25 Best Restaurants: 2012
From culinary heavyweights to neighborhood mainstays, these places keep us coming back.
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LEGENDS OF THE NORTH SHORE / Hot antipasto with grilled artichokes
Chef/owner Joseph Tambellini extends his hospitality by strolling through his restaurant and greeting guests. His restaurant is the place to visit when you want an excellent, traditional Italian meal in an elegant atmosphere. Serving “refined classical cuisine,” Tambellini’s creations are intensely flavorful, abundant in garlic, onions, lemon and olive oil. Traditional appetizers include calamari, escarole and white beans with sausage, and stuffed banana peppers. Pasta is fresh — even the seemingly simple marinara sauce is delicious. For entrées, enjoy tender, gently cooked veal or seafood “Melissa” (named for the chef’s wife and co-owner), comprising a combination of fish, scallops and crab-stuffed shrimp. Don’t forget to try the homemade tiramisu or butterscotch poundcake, two old-fashioned desserts that don’t disappoint. This restaurant is welcoming to patrons of all ages — and a really great place to enjoy an upscale yet quiet night out.
• Chef/Owner Joseph Tambellini
• 5701 Bryant St., Highland Park
• 412/665-9000, josephtambellini.com
Kaya is a fun destination for festive tropical drinks and enticing Caribbean-influenced food. Owing in part to a funky interior with fringed stools, colorful lighting and vibrant contemporary art, this restaurant has a hopping bar scene, complete with a can’t-miss Happy Hour (Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m.). Dishes reflect many well-interpreted influences, resulting in food that you just can’t get elsewhere; for example, the Jerked Pulled-Pork Quesadilla includes such ingredients as spicy slaw, chihuahua cheese and cucumber aïoli, combining for a great balance of flavors and textures. For appetizers, tantalizing choices abound: conch fritters, tuna tartare, mussels with sausage, tofu cracklins — heck, even the housemade Kaya chips with mango-tomatillo salsa will impress.
• Executive Chef Jason Watts
• 2000 Smallman St., Strip District
• 412/261-6565, bigburrito.com/kaya
Located within Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Lautrec is nothing if not magnificent. Winner of the Forbes Travel Guide Five Star Award and AAA Five Diamond Award in 2012, Lautrec offers superb food and exceptional service in a rich crimson environment. The beautiful basket of housemade breads served with two different artisanal butters, each topped with a special salt, give you a sense of the attention to detail that earns this restaurant its accolades. Starting with the champagne cart and finishing with the offering of mignardises sweets, a sense of luxury and refinement is in the air. The dinner menu is a prix-fixe format, in which you can create your own four-course menu or try the nine-course chef’s tasting menu with optional wine pairings. The sommelier is knowledgeable and helpful, without being intimidating. Hats off to Chef Butterworth for continuing Lautrec’s tradition of excellence, bringing national attention to our regional dining scene.
• Chef de Cuisine Kristin Butterworth
• 1001 Lafayette Drive, Farmington
• 724/329-8555, nemacolin.com
Located less than a block from Allegheny General Hospital, Legends of the North Shore is positively homey, with a down-to-earth staff that seems genuinely glad to see you. Legends’ interior is small, with a tiny open kitchen — so it always feels busy, and the food, much like the staff, is homespun. Start with warm house-made focaccia and yummy dipping oil. Then order the soup of the day — which is really like Mom’s (well, if you’re lucky enough to have a Mom who makes soup from scratch) — or the polenta appetizer with sweet sausage, roasted red peppers and pesto drizzle. Various pasta, chicken, eggplant and pork dishes are available; one standout is the Spots Romano with lemon, parsley and butter. Legends is a neighborhood Italian restaurant that’s a cut above.
• Chef/Owner Dan Bartow
• 500 E. North Ave., North Side
• 412/321-8000, legendsatthenorthshore.com