25 Best Restaurants: 2010
It's a great pleasure to share with you our annual Best Restaurants issue in a year that (despite a tough economy and an unforgettable snowpocalypse) made our region's dining scene more vibrant than ever.
Avenue B *
Chris Bonfili, winner of this year’s “Rising Star Chef” award, opened this charming bistro with his wife, Jenn, last November. The menu’s freshness comes in part from presentation—each day, new dishes go up on big wall-mounted chalkboards. This is where we found the dishes we loved best, from perfectly creamy cauliflower bisque or Prince Edward Island mussels in steaming, garlicky tomato broth to meltingly tender day-boat scallops.
There’s also a short, printed menu with starters, mains and desserts (try the trio of homemade ice creams to finish). Attention to detail, from the French-press coffee delivered with timers to the consistently friendly, knowledgeable service, makes Avenue B a happy new addition to the area’s dining scene.
Chef/Owner Chris Bonfili: 5501 Centre Ave., Shadyside; 412/683-3663, avenueb-pgh.com.
This is the second year that Douglass Dick is a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award for “Best Chef” in the mid-Atlantic region—needless to say, he deserves it. His daily-changing menu presents consistently stunning food, and his unique willingness to cook off the menu for tables requesting one of his six- and nine-course dinners (weeknights preferred for this option) shows off his talent and confidence.
We loved dishes such as the potato-chive gnocchi, which might be served with braised beef Bolognese and served with rich caramelized onions and duck-leg confit sauce or even with local kielbasa complemented by sauerkraut and apples. His way with scallops is memorable, whether the dish comes with blood-orange reduction and braised kale or with an apple-bacon-sage demi-glace.
The dining room is BYOB with decor that’s strictly no-frills, but you’ll still want to call a few weeks in advance for a weekend table.
Executive Chef and Owner Douglass Dick: 908 Main St., Sharpsburg; 412/781-8210, bonaterrapgh.com.
Drawing inspiration from all over the Mediterranean but sourcing many ingredients from just miles away, new executive chef Eli Wahl is making his mark at this East End standby. Starters including the sumac-crusted sea scallops with baba ghanoush and preserved lemon oil will jump-start your palate; among the main courses, we loved the signature double-cut pork chop, Elysian Fields Farm lamb shank and tender fennel risotto with morel mushrooms.
The dining room is sophisticated with beautiful lighting, and the cozy cocktail lounge actually invites lounging; the breezy, tented patio is a great spot to share an artisan cheese plate and a bottle of vino from the well-selected list.
To do some good while you dine, check the Web site for more about the monthly benefit dinners for various city organizations.
Executive Chef Eli Wahl: 229 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside; 412/661-5656, bigburrito.com/casbah.
Cross Keys Inn *
This former hotel and restaurant built in 1850 was restored in beautiful English country style last year by the Uricchio brothers, formerly of Highland Park’s Laforêt restaurant, and won this year’s “Delicious Design” award. Michael Uricchio, with the help of head chef Lia Davidson-Welling, shows his passion for quality ingredients above all, and everything from breads and stocks to desserts is made in-house.
We loved such starters as the crispy hand-rolled duck spring roll and such mains as the pan-roasted Chilean sea bass with ginger, lemongrass, shiitake mushrooms and rice noodles; for a casual supper, there’s a bar menu featuring great burgers with pommes frites or wood-fired pizzas. The list of international wines hand-picked for quality and value by Robert only adds to the appeal.
Co-owners Robert Uricchio and Michael Uricchio: 599 Dorseyville Road, Indiana Township; 412/967-1900, crosskeysinnpgh.com.
Minimalist and innovative are especially apt adjectives for Dinette, which specializes in fine thin-crust pizza and wine. Sonja Finn, a 2010 James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for “Rising Star Chef of the Year,” changes her short menu every day but always offers several starters, including two or three stellar salads and eight unique pizzas.
We enjoyed starters such as the fritto misto and the elegant grilled romaine; ditto for the 12-inch, crispy thin-crust pizzas, such as one with chorizo, Yukon Gold potatoes, Castelvetrano olives and fresh mozzarella or one with fresh, tender baby lettuce.
Refreshingly, all 20-plus wines on the list are available by the bottle or by the glass; for dessert, there’s a decadent chocolate pot de crème among other choices. The airy one-room dining space features an open kitchen and bar and sustainable architecture.
