Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Our 50 Years: The Best Restaurants of 1999

Twenty years later, nearly everything about our best restaurants list is different. But our picks for the best of 1999 hint at the great leap forward that was on the horizon.




 

Two decades seems like the appropriate time for a reflective look at the Best Restaurants of yesteryear. The list of 2009 would be at least somewhat similar to today’s; the version from 1989 may as well have been printed on papyrus: Ponderosa Steakhouse appears. More than once. And we would like to retroactively apologize for the category “Ethnic (Other),” which apparently included both Mexican and Indian.

By 1999, however, the signs of what was to come are evident. To be sure, Pittsburgh’s dining scene was still in search of its footing before the turn of the millenium; the scattershot results of the editors’ selections indicates the city’s food culture was less a proper scene and more a selection of admirable chefs and restaurants rising above the fray. The readers’ poll results support that theory; while some fine restaurants caught readers’ attention, their selections also include the likes of Don Pablo’s Mexican Kitchen, Olive Garden and Pizza Hut.

A number of threads linking that year’s Best Restaurants list to this year’s are evident. The most obvious may be the ascendance of a still-young restaurant family by the name of big Burrito. In 1999, the group’s Soba took home a pair of awards: “Contemporary Casual Restaurant of the Year” and the “Delicious Design Award.” The restaurant, which opened in 1997, was already working to improve. “Corporate chef Bill Fuller moved in to turn the place around,” we wrote, “revamping the menu, procuring better product and upgrading the kitchen staff, which now runs on high voltage.”

The big Burrito accolades weren’t limited to Soba; Chef Lon Durbin, a well-traveled veteran, had recently taken over at Casbah, earning him the “Best New Chef” title. Casbah remains on the Best Restaurants list today, as does big Burrito’s Eleven; Kaya and Casbah have homes on our Essential Restaurants list, as well.

Those ascendant restaurants couldn’t shake an eight-year grip on our “Restaurant of the Year” award, however; that accolade was claimed by Baum Vivant, the longtime home of chef Toni Pais, from 1995 through 2002. Baum Vivant’s day-to-day chef at the time, Carl Lashley, said this of his boss: “I could have traveled around the world, but working here with Toni, the world came to me.” Pais would continue mentoring young talent, including current Dinette chef/owner Sonja Finn — the start of a family tree that has branches in kitchens throughout the city. Pais’ current flagship, Cafe Zinho, is a Best Restaurant today (and one of our Essential Restaurants).

And, in good news, by 1999 we had dropped categories like “Ethnic (Other)” from consideration. By the end of the 21st century, we instead had “Other European” and “Other Asian,” so ... at least we could sort by continent?

In any case, I asked my fellow associate editor and our venerable food critic, Hal B. Klein, what he sees in comparing the ’99 list to the latest version.

“We have broadened the scope of inclusivity about what should be a best restaurant,” Klein says. “The restaurants that we have are outstanding examples of what they do, rather than just falling into the trope that fine dining is best.”  

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

July 2019: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

Check out some of the finest plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place this month in Pittsburgh.

What We're Reading in July: The Pioneers

The Pioneers is historian and Point Breeze native David McCullough’s retelling of the settlement of the wilderness northwest of the Ohio River, which contained the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Perspectives: On Caring to See

A teacher at the University of Pittsburgh learns a lesson about street medicine.

PPG Paints Singin' the Blues for 2020 Color of the Year

Meant to offer relief from the anxieties of today’s fast-paced lifestyle, Chinese Porcelain is a mix of cobalt and ink blue. Here’s why you can expect to see more of it in the coming year.

Watch: The Best of Three Rivers Arts Festival

The 60th Three Rivers Arts Festival is history, but you can still soak in the memories of the music, art and food.

This Brit Fell in Love with Pittsburgh's Dirt

During the Civil War, a British writer was enchanted by Pittsburgh’s dirt and soot.

Artist Invites Public to Add to Time Capsule at Arts Festival

Toby Fraley’s love for historical photos inspired him to take the next step for Pittsburgh’s future.

New Dimensions: The Comic Book Store's Surprise Move

Comic-book (store) avengers. How a sprawling comic-book shop moved out of its longtime home — and reopened for business mere hours later.

PM on KD: Recent Restaurant Openings

PM food critic Hal B. Klein appeared on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live to discuss recent Pittsburgh restaurant openings that have him excited.

One Person's Flip Flop is Another One's Art

Ocean Sole Africa’s mission is to reduce pollution and waste by collecting flip flops from the ocean and making them into art.

