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.



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dinette pizza

 Dinette: Thin-crust white pizza with red onion and herbs.

Photo by Laura Petrilla

 

Dinette

Thin-crust pizza and wine are the specialties at this airy, minimalistic one-room restaurant with an open kitchen. Sonja Finn, a 2011 nominee for Food & Wine magazine’s “People’s Best New Chef” award, changes the short menu daily. It always includes a handful of starters, a couple of salads and eight unique pizzas with the freshest ingredients—in summer, the restaurant’s rooftop garden supplies arugula, herbs, tomatoes, figs and more.

Appetizers include dishes such as roasted bone marrow, grilled squid or romesco wings; the delicious Italian fritto misto ranks among our favorites. Pizza toppings range from a simple two-egg option to a savory combination of salt-cured anchovies, jalapeños, capers, fresh mozzarella and tomato.

The short dessert list offers choices like decadent chocolate pot de crème, homemade rice pudding and baklava. All of the 20-plus wines on the list are available by the bottle or glass.

Chef/Owner Sonja Finn. 5996 Penn Circle South, East Liberty. Info: 412/362-0202, dinette-pgh.com.
 

Dish Osteria and Bar

This intimate Italian restaurant perched at the end of a classic stretch of South Side rowhouses never fails to charm with its Sicilian-inspired food, warm service and late-night kitchen.

We couldn’t live without some of the dishes from the laminated regular menu—like the grilled calamari with sautéed spinach or wild-mushroom pasta—but the kitchen’s able to show us something new with the offerings included in the paper menu. Recently, we loved the spaghetti tossed with finely shaved bottarga (a hard-to-come-by type of pressed, salted and dried fish egg), olive oil, garlic, parsley, toasted breadcrumbs and oven-roasted cherry tomatoes. Also tempting was the house-made ricotta gnocchi comprised of locally sourced cheese and topped with sweet sausage ragu, fennel and pecorino.

A straightforward list of Italian wines, accommodating wait staff and simple desserts like the rich chocolate tart all hit the mark and keep the vibe unfussy and fun.

Chef Michele Savoia. 128 S. 17th St., South Side. Info: 412/390-2012, dishosteria.com.
 

Eleven

Even though the location is just a block or so shy of downtown, Eleven fits the bill for what a downtown restaurant should be: a sleek space with polished service and innovative food that always makes your meal feel like a special occasion.

The contemporary American fare is elegant, creative and delicious. Think foie gras enhanced by vanilla, rosemary and citrus confit or prime-beef carpaccio and pickled white asparagus with 25-year aged balsamic.

Yet this kitchen’s feet are firmly planted on the ground, as displayed by a satisfying dish of prime New York steak served with caramelized onions and potato-and-goat-cheese pierogie—a buttoned-up nod to one of the area’s favorite foods.
Speaking of drinks, a more-casual option is the tavern menu served in the bar, especially the outstanding charcuterie. Check the website for more about monthly benefits and other special events like the Harvest Moon dinners. —Kaitlyn Johnston

Executive Chef Derek Stevens. 1150 Smallman St., Strip District. Info: 412/201-5656, bigburrito.com/eleven.
 

Girasole

Last year, this family-owned neighborhood favorite celebrated a decade in Shadyside. The menu changes four times a year and puts a lighter spin on Italian classics while also offering hearty, traditional dishes from the family’s recipe box.

We loved dishes like potato gnocchi served in a marinara sauce with fresh mozzarella or Spaghettini (featuring locally made Fede pasta) in an aglio e olio sauce with littleneck clams and baby spinach. Daily specials include a poultry, fish and meat-of-the-day option, and make good use of seasonal ingredients—like corn and heirloom tomatoes during the summer.
Start with the memorable Girasole salad, which includes garbanzo beans, sunflower seeds, Gorgonzola and sunflower vinaigrette (yes, “Girasole” means sunflower in Italian).

The 48-seat restaurant has an intimate feel and includes a handful of tables outside during the summer—ideal seating, especially with a glass of vino from the Italian-wine list or a classic Campari and soda.

Executive Chef Jennifer Girasole. 733 Copeland St., Shadyside. Info: 412/682-2130, 733copeland.com.
 

Joseph Tambellini Restaurant

Plans are in place to expand this Italian restaurant during the summer with a pavilion-style room that will offer four-season dining and a second-story deck. That means all the more seating for patrons who love the warm, inviting service and classic fare at this white-tablecloth spot that’s co-owned by chef Joseph Tambellini and his wife, Melissa.

Each entrée comes with a seasonally inspired salad and a secondi house pasta course. The meatballs are excellent whether served in meatball parmesan or over fresh pasta made in-house. Large, satisfying dishes like lamb chops with grilled polenta also won us over.

Two seafood dishes are featured each evening among the daily specials—think grilled fish with a Sardinian-style topping of olive oil, lemon, caper and sun-dried and fresh tomatoes.

The wine list offers about 20 choices by the glass and 200 or so bottles with a focus on Italy and the West Coast (and sprinkled with additional options, like Australian and South American). Among the desserts, the butterscotch pound cake truly stands out.

Chef/Owner Joseph Tambellini. 5701 Bryant St., Highland Park. Info: 412/665-9000, josephtambellini.com.
 

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