Chef and Owner Sonja Finn: 5996 Penn Circle South, East Liberty; 412/362-0202, dinette-pgh.com.
Dish Osteria and Bar
For rustic Italian food, a late-night kitchen (open until midnight), great cocktails and a fun South Side location, you can’t beat this spot favored by hipsters and well-heeled older couples alike. We couldn’t do without some of the standbys from the brief, printed menu—grilled calamari with sautéed spinach, Sicilian orange and fennel salad or wild-mushroom pasta.
The daily specials, which account for about 50 percent of the dishes each day, are equally reliable, from a homemade potato gnocchi with cream sauce spiked with taleggio, gorgonzola, fontina and Reggiano, to pan-seared sea scallops with roasted beets. Adjacent to the intimate dining room is the handsome bar, a charming-if-busy spot to wait if you neglected to call ahead for a table.
Chef Michele Savoia: 128 S. 17th St., South Side; 412/390-2012, dishosteria.com.
Six years have allowed Eleven to find its stride, so this urbane Strip District restaurant has seized the opportunity to perfect its details, from its well-polished service and sleek bar area down to the dot of white anchovy atop its crispy brussels sprouts. Time and time again, chef Derek Stevens delivers fresh, well-executed contemporary American fare with just enough intrigue—we loved the smoked-lamb taco with goat cheese, tomatillo salsa and refried lentils—to delight new diners and ensure that fans return to see what else is in store.
In addition to its reformatted lunch and dinner menus, the restaurant also offers baked goods and house-made chocolates for pick-up and has introduced an unfussy tavern menu, which gives an upgrade to casual classics. It’s easy to fall for these soft pretzels, Angus beef burgers, New York strip steaks and, yes, even hot dogs, considering that they maintain the same meticulous standards as every other dish from this kitchen.
Executive Chef Derek Stevens: 1150 Smallman St., Strip District; 412/201-5656, bigburrito.com/eleven.
A passion for thin-crust Neapolitan pizza is this spot’s specialty, but recent menu expansions have turned this appealing restaurant into even more of a destination. If you’re sticking with pies, you can’t go wrong with the sublimely simple margherita—the wood-fired oven from Italy cooks each pizza in a hot minute, and there’s even a temperature-controlled room for making dough.
Beyond pizza and the tender handmade pasta, recent menu additions include steamed mussels, creative risottos and other seafood- and meat-focused main courses.
We love pulling up a seat in the cozy wine bar (which has a separate entrance), although the main room with exposed brick and Tuscan tiles and the charming outdoor patio are also great spots to dine.
Head Chef Richard Sphatt: 703 Washington Road, Mount Lebanon; 412/344-4123.
Seafood is a specialty at this Mount Lebanon neighborhood favorite, where the menu is printed several times a week to reflect what’s fresh. Starters of house-made mozzarella, crispy calamari tossed in sweet soy sambal and tempura tuna maki reflect Mediterranean and Asian influences.
So do the stunning main courses, including grilled bronzini with white beans, pepper-crusted tuna with sesame-miso gnocchi in addition to one of our favorites: locally made torcia pasta, featuring a pile of veggies with sherry, marinara and shaved parmesan.
In the four years since opening, the restaurant has been BYOB, but now has a pending liquor license, which could bring a remodel and a new bar to the bright, casual dining room this summer.
Chef and Owner Jeff Iovino: 300A Beverly Road, Mount Lebanon; 412/440-0414, iovinoscafe.com.
Joseph Tambellini Restaurant *
Traditional Italian favorites are the specialty at this white-tablecloth restaurant co-owned by chef Joseph Tambellini and wife, Melissa. We loved the crispy fried shrimp breaded with panko and served with lemon and cocktail sauce; the homemade meatballs were another favorite, served in either a meatball-parmesan sauce with aged provolone or as a topping for such house-made pastas as tagliolini, mafalda or trenne.
The chef’s four to six daily specials are often based on old family recipes. (Starting at age 12, Joseph worked downtown at his father’s place, Robert Tambellini Restaurant, which was open from 1965 to 1991). Each entrée comes with seasonally inspired salad and a second pasta course, which changes daily. The wine list has a focus on Italian and Californian varietals.
Chef and Owner Joseph Tambellini: 5701 Bryant St., Highland Park; 412/665-9000, josephtambellini.com.
