12 Hot New Restaurants
A diverse crop of eateries caught our attention this year, so we’re highlighting some of our favorites.
PHOTOS BY LAURA PETRILLA, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED
Over the last few months, we’ve expanded our food coverage, both in print and online, because we’re as excited about what’s happening in Pittsburgh food as you are. This month, we’re focusing on newer restaurants. Despite some setbacks in the dining scene (we’ll miss you, Fukuda), a diverse crop of eateries caught our attention this year, so we’re highlighting some of our favorites. We’ll also introduce you to a group of buzzworthy bartenders who brighten the city’s nightlife. Start exploring right away because with new spots opening all the time, there’s going to be more on your plate very soon.
Gus’s Cafe embodies all that is Lawrenceville. Locals love the hip, dark interior, casually cool DJs, refined bar food and stellar, popular choices on draft, such as Red Star Kombucha. At first, this spot served only gluten-free drinks and fare. It since has expanded its offerings, while still including options for those with dietary restrictions. Though most everything we’ve tried has been perfect — tachos (cheese- and salsa-covered tater tots), various burgers, gnocchi mac ‘n’ cheese — the assortment of plates is all over the map. One might expect to find wings, hot dogs and fried pickles at a bar. This menu, which lists a few items with “Breaking Bad”-inspired names, also includes a vegan chocolate mousse (that’ll spellbind carnivores, too) and a veggie skewers special. We recommend going all out on the indulgence that is the maple-bacon-waffle burger. We promise it’s worth your time and calories. Two buttery gluten-free waffles nestle around a half-pound beef patty and bacon strips. When fresh, it’s tops; if eating the other half later, be sure to heat in a toaster oven to keep texture intact. —KM
4717 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/315-7271; cash only
PHOTO BY LEAH LIZARONDO
In accordance with the yogi way of life, Amazing Cafe takes a wholesome approach to dining. This isn’t your standard juice bar. That beverage is served here, yes. But you’ll want to pay more attention to how you’re going to fill up at this cafe, located next to Amazing Yoga. Kale is omnipresent, incorporated into the food and drinks, but locals would agree there’s much more to try. The Buddha burger is your ticket if you’re not big on mushrooms or tofu; the veggie patty comes with two familiar sides: fries and slaw. We recommend eating a full meal — otherwise, you’re missing out. The cleansing cocktail is light enough that you should have room for soup (we like “balance”) and a sandwich or a salad with one of the entrées. Prepare to feel good about your dessert selection; kick the guilty thoughts when you (slowly, nicely) devour a slice of the chocolate “bliss” or raw carrot “glory” cake. —KM
1506 E. Carson St., South Side
Mount Washington is and likely always will be viewed as a must-visit destination for romance and prime panoramas of the city. Altius, whose kitchen is helmed by Jessica Bauer (pictured), the former executive chef of Bistro 19 in Mt. Lebanon, says it wishes to serve “elevated” cuisine that complements the setting. Its location in the remodeled Georgetowne Inn structure is partly the reason for all of the buzz surrounding its arrival. Highly regarded sommelier Alan Uchrinscko, who’s worked in such establishments as Lautrec at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, has put together a list of organic, biodynamic wines. Housemade breads and spreads, grilled items and small plates seem to have generated the most praise among diners. We recommend riding the incline up the hill after taking your date to a show. Select a seat in the sleek space near a window and pick a wine that suits your (or your date’s) fancy. The sea-scallop appetizer isn’t what you’d expect, but that’s why we like it so much; it previously was served with cornbread, sangria vinaigrette, smoked-peach barbecue sauce and pork belly. You also can’t go wrong with the charcuterie board, comprised of Crested Duck meats as well as a medley of cheeses, breads and pickled vegetables. —KM
1230 Grandview Ave., Mt. Washington; 412/904-4442
