug at the door. For eight years, chef DiBattista and his wife, Lori, have been welcoming customers here as they would into their own home. On the menu you’ll find food based on Italian philosophy that satisfies—the kitchen has worked to perfect every element, from the delicious basic red sauce to the house-made vinaigrette, which dresses the fresh and local greens. The entree price includes a pasta course and concludes, European-style, with salad. Save room for Lori’s made-from-scratch desserts such as pistachio gelato or affogato (vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over it) topped with fresh chocolate shavings.
Chef’s Favorite Dish to Make: Anything grilled.