For more than a decade, Pittsburghers have flocked to this funky, bright tiki-esque spot in the Strip District for tropas and entradas (appetizers and entrées) inspired by the tropics. With its lively bar, casual seating and island-themed soundtrack, Kaya is a place where it feels right to order rounds of spicy small plates: Heat things up with lentil and corn beignets with green curry sauce, and cool off with a round of excellent mojitos.
If you’re looking for larger plates, entrées like pan-seared barramundi with red rice, chickpeas, carrots, aioli and tomato-caper chutney satisfy with just enough heat. To finish, try a flavorful Mexican chocolate torte garnished with spiced pecans and chipotle ice cream.
Executive Chef Sean Ehland: 2000 Smallman St., Strip District;; 412/261-6565, bigburrito.com/kaya.
It’s just 14 small tables packed elbow-to-elbow, but the flavors at this Regent Square bistro get bigger all the time. Trevett Hooper continues his quest to source the best-quality ingredients, make just about everything in-house—from charcuterie to pickles and preserves—and create memorable bistro food.
That we loved main courses, including white halibut with Carolina Gold rice grits and Maine shrimp, isn’t surprising: Recently, Hooper put new emphasis on bringing in small amounts of super-fresh fish that’s shipped directly from where it was caught. Few things stay on the daily-changing menu, but the dishes that do, including chicken cooked under a skillet with mashed potatoes or the chocolate-truffle cake, are always good bets.
Sign up for the chef’s excellent “Notes From the Kitchen” weekly update at the restaurant’s website.
Executive Chef/Owner Trevett Hooper: 1113 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square; 412/371-1815, legumebistro.com.
Mio Kitchen & Wine Bar
Matthew Porco, our “Chef of the Year” award winner creates memorable comfort food at his wine-driven restaurant. The dishes we loved—Caesar salad with fried egg and prosciutto, sausage ravioli with mushroom ragoût, crispy skate wing with braised Belgian endive and decadent short ribs—showcase Porco’s knack for creating rich, concentrated flavors.
The wine list of about 170 bottles and 20 to 25 wines by the glass leaves plenty of room for experimentation, and the knowledgeable staff offers helpful guidance. Winning desserts are from wonderful pastry chef Barbara Ferguson.
The main dining area, with its beautiful lighting and banquettes, is on the upscale side of upscale-casual; another appealing spot to dine is the handsome bar. Check the website for details on the three-course prix fixe menu, which runs Tuesday through Thursday.
Owner and Executive Chef Matthew Porco: 225 Commercial Ave., Aspinwall; 412/781-3141, mio-pgh.com.
Nine on Nine
The ambitious menu and chic decor make this one of our favorite spots for dinner downtown. With a sharp focus on top-notch ingredients, the kitchen captures flavors from Asia to the Mediterranean.
We fell in love with dishes like the signature risotto with wild mushrooms and truffles laced with porcini oil, and a king trumpet-mushroom salad with avocado, bok choy and kicky miso-chile vinaigrette. Among the more memorable entrées were an Amish chicken with apple bread pudding, bacon sweet potatoes and French-bean casserole; and prime strip steak with mushroom pot stickers, baby bok choy, miso caramel and tempura mushrooms. To finish, try the cheese plate or carrot cake with cream cheese, orange caramel and brown-butter ice cream.
Appealing dining choices include the six-course chef’s tasting menu (until 9 p.m.), the three-course theater menu (until 7 p.m.), the weekday lunch menu or cocktails and small plates in the comfortable lounge.
Executive Chef Richard DeShantz: 900 Penn Ave., downtown; 412/338-6463, nineonnine.com.
Flavors from every corner of the globe find their way onto the menu at this upscale, lower-level restaurant just off bustling Walnut Street. Shifting his focus from the “tapas flights,” which characterized the menu previously, chef Ronald DeLuca has beefed up the restaurant’s appetizer offerings while continuing to thoughtfully source great ingredients and change the menu weekly.
We loved stopping in for a starter of gorgonzola-and-chive hummus followed up by a dish of Maple Leaf Farms duck au poivre with clementine reduction and mushroom risotto with shaved truffles. Sip something from the appealing international wine list while you relax in one of two small dining rooms—we’re partial to tables in the recently expanded bar and lounge, with its warm lighting and earthy color palette.