Indian food too often is treated as a homogenous entity. Even worse, the cuisine of a country of more than 1 billion people and 100-plus languages almost always is boiled down to a $7 all-you-can eat buffet. One visit to Kohinoor in Monroeville will remind you that Indian food demands more respect. From a spicy dish such as pulusu from the south to deeply earthy northern haleem, it’s a joy to eat here. Ignore the fact that the restaurant shares space with a ramshackle motel. As chefs, intrepid food explorers and readers of Pittsburgh Magazine already know, it’s worth a special trip to enjoy chef Tamilselvan Thangadurai’s intoxicating cuisine. We recommend gathering a group of friends and relatives and doing this one family-style. Start with bhel poori or vegetable samosas, move on to palak paneer — you’ll shudder the next time you see a poorly executed version of this savory spinach-forward dish on a buffet line — and then share a couple of curries. Don’t miss the fragrant, juicy tandoori chicken, one of best we’ve had anywhere. Be sure to order a basket of naan; it’s always made fresh in the tandoor. (As this issue went to press, a fire in Kohinoor’s kitchen had caused at least a temporary closure of the restaurant. We’re keeping track of its plans to reopen by this month, and you also can check its Facebook page for updates.) —HBK
4155 William Penn Highway, Monroeville; 412/376-2181
The explosion of upscale, experimental and fancy-pants dining options in and around downtown is exciting. Sometimes, however, it’s nice to relax our belt buckles a few notches and crush a pile of wings and a few pizzas. That’s where Blue Line Grille comes in. It’s located across the street from Consol Energy Center, so it’s a solid choice for a pre- or post-game meal. Plus, with a bevy of large-screen televisions, the sports bar is a terrific spot to cheer your favorite Pittsburgh sports team on to victory. It’s hard to miss the hockey connection here: “Blue Line” refers to the two blue lines in a hockey rink that mark off the various zones; there is hockey art everywhere, and there’s even a rink glass-enclosed dining area. Pizza toppings also are divided into lines. Customize your pie with a variety of toppings — much like players, they’re ranked by value; a first line of shaved roast beef is going to cost your team of eaters more than a third-line selection of red onions. We especially like the PenWings, which come baked or fried (get them fried). The “fire sauce” is piquant and invigorating; the Peruvian chimichurri is a little more dialed-back, but the herbaceous flavors are no less delicious. We recommend Blue Line Grille for a spirited gathering with your buddies, either before a game or for a night of drinking and eating. Penguins jerseys are optional but encouraged. —HBK
1014 Fifth Ave., Uptown; 412/281-2583
What began as a sweet little hole-in-the-wall on Penn Avenue is on the verge of growing. Since opening last year, Gaucho has been filling the air with scents of grilled meats. Come lunchtime, odds are high that the crew will run out of something on the menu, meaning you’ll need to wait or order something else. Potatoes go quickly, as few can resist the seasoned, roasted wedges. In four to six months, Gaucho will open a two-floor restaurant space next door and turn the existing spot into its full kitchen. We recommend going with one of the steak plates. The lomo (or filet mignon) comes in small or large cuts; the housemade chimichurri puts the charred beef’s flavor over the edge. Each dish proves that there’s no need to manipulate ingredients; the grilled shrimp, for instance, is paired only with garlic, rosemary and lemon — yet it couldn’t be more perfect. —KM
1607 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412/709-6622
PHOTO BY MAYOFLUX
Walk through the main Bar Marco dining room, pass the kitchen and descend the staircase to the restaurant’s basement for a dining experience as intimate as it can be boisterous. The Wine Room is a place for memories. Executive Chef Jamilka Borges lets her imagination run wild in The Wine Room, where 10 guests sit at a communal marble table in the restaurant’s private wine cellar. There are two seatings every Wednesday through Saturday. The early seating ($55) is a four-course pre-dinner, designed to start your night off right. The main seating ($125) offers eight-12 courses and can last for several hours. Each course is served with a wine carefully selected to match the