Best Restaurants 2016
Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
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This year, our independent restaurant review panel recommends 33 establishments to be honored on Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Restaurants list.
The biggest point of discussion and contention for our Independent Restaurant Review panel during many meetings and deliberations over the past year involved trying to answer a seemingly simple question: “How do we in Pittsburgh define a best restaurant?”
photos by laura petrilla
Should an establishment where diners must order at a hectic counter and then pick up food in response to a page on their mobile phones be placed on the same list as a five-star, five-diamond, white-tablecloth fine-dining experience? Does outstanding cuisine trump casual service and mediocre decor? In the end members of the panel decided, for the most part, the answer is yes — as long as you know what you’re getting into. Just because an experience is different than a throwback-standard definition for fine eatery doesn’t mean it's less valuable. In fact, it often is more valuable.
Here’s how you know that Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene is ascendant: The number of restaurants for this year remains unchanged from a year ago, but readers will find a lot of new names and places: 14 of the 33 restaurants for 2016 did not appear on the list last year.
This unprecedented changeover reflects the increasingly diverse and ever-improving landscape of Pittsburgh dining. We still love our plates of meat and potatoes (and Meat & Potatoes), but we also are seeing chef-driven restaurants thrive with concepts that push beyond the traditional.
Most of the additions to this year’s list are newcomers to our city’s booming community of restaurants. They range from a white-tablecloth Italian eatery run with old-world charm (Senti) to Sichuan cuisine cooked by a master chef (Chengdu Gourmet) to a hip enclave serving simple-yet-crafted plates (The Vandal).
Some restaurants dropped from the list in previous years return this year because the panel believes the quality of ingredients and the skill of the kitchens merited newfound recognition; Dinette, one of my personal favorites, is a restaurant that meets that standard. Lautrec, at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County, also returns to the list because there is simply nothing else like it in western Pennsylvania. It’s a bit farther afield than we generally would include on our Pittsburgh-centric list, but we’re confident that this dining destination is too important to our gastronomic community to omit.
Read on for our picks of Pittsburgh’s best. Use our list as a guide, and return frequently to help you decide where you should eat, no matter what your mood or cravings dictate.
Shadyside: 5501 Centre Ave.
Executive Chef/Owner Chris Bonfili
[American] Go here for an upscale yet casual business lunch or dinner. The vibe at Avenue B sits comfortably on the line between neighborhood bistro and upscale dining. It’s the perfect place to make important decisions over fresh fish, seasonal vegetables and well-composed salads. Try dishes such as sea bass and scallops, served with purple potato succotash, spring onion pesto and saffron beurre blanc. Newly added Sunday-night dinner service is corkage-free. $$
Downtown: 212 Sixth St.
Executive Chef/Co-owner Richard DeShantz
[American] Go here for a decadent Downtown evening. The combination of classic cocktails, a massive wall of top-shelf bourbon and well-prepared, approachable cuisine makes Butcher and the Rye a perfect destination for a post-event meal. Start with “crispy pig wings” or a bowl of mussels, and then move on to hearty plates of monkfish “osso bucco” or cassoulet with duck confit, boudin noir and cannellini beans. $$
Shadyside: 238 Spahr St.
Executive Chef/Owner Toni Pais
[Mediterranean] Go here to feel as if you’re escaping Pittsburgh for a night. Cafe Zinho is a port of tranquility hidden away off Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside. There, legendary Pittsburgh chef Toni Pais connects with his Portuguese heritage with dishes such as whole branzino with lemon slices and olive oil, Portuguese fisherman’s stew caldeira and Bulhao Pato clams with white wine, roasted garlic, olive oil and cilantro. $$
Shadyside: 229 S. Highland Ave.
Executive Chef Dustin Gardner
[Mediterranean] Go here for consistent, comfortable quality. Some regulars at Casbah have been eating the same thing, week after week, for 20 years. Other Pittsburghers make Casbah their favorite destination for family celebrations or holiday parties. Indeed, what makes this restaurant so special is that it’s able to accommodate a variety of tastes while maintaining a high level of integrity in its cookery. Chef Dustin Gardner moved back to Casbah, where he previously was sous chef, from Soba earlier this year. $$–$$$