Executive Chef/Owner Ronald A. DeLuca Jr.: 736 Bellfonte St., Shadyside; 412/621-3152, pangea-shadyside.com.
Piccolo Forno *
At this casual, family-owned neighborhood restaurant, signature crispy-thin crusts provide the foundation for traditional wood-fired pizzas. We loved the speck e mascarpone, with paper-thin slices of cured ham playing off fresh mozzarella and creamy mascarpone and the quattro formaggi with an addictively creamy blend of fresh mozzarella, gorgonzola, crotonese and ricotta cheeses.
The heartier main courses include winning lasagna from the Branduzzi family recipe box; homemade soups, salads and panini fill out the menu. Dessert brings house-made tiramisù or gelato imported from Italy, in addition to other choices.
The simple, open dining room has rustic-brick and burnt-orange walls, marble-topped tables, a pizza oven at the center and usually a big and lively crowd. It’s a rare night when you can waltz in and sit down without a wait.
Chef Domenic Branduzzi: 3801 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/622-0111, piccolo-forno.com.
Plum Pan Asian Kitchen *
We can’t get enough of the fresh offerings from Plum’s sushi bar, where the knife-wielding chefs make quick work of glistening slabs of fish, serving up more than 15 delicious specialty rolls, as well as sashimi. The other offerings from the large menu take inspiration from all over Asia, and winners include everything from a hot Japanese-style appetizer of sampan calamari or addictive roti canai (Indian-style flatbread with curry dipping sauce) to a main course of Thai-style spicy duck.
Pastry chef William Schwerin, formerly of Richard Chen, creates wonderful desserts, such as a sundae with malted peanut-butter ice cream, chocolate sauce and salted candied peanuts. The upscale, creative cocktail menu changes seasonally although a few standbys, including the Plum Crazy, a lychee martini made with plum vodka, are always on offer. This summer will bring the introduction of an all-new happy hour.
Owner George Lee: 5996 Penn Circle South, East Liberty; 412/363-7586, plumpanasiankitchen.com.
Got mojitos and inventive tapas on your mind? Pull up a seat at this bright, casual downtown hot spot for cocktails and small plates; the Nuevo Latino menu is split between seviche bar offerings and cooked tapas.
We loved the ahi tuna sliders served with wasabi mayo on plump little rolls and the savory pulled-chicken tostadas. The menu’s traditional seviche choice—fresh lime, jalapeño pepper, scallion, red onion and cilantro, served with homemade tortilla chips—with any of the seafood choices is another favorite. Later this year watch for a new “mid-plate” menu category, with plates that are larger than tapas but smaller than full entrees, and be sure to check out the festive happy hour.
Executive Chef and Owner Yves Carreau: 930 Penn Ave., downtown; 412/697-3120, seviche.com.
$ (for tapas/small plates)
You’ll find white-tablecloth dining backed by a sleek two-story waterfall at this upscale pan-Asian restaurant. The diverse main courses include such options as crispy bronzini with lemongrass-coconut sauce or red-hot red curry, but we especially love dining on small plates at the clubby downstairs bar. Cozy up on leather couches, order a unique cocktail—like the mugi-oh martini, a blend of imported Japanese vodka, cucumber puree, lemon juice and simple syrup—and share dishes like Blue Bay mussels, Thai corn chowder and crispy tofu.
For dessert, look for classic confections infused with traditional Asian flavors, such as the banana split served with huckleberry, jasmine and black-rice ice creams. An added bonus: The second-story outdoor deck is a real treat during the summer.
Executive Chef Danielle Cain: 5847 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside; 412/362-5656, bigburrito.com/soba.
The winner of this year’s award for “Best New Restaurant” opened last summer, the brainchild of owner and Pittsburgh native Allen Chen and executive chef Roger Li. The creative menu includes sushi, choices from the robata grill and such entrées as beef tenderloin with pickled ginger-cauliflower puree. But what we can’t get enough of are the small plates, from the phyllo-wrapped tiger shrimp with coconut-saffron sauce and cilantro vinaigrette to the Peking duck quesadilla and the chipotle tuna tartare with yuzu crème fraîche.
The two-floor restaurant is hopping; the great cocktail menu is a plus, and there’s an option for fun bar seats directly in front of the lively open kitchen. As it says on the top of the restaurant’s menu, the word “tamari” describes people who “do everything with passion”—and this new spot is true to its name.