flavor profile of the dish. The menu is a reflection of what’s in season and what’s inspiring Borges. Book The Wine Room for a wild, fun dinner with friends or for a special occasion: graduation, reunion, engagement, going-away party. Just be aware that if you don’t fill the room, you’re going to be seated with people you don’t (yet) know. Although it’s an intimate experience, conversation with the entire table strongly is encouraged. In fact, if you want to fully embrace The Wine Room culture, consider switching seats at least once during the meal. We recommend letting go and having a great time. Indeed, the best thing to do when booking your table is to inform the kitchen of any food allergies or strong flavor aversions and leave the rest in Borges’ capable hands. —HBK
2216 Penn Ave., downstairs, Strip District; 412/471-1900
Cheap-eats hotspot Noodlehead — which opened in 2012 but hasn’t yet been discovered by every food lover — is an offshoot of Lawrenceville stalwart Pusadee’s Garden. While there’s overlap between the menus, this eatery stands out for its own concepts — the Thai fried chicken, for example, is available as a starter or atop the Street Noodle No. 1 dish with bok choy and cilantro. It should be stated that the kitchen crew takes its five-point spice scale very seriously; when you say you want a level two, take a bite of your dish before grabbing the tableside bottle of sriracha and dousing your meal. Dim lighting and distressed wooden features add to the welcoming ambiance. We recommend paying the 50-cent BYOB fee, opening a bottle of your favorite vino and filling up on the shrimp tempura served in the Street Noodle No. 2 entrée. There isn’t a phone line, and staff doesn’t accept reservations, so your best bet is to drop in on a weeknight or Sunday. —KM
242 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside; cash only
The novice wine drinker can be intimidated by vague menu descriptions; tasting notes or other clues can provide a world of help. That's the idea at Open Bottle Bistro, an intimate spot near the gallery-focused end of Ellsworth. Glance at the lineup, which is split into type (red, white, house) and further divided by style (robust, refreshing), to pick a type that’s in line with your preferences. Culinary offerings exhibit a pan-European influence. Dishes have flavor, albeit muted; the risotto is a good example — piave cheese blends with sautéed mushrooms, truffle oil and the creamy rice atop wilted spinach, leaving you satisfied but desiring more of a punch. We recommend sticking with small plates. Two favorable options are vegan: The bean pâté and hummus choice isn’t novel but is suitable for light snacking. Spiced, sautéed white potatoes serve as a welcome substitute for fries, especially when drinking wine. Charcuterie and cheese plates are natural selections for nights when you’re looking to converse while having a glass or two of wine. —KM
5884 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside; 412/450-8217
Executive Chef/Co-owner Matthew Porco’s three-floor downtown dining extravaganza is designed to please your very best whims. The spaces are more appropriate for single-item bar snacking than for a full meal. Downstairs is Emporio, the most casual of the three concepts. Although meatballs are meant to be the main draw, we actually prefer some of the other menu items: The matzo ball soup is the best we’ve had in Pittsburgh that hasn’t been prepared in someone’s home kitchen, and the escarole-and-beans dish rivals for top in the city. With an exceptional beer list, Emporio is a great place for an after-work drink and snack with colleagues. On the second floor is Mezzo, the brick oven and charcuterie concept. It’s the newest and the most enticing of the three spaces. There’s a nicely curated, Italian-focused wine list and a selection of salads and pastas in addition to the pizza and cured meats. Mezzo is an excellent, if pricey, date-night spot. Finally, take the elevator up to Il Tetto. The sleek rooftop “beer garden” offers open air in the warm months and is encased in a conservatory-like greenhouse when it’s cooler; thus Il Tetto is downtown’s most romantic spot. Service can be impersonal and uneven, however, and the menu offerings, while tasty, don’t quite merit their prices. We recommend stopping by Il Tetto for a craft cocktail and splitting a snack with your date. —HBK
