Best Restaurants 2018
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A solid combination of excellent food and casual-yet-attentive service draws diners to these restaurants. These are the types of places where you quickly can become a regular.
SQUIRREL HILL: 5840 Forward Ave.
[Sichuan Chinese] For the second year running, Wei Zhu, Executive Chef/Owner of Chengdu Gourmet, was honored with a nomination for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic by the James Beard Foundation. Zhu’s Sichuan cuisine is lauded as some of the best in the United States, which is all the more reason you should stick to dishes from that region, rather than the Americanized offerings, when ordering a meal at Chengdu Gourmet. Get dishes such as Chongqing beef hot pot (a spicy stew swimming with beef, vegetables, tofu, noodles and mushrooms), emerald fish, shredded potatoes with vinegar and napa with ginkgo and tofu, a cooling dish that will balance the fiery ma-la spice that’s a signature of Sichuan cuisine. Inexpensive lager beer and high-acid wines are the best pairings to bring to the BYOB establishment.
SOUTH SIDE: 2104 E. Carson St.
[Italian] Stagioni is either a beloved part of your regular restaurant rotation or one of Pittsburgh’s best kept secrets. Executive Chef/Co-Owner Stephen Felder’s menu of seasonal Italian classics such as grilled whole branzino with fennel, orange and pistachio, tomato-braised meatballs with escarole, cannellini beans and Calabrian chili and ricotta gnocchi with sausage-rapini ragout are reason enough to visit several times per year. Make sure to make reservations for Felder’s monthly Sunday Supper dinners — the family-style feasts are a scrumptious conversation starter.
SEWICKLEY: 432 Beaver St.
Sabatino “Sam” DiBattista
[Mediterranean] Vivo is a rare restaurant that primarily is a neighborhood favorite, yet, also is worthy as a destination dinner. The family-run business — Sam DiBattista is the restaurant’s executive chef and his wife, Lori, runs front-of-house operations — radiates warmth from greeting to goodbye. Roasted chicken is de rigueur this year in Pittsburgh, but cooking a whole, crispy bird is something DiBattista perfected years ago. He also is a prince of pescatarian cookery, using straightforward techniques such as grilling and roasting to bring the best out of the ocean’s bounty.
SHADYSIDE: 5996 Centre Ave.
Sonja J Finn
[Mediterranean] This year, Sonja J Finn celebrates a decade of ownership at Dinette, one of the establishments that prompted Pittsburgh’s modern restaurant resurgence. Dinette is one of the rare pizza establishments where we recommend bypassing traditional builds and instead looking to the seasonal, thoughtful combinations such as Empire apples with bacon, red onion, sage, Gorgonzola piccante and fresh mozzarella. We love the non-pizza dishes just as much — and often more than — the pizza. Finn’s attention to the seasons and straightforward yet thoughtful combinations always hit the spot.
LAWRENCEVILLE: 4306 Butler St.
Executive Chef Csilla Thackray
[American] It’s marvelous witnessing a restaurant metamorphosize into a new stage of maturity. The Vandal remains as hip as when it was included on Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2016 Best Restaurants list — and the chicken sandwich and hamburger still are draws. Even better — the addition of a refined dinner menu, table service and an upgraded design makes the restaurant now as much an evening destination as it is a lunch and brunch spot. Look to dishes such as green borscht with potato, dill and cured egg and stuffed quail with paprikash, spaetzle and cucumber, where Executive Chef Csilla Thackray draws from her Hungarian heritage.