Executive Chef Roger Li: 3519 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/325-3435, tamaripgh.com.
Toast! Kitchen & Wine Bar
This fun restaurant won our “Best New Restaurant” and “Rising Star Chef” awards last year. The menu of small and large plates changes daily (the few dishes that do stay on, like the addictive shrimp and grits or sweet onion bisque are not to be missed). Working with local purveyors—including a small, local farm that raises produce exclusively for the restaurant—ensures that everything is as fresh and seasonal as possible.
We loved dishes such as a small plate of rich, fatty lamb ribs; spinach salad with fried egg; roasted tile fish or the juicy, roasted Amish farm chicken. To finish, try the smooth and satisfying chocolate pot de crème.
Seating areas include a cozy bar downstairs with banquettes and three intimate upstairs white-tablecloth dining rooms. The wine list, with about 180 bottle selections and 50 wines by the glass (at least six are bubbly), won its first Wine Spectator award last year; informed—yet friendly—advice on pairing is always at hand.
Co-owners Paul Tebbets and Chef Chet Garland: 5102 Baum Blvd., Shadyside; 412/224-2579, toastkitchen-winebar.com.
Classic noodles and curries as well as inventive “new Thai” cuisine are the specialty at this stylish restaurant. Last year, the arrival of chef Michael Olshansky brought an infusion of Japanese and Korean dishes to the menu as well.
We love dishes including the miniature spicy raw-tuna tacos even more because it’s easy to find a good wine pairing to go with them—the interesting, well-priced wine list of about 40 bottles and more than 20 wines by the glass highlights varietals that match the menu’s eclectic flavors. Playing to this strength, the restaurant has recently introduced new, monthly multicourse wine dinners and informal tastings. The bright, inviting dining room has sleek banquettes, bamboo and a bar that specializes in cocktails made with Asian ingredients.
Chef Michael “Buzz” Olshansky: 242 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside; 412/362-2005, typhoonpgh.com.
Food is art at Umi, and the artist is chef Mr. Shu, who swiftly and expertly wields his knives to create world-class sushi, sashimi and other elements of Japanese cuisine, including miso soup and tempura.
In the cozy, softly lit, earth-toned dining room, choose between traditional tatami seating or pull up to the five-person sushi bar for an up-close view of chef Shu at work. Pick and choose your own maki, sushi and sashimi, or opt for an entree that showcases the delicate flavors and textures of seafood, such as the yellowtail sashimi with spicy yuzu jalapeño sauce.
Our favorite order is the omakase menu (which loosely means “trust the chef”), a unique multicourse meal that chef Shu prepares showcasing the best ingredients available that evening.
Executive Chef Mr. Shu: 5849 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside; 412/362-6198, bigburrito.com/umi.
$$-$$$ (omakase menu starts at $75/person)
We love this family-owned restaurant north of downtown in Bellevue because it feels like something you’d stumble across on a side street in a small Italian town. The short menu is told orally; the setting is eclectic and cozy but unpretentious, and the chef will most likely visit your table and talk with you about your food.
Dinner (served Wednesday through Saturday only) is prix fixe and includes an appetizer, pasta, entree, salad and dessert. You’ll find great flavor in every detail, from the basic red sauce to the house-made vinaigrette on a salad of local greens; we love going for the Italian classics such as osso bucco or, for dessert, panna cotta.
Chef and Owner Sabatino “Sam” DiBattista: 565 Lincoln Ave., Bellevue; 412/761-9500.
Opened in 2008 by three friends, this cozy 28-seat bistro takes a creative approach by offering only main courses on the brief menu. Meals kick off with a complimentary appetizer such as savory house-made flatbread with goat-cheese soufflé and marinated olives.
Then you’ll choose from about seven to nine entree selections, which change every two weeks, and include side dishes (prices reflect this): Grilled pork tenderloin is served with onion-thyme soufflé, asparagus, shallot sauce and arugula, for example, while seared scallops come with pasta dressed in crushed, roasted sweet peppers and mascarpone. The house-made desserts change bimonthly and may include decadent cheesecake or génoise with sherried berries.
Decorated in a charmingly eclectic style, the interior is as warm and inviting as the casual, friendly service.
Chef Gloria Fortunato: 1469 Bower Hill Road, Upper St. Clair; 412/221-1232, wildrosemary.com.