Pittsburgh's 12 Essential Restaurants
Step-by-step, these establishments helped build our dining scene. Even better, they still have something to offer today.
(page 1 of 4)
photo by laura petrilla
One of the most common questions people ask me is, “What are the new restaurants that I should go to?” We love new. I get it — I do, too. The other day, however, I was thinking about the past. I was contemplating memories of eating special meals in a familiar booth, the joy in visiting with a bartender I’ve known for years and the comfort that comes with enjoying a dish that’s going to taste as good as it did the first time I had it years ago. It got me thinking about Pittsburgh’s culinary history.
These 12 restaurants, all in business for a decade or more, are essential to the development of Pittsburgh’s contemporary restaurant culture. Even better, all of them still serve delicious things to eat. So, the next time you’re planning on visiting what’s new, perhaps think about what’s not. From fine dining in faux-castles to city barbeque to dishes made with straightforward, seasonal ingredients, these are Pittsburgh’s 12 essential restaurants.
photo by erin kelly
Pittsburgh's Essential Classic: Hyeholde
William Kryskill promised a castle for his wife, Clara. In 1931, the couple began construction of a Tudor-revival manor house on a cornfield just outside of Pittsburgh. In 1938, they served their first meals to paying customers, running the establishment as a cozy country restaurant for nearly four decades.
In 1974, Pat Foy purchased and expanded the operation, turning it into an award-winning fine-dining mecca — and, for a short time in the late 1980s, a nightclub. Kryskill’s daughter, Barbara, and her husband Quentin McKenna brought Hyeholde back into the founding family when they purchased it in 1991, and Barbara has run the upscale-yet-cozy restaurant since Quentin died in 2003. Along the way, some heavy hitting chefs played a prominent role in the restaurant’s kitchen, most notably Chris O’Brien (Scratch Food & Beverage), who worked 17 years at Hyeholde — among his colleagues were Richard DeShantz (Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group), Derek Stevens (Union Standard), Dave DeVoss (Cocothe) and Brian Hammond (Siempre Algo).
After 80 years, Hyeholde remains one of Pittsburgh’s best options to dress up for a special occasion meal as well as our most transportive reminder of a long-gone era. The elegant tradition carries on today with classic Continental dishes such as sherry bisque, lobster thermidor and elk loin with chestnuts and juniper sauce.
1516 Coraopolis Heights Road, Coraopolis; 412/264-3116, hyeholde.com
photo by douglas duerring
Pittsburgh's Essential Barbecue: Wilson’s Bar-B-Q
George A. Wilson Sr. grew up in Louisiana, trained as a butcher in Little Rock, Ark., and worked for two decades as a meat fabricator at Armour & Co. in Pittsburgh. He also had a reputation among friends and neighbors for knowing his way around a smoker, and, in 1960, he decided to turn his hobby into a business by launching Wilson’s Bar-B-Q in Manchester. He moved his restaurant to its current North Side location in the early 1970s (and for a time ran a second, now-closed, storefront in Lawrenceville).
Wilson’s barbeque style is rooted in that of the Great Migration, when more than 6 million African Americans moved from the rural south to the industrial cities of the Northeast, Midwest and West; The Dream BBQ and Showcase BBQ in Homewood also are examples of this style in Pittsburgh. The pitmasters’ technique is passed on from that of the Mississippi Delta, but this city-style dictates that the meat — pork ribs, sausages, rib-tips and chicken are the most common items — are cooked for a slightly shorter period of time, resulting in a chewier texture than the southern style that long has reigned as the dominant barbeque trend.
Sweet-tart, ketchup-based sauce is ladled onto the meat before serving; during his nearly 60 years as a Pittsburgh pitmaster, Wilson built a following for his secret-recipe sauce. Wilson passed away in October, and his son, George Wilson Jr., now runs the business. It’s largely a takeaway operation, with just one plastic table for dining in. On the menu are smoked ribs and chicken and a handful of side dishes such as collard greens and potato salad. Calling ahead to reserve your order is recommended — Wilson’s remains so popular it sells out nearly every day.
700 N. Taylor Ave., North Side; 412/322-7427