5 Best New Restaurants in Pittsburgh 2015
Our dining critic lists his top picks for new restaurants in Pittsburgh this year.
This has been a dynamic year in Pittsburgh dining. Our city’s national buzz continues to grow, thanks to a mix of homegrown talent and a modest influx of chefs moving or returning to Pittsburgh. If you look back on where we were just a few years ago, it’s an impressive shift.
We lost a few good ones this year — most notably Salt of the Earth (miss you) — but we’ve largely made up for what's gone. These are my top restaurant openings of 2015.
photo by adam milliron
How did a restaurant that opened barely a fortnight ago become my pick for Pittsburgh’s best new restaurant of 2015? What else would you expect from executive chef/co-owner Justin Severino’s follow-up to Cure? Morcilla hit the ground running and feels as though it’s been open for months rather than for just a few weeks.
I visited a few nights after the restaurant opened and was impressed with service, atmosphere and, above all, the food and drink. I was back again a few days later to hang out, drink and snack at the standing bar in the front room. After both experiences, I felt as if Morcilla’s opening marks a turning point for dining in Pittsburgh. I’ve heard the same thing from a number of other people.
My favorite dishes so far are the bacalao croquetta, the pigs feet & cheeks croquetta, the pato escabeche, the morcilla sausage and costillas de la matanza; Severino is going to become famous for that last one, which is a plate of crispy, savory pork ribs. Chef de cuisine Nate Hobart runs the day-to-day of the restaurant’s kitchen; after several years of grooming as Severino’s right hand at Cure, he’s poised to now make his own mark in Pittsburgh.
Justin isn’t the only Severino that deserves credit for Morcilla’s rapid success. Hilary Prescott-Severino, his wife and business partner, quietly has emerged as one of the top front-of-house managers in the city. She’s trained a tight crew that was ready to go from the start and also has curated a fantastic wine, sherry and vermouth list.
We’ll see if Morcilla will continue to rise, plateau or open strong only to decline. You never know with these things, but, if I had to wager, I’d pick the first one.
Photo by hal b. Klein
The question I’ve been asked most often this year: “Is Bread and Salt even a restaurant?”
In the warmer months, there are just a few tables in a courtyard abutting the neighboring building’s parking lot, and in the winter you’ll be lucky if you can grab a seat in the back room. Ordering food was a bit of a harried process early on, though that’s been streamlined recently. The hours are limited and have changed several times since Bread & Salt opened in February.
Despite the cramped seating arrangements and the occasionally gruff counter staff (service has improved significantly in the past few months), however, it would be folly to leave Bread and Salt off this list. What’s served here isn’t just some of the best food in Pittsburgh, it’s destination eating.
Chef/owner Rick Easton’s pizzas are beautiful both in flavor and in construction. Consistent, high-end sourcing of ingredients is something that’s still largely missing in Pittsburgh, but Easton isn’t cutting any corners finding what he thinks he needs to make something special.
While you’re there, consider ordering something from the chalkboard menu because it’s like getting invited to eat lunch at a master chef’s house.
PHOTO BY LAURA PETRILLA
täkō is the latest installment from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group, which also includes Meat & Potatoes and Butcher & the Rye. When I reviewed täkō for the September 2015 issue, I noted that it was “as much bar as it is restaurant,” and this still rings true. If you’re looking for a night out that includes both high-caliber food and high-test drinks, you can’t do better than täkō.
David Racicot’s kitchen is humming along, full steam ahead. Tacos at täkō have continued to improve since the restaurant opened; the tako, carnitas and baja still are among my favorites. Racicot is a hyper-talented chef, so be on the lookout for any daily specials, too.
You’re in good hands at the bar; bar manager Maggie Meskey and her crew are terrific. Have fun exploring the delicious cocktail menu or get deep into the outstanding selection of mezcal, tequila and rum.
PHOTO BY LAURA PETRILLA
Of all the openings on my list this year, The Vandal is the most accessible. It’s a fun, engaging and casual restaurant that feels very of-the-moment. Co-owner Joey Hilty runs the front-of-house with energetic flair. Executive chef Csilla Thackray’s menu is a nice mix of healthy eats and crushable comfort food. On top of that, they serve a terrific breakfast on weekdays and an even better brunch on the weekends. The Vandal is one of those places that you could quite easily find yourself going to several times a week.
I also like that The Vandal opens its doors to other food- and fun-related businesses during the off hours: a line-around-the-block ramen popup, regular appearances by pizza makers Driftwood Oven and fun DJ nights are another part of tasty mix here.
photo by laura petrilla
It’s refreshing to see a more formal dining option open in a year where casual concepts have dominated. Co-owner/proprietor Franco Braccia is a treasure, running his restaurant as though it’s the golden age of dining out. He has an innate sense of how to make diners at his restaurant happy. He also is impressive with his staff, gently and subtly teaching them how to improve at service.
When I reviewed Senti in July 2015 I noted that many of the dishes were underseasoned to a point where they were hard to enjoy. Happily, executive chef Shawn Carlson largely has corrected that issue, and now Senti is worth visiting for the food as much as it is for the ambience and service. The spaghetti in salsa remains one of my favorites, though the lasagna alla veneta might now be a close runner-up.
The wine list at Senti is top-flight. Ask Braccia for a recommendation; his passionate, detailed explanation of each wine is a joyful education that inevitably leads to your drinking something delightful.