Think Globally Eat Locally
Pittsburgh slowly is moving closer to becoming a global dining destination while maintaining a culinary connection to its industrial past. PM Dining critic Hal B. Klein profiles 16 international restaurants you need to visit.
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Omar Abuhejleh parents were raised in Nablus in what now is known as the West Bank; his father grew up in a farming village, his mother inside the city. They emigrated to Los Angeles, where Abuhejleh was born, and also lived in what Abuhejleh describes as a “classic company town” in Saudi Arabia. (He went to an American school where everyone’s parents worked for the same company.) Abuhejleh moved to Pittsburgh in 1996 to attend law school and followed his mother’s example and began to cook traditional Palestinian as well as pan-Arabian recipes to find a taste of home. Abuhejleh’s first foray into the professional culinary world happened when he was in college. In 2004, he purchased Allegro Hearth bakery.
Levantine cuisine covers a region that encompasses Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, all of which have rich culinary traditions, and the cuisine also is influenced by the foodways of Turkey, Iraq and Iran, as well as millennia of spice traders and travelers. Levantine food lends itself to a vegetable-forward menu, and Abuhejleh takes it to the next level at B52 by offering a 100 percent vegan menu. Fret not, tahini, the wonderful puree of sesame seeds, will make you forget about butter when eating B52’s selection of hummus, baba ganoush and fried cauliflower. Get an order of manakish; the za’atar-topped flatbread is particularly good (it also is an excellent topping on the non-Levantine but extraordinary french fries). B52’s Falafel sandwiches are perfect for a light lunch, particularly when paired with the amazing lentil soup.
Taiwanese Bistro Cafe 33
1711 Shady Ave., Squirrel Hill
Owners Jenny and Asan Tao
Book Tripe and Vegetables
Jenny Tao and her husband Asan emigrated to the United States from Taiwan in 1983. The duo first worked in restaurants in New York, and in 1995 moved to Pittsburgh. Jenny Tao runs the front-of-house, and she says that customers shouldn’t come expecting to eat generic Chinese-American dishes such as orange beef and General Tso’s chicken. Her pleasant staff is happy to help guests navigate head-chef Asan Tao’s Taiwanese menu.
The nation’s cuisine is influenced by various regions of China as well as Japan. Open-minded eaters should look to offal. Start with tripe with spicy sauce, a delicious stir fry of cow-stomach and vegetables. Pork-blood tofu with garlic-chives soup is a comforting dish that’s perfect on a chilly day. Diners who want to ease in with something a little more familiar should start with Head of Flies, which is significantly less insect-forward then it sounds; minced pork and fermented black beans are stir-fried with garlic and sesame and then served over rice. Everyone should order a flaky, handmade scallion pancake with egg s well as a sauteed vegetable of their choice. Cafe 33 also serves very good xiao long bao (soup dumplings).
4141 Old William Penn Highway, Monroeville
Owner Manjunath Sherigar
Rice Served With A Variety Of Dishes
Owner Manjunath Sherigar is a native of Udupi, an ancient city in southwestern India. He had family living in Pittsburgh and decided to move here in 1996 because he felt that people in this area needed authentic Indian food; he opened Udipi Cafe later that year. The restaurant’s loyal customer base is drawn primarily from the nearby Sri Venkateswara Temple, one of the first traditional Hindu temples built in the United States, as well as from in-the-know diners, particularly people who eat plant-based diets. Udipi isn’t merely a trailblazing delicious Indian restaurant; it also is 100 percent vegetarian.
The restaurant’s team of chefs all hails from India. They craft a menu that’s rooted in southern India, particularly Andhra, Karnataka and Tuluva-Mangalorean cuisines. At the heart of Udipi’s menu is the dosa, made from a batter of ground, fermented rice and lentils and cooked on a griddle to the thinness of a crepe. They’re stuffed with ingredients such as potatoes, onions and chutney. The dosa, tender on the interior and ringed by the best sort of crispy edges, is folded into a triangle and served, flopping, over the side of a plate. Udipi’s menu includes curries, rice dishes and a variety of chutneys and condiments.
242 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside
Owners Watcharee Tongdee and Michael Johnson
Ingredients Assembled Before Cooking
The Tongdee family is Pittsburgh’s first family of Thai cuisine. Pusadee Tongdee emigrated from Tak, Thailand, more than 25 years ago, along with her children, Watcheree, Busaba “Gik” and Tony. The entire family collaborated on Pusadee’s Garden in Upper Lawrenceville. Watcheree struck out on her own with Bangkok Balcony, and, after she sold her stake in that restaurant, opened the now-closed Typhoon with her partner, Michael Johnson. The two now operate Noodlehead, a fast-casual concept inspired by food found at street markets in Thailand. In 2019, Wacheree and Busaba Tongee will, along with Johnson, open an expanded Pusadee’s Garden; there will be two restaurants (modern Thai and family style “baan baan”) and a larger garden.
Noodlehead’s menu features dishes that come from or are influenced by the family matriarch, Pusadee, with a focus, as implied by the name of the restaurant, on noodles. Chiang Mai curry — egg noodles, chicken, pickled mustard greens and crispy shallots in a yellow-curry — stands up to the restaurant’s noteworthy spicy (dishes can be made less spicy) backbone thanks to coconut milk. Green curry linguine is made with semolina-flour noodles and clams; Thai basil gives the dish an herbaceous backbone. Noodlehead’s chefs do a knock-up job with ubiquitous Thai noodle dishes such as pad kee mow and pad see yew, too.