942 Penn Ave., downtown; 412/281-2810
For a fun and funky downtown experience, you can’t do better than Grit & Grace, Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2014 Best New Restaurant. Chef de Cuisine Curtis Gamble’s food lingers in the familiar but pushes your boundaries. In fact, you’ll probably find a new favorite dish with something you thought you “didn’t like” before you walked in. Dim sum and small plates give you freedom to try several dishes, and diners also are encouraged to share the large plates. Now let’s talk about the funky part. Sam O’Dellick started out as a food runner, but S&P Restaurant Group management (which also owns Spoon, BRGR and Willow) encourages staff to grow within the business. When the team found out that O’Dellick was a budding fermento, they gave him the opportunity to work with mold, yeast and bacteria to create a tantalizing cupboard of pickles and vinegars; he now splits his time between running food and fermenting and foraging. Grit & Grace is the perfect place for a third date — it’s nice but not so fancy that you’ll seem as if you’re trying too hard to impress. It’s also one of our favorite spots to bring visiting friends. And the downtown location is easily accessible to convention goers. The menu changes often, but there always are a few varieties of ramen listed; we recommend trying one of those. This is a great spot for vegetarians, too; we love the miso-braised eggplant. —HBK
535 Liberty Ave., downtown; 412/281-4748
Watch: Inside Pittsburgh Juice Company
Chef/Owner Antonio Fraga opened Casa Rasta in Beechview in 2011. The Afro-Caribbean/Mexican fusion restaurant quickly proved popular, so Fraga decided to open a second outpost in East Liberty. We already were fans of the original location, and we’re excited about the new East End space, which opened in August. Vegetarians and vegans will find Casa Rasta’s menu a refreshing departure from the norm. A huge portion of Fraga’s dishes are either meat-free or can be made that way without affecting the integrity or quality of what’s on the finished plate. The new location is an especially welcome addition for residents and workers looking for a light, tasty lunch. Or if you’re heading out for evening drinks at Kelly’s, The Livermore or The Cloak Room, Fraga’s space is a great place to fuel up. We love the laid-back yet attentive service and the mellow decorations. Come here with a group of friends or family and you’re bound to have a great time. We recommend the quinoa and cilantro soup, queso fundido and the goat curry. Tacos and burritos — especially the carnitas and rajas con papas — are great bets, too. —HBK
130 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty; 412/362-7969
On the Horizon
At press time, these places weren’t yet open. Take notes and plan to visit shortly after they debut.
Italian spot from chef Domenic Branduzzi
Opening in 2015
The Commoner in Hotel Monaco
American tavern, with chef Dennis Marron at the helm
Opening this winter
Same great taqueria, reincarnated with more space
Opening by year's end
Chef Kevin Sousa’s latest restaurant project
Opening in 2015
Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik’s next spot
Opening this winter
On the Go
PHOTO BY ADAM MILLIRON
Forget rationing your daily calorie allotment. If you see the Leona’s cart at a special event, or the ice-cream sandwiches at a store, grab a treat for the road. Made with 85-percent lactose-free ice cream, these sandwiches put others to shame; for one iteration, pink-peppercorn shortbreads complement maple-bacon-bourbon ice cream.
Berlin Street Food
The couple who runs this little cart wants to make it clear that hot dogs aren’t on the menu. Rather there are bratwursts, potato salad and more, made according to German recipes.
Mac & Gold Truck
Erase any visions of generic, box-made pasta. Dishes from this mobile “mac ‘n’ cheesery” are creative takes on classics such as corned beef and cabbage. Fresh pasta and cream-of-the-crop cheese come from Strip District gem Pennsylvania Macaroni Co.
Two “boomerangs” wood-fire 9-inch pizzas at their “deconstructed food truck,” which serves straightforward and more unconventional choices. Lamb sausage is a frequently used topping, generally matched with at least two cheeses and greens.
Follow our food-truck tracker, @PGHmagEAT, for the lowdown on who's serving where.