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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Salem’s Market & Grill
2923 Penn Ave., Strip District
Owner/General Manager Abdullah Salem
Massaud Salem was born in Libya and moved to Pittsburgh in 1977 as a political refugee escaping persecution from his country’s government. He opened a halal butcher shop in Oakland in 1981 to serve the needs of customers who desired meat slaughtered according to that religious tradition. Later that decade, he started selling lamb and chicken curries as a way to use unsold meat; the idea caught on, and the menu expanded. In 2010, Salem’s moved to its current — and much larger — Strip District location.
Massaud’s son, Abdullah, now runs the business, which includes an international staff of butchers and cooks who emigrated to the United States from countries such as Yemen, Gambia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Tunisia, Iraq, Algeria and Libya; newly settled refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia work here as well. Grab a quick and delicious lunch by choosing dishes such as lamb curry from the hot bar. Those items are served with heaps of pillowy rice and a side dish, such as creamy spinach paneer. Or, order from the grill menu of shish and seekh kebabs, lamb chops and shawarma. Specials such as goat biryani and tandoori chicken always are worth ordering. Salem’s also serves a knock-up version of perhaps the most typically American dish — the hamburger. Why? It gives the restaurant’s halal-diet clientele an opportunity to try something they can’t eat just about anywhere else that serves them.
Fish and Chips
British cuisine has taken broad strides toward destination dining in the past few decades, rooting itself in both time-honored recipes, thanks to the influence of chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fergus Henderson, as well as the global reach of its immigrant population. But for Drew Topping, whose maternal grandfather emigrated from Scotland, the role of the chip shop remains relevant as well. “I’ve been to the UK enough that I understood chip shops and their role in society,” he says.
Topping opened Piper’s Pub, a timelessly popular beer, whisky and pub-grub establishment, in 1999. When the building next to Piper’s Pub became available, Topping decided to offer something new rather than expand the concept. He opened The Pub Chip Shop in 2013. The fast-casual concept is based in a particular — and favorite — branch of British food: the local fry-up and pie shop. Its fish and chips — hand-battered haddock fried fresh every order served with crispy fries — are terrific doused in a bit of malt vinegar. Or, go for a bap — a simple sandwich served on a soft, buttery housemade roll. Still hungry? Order a savory pie; they begin with a lard-laced crust and are filled with mixes such as beef and ale, chicken tikka masala and pork and stilton.
Tea, Uni, Sashimi, Kobe Beef
Fumio Yasuzawa ended up in the United States because of a bad breakup. He was 23, living in Tokyo, feeling blue and looking to get away. “I was young and didn’t realize how far away New York City was,” he says. He spent the next two decades working in sushi restaurants in New York and New Jersey. By 1995, Yasuzawa was ready to escape the hectic pace of the NYC restaurant trade and felt like Pittsburgh had an ideal mix of opportunity and pace. Now, he has time for his hobbies, which includes carpentry — he built all the woodwork at Chaya except for the chairs — and gardening; Yasuzawa grows an array of Japanese fruits and vegetables on his 5-acre lot.
Yasuzawa opened Chaya in 2001 and moved it three doors up the block to its current, larger location in 2008. He serves sushi and sashimi — quality of the fish is solid and, just as importantly, Yasuzawa takes care to ensure that the rice is properly seasoned and served at the right temperature; Chaya also is one of the few restaurants in Pittsburgh to offer fresh wasabi as an accompaniment. Embrace the casual (and BYOB) atmosphere and order dishes such as broiled fish and chilled udon noodles. There are multiple permutations of multicourse dinners such as kaiseki, omakase and nabemono (hot pot); aromatic matsutake mushrooms are celebrated with a feast of their own in the autumn months.
Taste of Huszar Platter
Judy Torma’s father was active in the anti-communist Hungarian Uprising of 1956. As refugees, her parents escaped first to Austria and eventually resettled in Pittsburgh; her mother didn’t know it at the time, but she was pregnant with Judy when they fled by dump truck and through the woods. Torma’s mother worked as head chef in a catering business in Green Tree. Her father ran a North Side shot and beer joint. Torma, who has visited Hungry nearly 50 times and has a house in her family’s village, inherited the space after her parents both passed in 2015 and transformed it into Huszar. Hungarian cuisine often is lumped into a generic descriptor of “hunky” food, a now embraced, but once a derogatory, term to describe eastern and central European culture. But Hungary has its own proud culinary traditions, which include paprika-laced dishes, river fish, the marvelous Mangalitsa hog and a pastry tradition originating from Budapest’s role as co-equal capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Huszar is, reflective of its long history as a bar, a place to gather with friends and share home-cooked style food, stories and drinks. Start with a bowl of goulash, a paprika-rich infusion of beef and vegetables that’s quick to warm the bones. Chicken paprikás is a classic Hungarian dish, as are the tender homemade noodles they are served over at Huszar; pair it with káposztasaláta (red cabbage slaw) to add a contrast in texture and a punch of acidity. Huszar’s Hungarian menu tilts a little heavy, so, if you imbibe and it’s available, finish with a shot of Unicom, the country’s delightfully bracing digestif.