25 Best Restaurants in Pittsburgh: 2011
It is a pleasure to present the 25 Best Restaurants in Pittsburgh and celebrate a year that vaulted the region’s dining scene to a whole new level of sophistication.
notion: Beef tartare, iceberg, Korean flavors and peanut.
Photo by Laura Petrilla
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Dining in Pittsburgh has never felt more adventurous or rewarding. Accordingly, our 25 Best list offers plenty to chew on. Even as high-profile, impressively designed new restaurants like Spoon emerged as favorites, small and modest spots like Stagioni burst into the winners’ circle.
This year’s reviews include specific dishes we loved eating during the last 12 months, with the goal of portraying the strengths of each particular kitchen. We hope you’re hungry and find our coverage as appetizing as it is helpful. Bon appétit!
Note: Our “25 Best” and Special Award winners are selected based on the anonymous dining experiences of Pittsburgh magazine’s Restaurant Review Panel and annual secret balloting. For qualifying descriptions of our annual Special Awards, visit pittsburghmagazine.com/awardrules.
Each day, new dishes are written on the chalkboard menus at this neighborhood bistro, which gives Chris Bonfili—our “Rising Star Chef” award winner last year—the chance to keep his menu fresh and fun.
From the chalkboard, we loved dishes such as a wonderful chilled-asparagus bisque with gravlox crostini; sautéed gold and red baby beets with tender baby greens in toasted walnut beurre blanc; and New York strip steak with charred-onion marmalade demi-glace.
There’s also a short paper menu (comprised of “small staple items”) that changes a few times per year and offers dishes like crispy fish and fingerling chips with Napa slaw and aïoli. At lunch, you’ll find casual options like a fresh pretzel-roll sandwich with ham and spicy mustard.
This is also a restaurant for dessert lovers: The homemade treats from pastry chef Lisa Gibbs, including a peanut-butter chocolate crunch bar with marshmallow ice cream, are downright decadent. The friendly, knowledgeable wait staff’s consistent attention to detail also adds to a positive dining experience.
Chef/Owner Chris Bonfili. 5501 Centre Ave., Shadyside. Info: 412/683-3663, avenueb-pgh.com.
Anchored by a large stone hearth, this Peters Township restaurant is the one-man show of South Hills native Sam Badolato. He adapted just about every dish on the menu—from his recipe for smoked-apple lasagne with provolone to stuffed Roman artichokes—to be cooked in his blazing wood-fired oven.
The menu is presented as small plates. Our top picks were dishes like wood-fired calamari over spicy roasted tomatoes; handmade ravioli with crawfish, mascarpone and creamy mustard sauce; juicy crispy-skinned chicken; and thin-crust pizzas with toppings like asparagus and prosciutto.
For dessert, there’s bread pudding served hot from the oven and studded with raisins, wild cherries or other seasonal fruit.
Badolato takes advantage of his rural Washington County location and snaps up fresh ingredients from nearby farms. By the fall, he plans to open a pastry shop and a wine bar next to the restaurant, although for now, it remains BYOB. Service is Wednesday through Saturday by reservation only.
Chef/Owner Sam Badolato. 3825 Washington Road, Peters Township. Info: 724/942-3904, badoscucina.com.
As the originator of one of the area’s first authentic farm-to-table restaurants, chef Douglass Dick has seen the Pittsburgh food scene change a lot since he opened Bona Terra in 2003. Yet with even more chef-owned restaurants presenting extremely fresh, seasonal menus that change daily, his no-frills, BYOB restaurant on the north side of the Highland Park Bridge still ranks among Pittsburgh’s best.
Bona Terra excels at dishes like the boneless quail and the stellar crab cakes. For these, colossal lump crab is coated with finely ground oyster cracker dust for crispness and dressed with memorable house-made sauces such as roasted poblano vinaigrette or local peach-jalapeño chutney. Reservations, particularly on weekends, are highly recommended.
Executive Chef/Owner Douglass Dick. 908 Main St., Sharpsburg. Info: 412/781-8210, bonaterrapgh.com.
Casbah is, at once, many places to many people: an inviting place to dine with family and friends; a breezy Sunday brunch spot with perfect two-seater tables; and a warm, jewel-toned lounge perfect for enjoying a cheese plate with a glass of wine.
The Mediterranean-inspired menu is versatile but innovative. Hearty, robust flavors abound in dishes like Elysian Fields Farm lamb loin served over Israeli couscous with onions, roasted peppers, Swiss chard and pine nuts. Another highlight: a classic Mediterranean fish, dorade combined with olives, capers and a fragrant romesco sauce.
The appealing wine list frequently freshens up the by-the-glass choices. Cocktails are excellent, and the wait staff is well-trained and friendly. Also, this isn’t a restaurant for skipping dessert: Delicious surprises include grilled corn ice cream during Tomato and Corn Fest (returning in mid-August), a sweet-potato tart reminiscent of pecan pie and honey-cardamom frozen mousse. —Kaitlyn Johnston
Executive Chef Eli Wahl. 229 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside. Info: 412/661-5656, bigburrito.com/casbah.
Cross Keys Inn
Brothers and longtime Pittsburgh restaurateurs Robert and Michael Uricchio, with the help of head chef Lia Davidson-Welling, continue to make this Fox Chapel-area spot a worthy dining destination. Housed in a charmingly restored inn and restaurant that dates back to 1850, the restaurant offers seating that includes an inviting lounge with a wood-burning fireplace, main downstairs dining room and a spacious outdoor patio with sunset views.
Everything from the breads and soups to desserts are made in-house. Must-try dishes include yellow-fin tuna carpaccio with niçoise olive drizzle, field-mushroom bruschetta with truffle oil, grilled Tasmanian salmon with wilted arugula and the great burger with pomme frites from the bar menu.
The moderately priced wine list is well-chosen, and cocktails are made with house-infused syrups and fresh juices—on a warm night, try the cucumber martinis or mint juleps with just-picked mint from the garden.
Co-owners Robert and Michael Uricchio. 599 Dorseyville Road, Indiana Township. Info: 412/967-1900, crosskeysinnpgh.com.