All In The (Giaramita) Family: La Tavola Italiana and Pizza Taglio

Family members run two distinct restaurants, one classic and one with a contemporary spin.

DeCastro’s Preferred Order: Fries with That, Hold the Drama

The Steelers have emerged from their offseason sessions confident they’re capable of playing better. They also maintain a new atmosphere and culture have been established. But they won’t know for certain until they actually start playing.

Restaurant Review: Masala House in Shadyside

You'll find excellent Indian cuisine in a Shadyside building with a long culinary history.

A Tale of Two Strands: Theaters With the Same Name

In two small towns nearby, old vaudeville stages — which share the same name — have reopened and revitalized their communities.

Hello Neighbor and Scratch Food & Beverage Pair Up for a Very Special Dinner

The community dinner will feature Syrian cuisine, raising awareness of Hello Neighbor's mission and promoting connection and conversation with the region's refugee families.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Watch: The Best of Three Rivers Arts Festival

Watch: The Best of Three Rivers Arts Festival

The 60th Three Rivers Arts Festival is history, but you can still soak in the memories of the music, art and food.

Comments

Artist Invites Public to Add to Time Capsule at Arts Festival

Artist Invites Public to Add to Time Capsule at Arts Festival

Toby Fraley’s love for historical photos inspired him to take the next step for Pittsburgh’s future.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Hello Neighbor and Scratch Food & Beverage Pair Up for a Very Special Dinner

Hello Neighbor and Scratch Food & Beverage Pair Up for a Very Special Dinner

The community dinner will feature Syrian cuisine, raising awareness of Hello Neighbor's mission and promoting connection and conversation with the region's refugee families.

Comments

Sweet Partnership: Cakery Square and Fudge Farm

Sweet Partnership: Cakery Square and Fudge Farm

The opening of Fudge Farm's Bloomfield store marks an expansion of Wes Lyons' Pursuit Program and larger menu for the confectioners.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

For those who can’t stand the idea of leaving their dogs home alone on a beautiful day, these dog-friendly stores, restaurants and bars in the Pittsburgh area welcome humans and canines alike.

Comments

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

Even novice runners can work their way up to these fun and (mildly) challenging races.

Comments


In a Crowded City for Concerts, Rivers Casino Steps Up

In a Crowded City for Concerts, Rivers Casino Steps Up

The casino's new Events Center proves itself more than worthy of competing for big-name acts.

Comments

Our Favorite Events and Experiences at the 2019 Three Rivers Arts Festival

Our Favorite Events and Experiences at the 2019 Three Rivers Arts Festival

A pick — and another one — for every day of the festival's 60th year.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
DeCastro’s Preferred Order: Fries with That, Hold the Drama

DeCastro’s Preferred Order: Fries with That, Hold the Drama

The Steelers have emerged from their offseason sessions confident they’re capable of playing better. They also maintain a new atmosphere and culture have been established. But they won’t know for certain until they actually start playing.

Comments

Pittsburgh Steelers' No. 1 Pick Makes a Lasting First Impression

Pittsburgh Steelers' No. 1 Pick Makes a Lasting First Impression

Devin Bush will still have much to prove once the pads come on and the hitting commences. But the presence and purpose he brought to OTAs justified the hype on draft day.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Murder Mystery

The 400-Word Review: Murder Mystery

Well into Adam Sandler's tenure as a Netflix actor, he finally comes up with a mostly enjoyable comedy.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Men in Black International

The 400-Word Review: Men in Black International

The alien-comedy series hasn't been good since the 20th century. That trend continues with this soft reboot.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Most Popular Wedding Trends of Summer 2019

The Most Popular Wedding Trends of Summer 2019

Romantic bistro lights and balloon arrangements? Yes please.

Comments

Need to Know: The Best Time for Wedding Photos

Need to Know: The Best Time for Wedding Photos

We examine the pros and cons of first look sessions versus waiting until after the ceremony to get those perfect photos.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
 PPG Paints Singin' the Blues for 2020 Color of the Year

PPG Paints Singin' the Blues for 2020 Color of the Year

Meant to offer relief from the anxieties of today’s fast-paced lifestyle, Chinese Porcelain is a mix of cobalt and ink blue. Here’s why you can expect to see more of it in the coming year.

Comments

Tiny Cabins Offer Weary Pittsburghers a Relaxing Escape

Tiny Cabins Offer Weary Pittsburghers a Relaxing Escape

Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, the elegantly minimalist cabins from Getaway are nestled in nature — and offer an unplugged experience.

Comments