Best Restaurants 2014
Presenting 33 top-notch eateries that are revolutionizing Pittsburgh's food scene.
As we celebrate our 25th Best Restaurants edition, it is our sincere pleasure to present this year’s list of 33 Best Restaurants. We welcome some newcomers — including Butcher and the Rye, Grit & Grace, Everyday Noodles and notion — but we also recognize legendary locales, such as Casbah and Umi, which have made the cut every year since opening.
The local restaurant industry is booming; we’re happy to document the progress along the way. With so much to consider in or near Pittsburgh, the focus this year is on restaurants close to home. Spots that are a bit farther from the city — such as award-winning Lautrec at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Out of the Fire Café in Donegal — might not be included, but they continue to warm our hearts and please our palates, as do the following selections.
AMERICAN | $$-$$$ | Chef/Owner CHRIS BONFILI
This quiet bistro along busy Centre Avenue is a very popular lunch and dinner spot, with an apt motto of “Eat. Relax. Enjoy.” Avenue B offers seasonal fare that’s not the least bit fussy; one favorite is the Wagyu beef meatloaf. Choices that deviate from the norm include housemade falafel and molé pork belly. Fish dishes consistently are done well, and Chris Bonfili, chef/owner, generally offers a five-course tasting menu. It’s always nice to finish the meal with French-press coffee and one — or a few — of the revered desserts.
AMERICAN | $$-$$$ | Executive Chef JAMILKA BORGES
Bar Marco is unique because of its owners’ out-of-the-box approach to running the restaurant, as well as their active involvement in addressing community food issues. During No Menu Monday events, guest chefs cook whatever inspires them; this is a great platform for budding cooks, new restaurateurs and charitable causes looking to spread the word about their mission. Bartenders use their “mental Rolodex and their own creativity” to compose whatever drink — using many housemade ingredients — suits your fancy. Executive Chef Jamilka Borges and Co-owner/Chef Justin Steel collaborate on the food offerings. The dinner menu is brief but focuses on flavorful choices; starters include dates with Manchego and bacon, and entrées change seasonally. Brunch is off-the-charts delicious, with sweet and savory choices. In the newly opened Wine Room, located downstairs, Borges and sommelier Sarah Thomas curate four- and 10-course prix-fixe tastings with wine pairings.
CRANBERRY: 20111 RT. 19 & Freedom Road | 724/742-2333
GOURMET BURGERS | $ | Executive Chef/Co-owner BRIAN PEKARCIK
You’ll often find a line of people waiting to eat at BRGR. Burger-patty options include dry-aged prime beef, turkey, salmon and black bean-corn falafel. Feeling hungry? Try the Button Buster, a beef burger topped with braised beef short ribs, white cheddar cheese, béarnaise sauce and crispy onions. Smith’s hot dogs, a favorite brand among locals, also are available. Enjoy one of the spiked handcrafted shakes — the salty caramel is comprised of vanilla ice cream, bourbon, caramel sauce, sea salt and vanilla bean. Happy hour extends to the weekend: Specials run Monday through Friday 5-7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 10 p.m.-12 a.m. By popular demand, BRGR has opened a third location inside PNC Park, and it intends to put a location inside The Galleria in Mt. Lebanon. The BRGR food-truck team can be found throughout the city Wednesday through Friday and at special events around town.
AMERICAN | $$ | Executive Chef/Co-owner RICHARD DeSHANTZ
This downtown hot spot instantly became a hit when it opened late last year. Featuring a boisterous first-floor bar and a quieter upstairs bar, Butcher boasts a bourbon collection of 350-plus bottles as well as wines, cocktails and beer, including an exclusive house brew from Church Brew Works. While upstairs, indecisive diners can peruse liquor options on an iPad, scrolling through a catalog with detailed descriptions. No wonder the place received a James Beard Foundation nomination for Outstanding Bar Program. Small- and large-plate choices include crispy pig “wing” with Thai chili sauce, five-cheese mac ‘n’ cheese and shepherd’s pie with braised beef cheeks. Each room sports its own imaginative look; eclectic design elements and items of décor — such as a giant stuffed bear, recycled doors and local art — pair well with the festive food.
MEDITERRANEAN | $$-$$$ | Executive Chef ELI WAHL
Casbah continues to double as an East End staple and a fine-dining destination, particularly for lunch and Sunday brunch. The food exhibits a Mediterranean influence and spans all preferences, from housemade pastas to rich meat dishes to grilled scallops. Lunchtime favorites range from the jumbo lump crab salad to the roasted turkey sandwich with Manchego, pickled red onion and black-pepper bacon. Great dinner choices include the cioppino, the signature double-cut pork chop and various cuts and preparations of local Elysian Farms lamb. The mosaic-accented bar is a fun place to eat, mingle and drink, with many wines available by the glass. The signature daily bread pudding and housemade sorbets and ice creams remain flawless.
MEDITERRANEAN | $-$$ | Executive Chef/Owner TONI PAIS
Café Zinho is a cozy, tucked-away spot off Ellsworth Avenue that offers a comfy, intimate environment with Bohemian décor. Its European-bistro fare, with a Portuguese emphasis, reflects the background of esteemed Executive Chef/Owner Toni Pais. Top-notch features include the Portuguese mariscada, a seafood stew in a savory tomato broth, and any fish dish, including the white anchovy appetizer and the whole branzino. Appetizers and desserts all reflect a classical European approach to cuisine, with reasonable portion sizes, high-quality ingredients and strong flavor profiles.
URBAN MEDITERRANEAN | $$-$$$ | Executive Chef/Co-owner JUSTIN SEVERINO
Cure continues to receive praise locally and nationally — as does its Executive Chef/Co-owner Justin Severino, a 2014 James Beard Foundation nominee for Best Chef – Mid-Atlantic. Cure is dedicated to local sourcing and prides itself on maintaining good relationships with farmers. The salumi platter, which consistently receives attention from diners and critics, is a must-have, featuring housemade salami, speck and ciccioli, among other items. Supper includes meat selections, such as the pork rib roast or squab breast. Severino — who has extensive knowledge of animal butchery and prepares each offering with care — says he wants others to know that his restaurant offers more than cured meats. To that end, seasonal salads are refreshing.
ITALIAN | $$-$$$ | Chef/Owner MICHELE SAVOIA
Dish is both classic Italian and classic Pittsburgh: Its food has a Sicilian edge, but its historic building, tucked a few blocks off East Carson Street, feels purely of this city. At the lively bar, you can get affordable Italian wines and classic cocktails. Among the appetizers, the carpaccio with arugula, Parmigiano Reggiano, lemon and extra-virgin olive oil is one of the best in town — as is the octopus. The pasta entrées are flavorful — including the classic spaghetti with calamari, shrimp, scallops, mussels and clams in a white-wine garlic sauce. The meaty, old-fashioned roasted pork stuffed with scamorza, speck and sage is served with gnocchi and broccolini.
MEDITERRANEAN | $-$$ | Executive Chef/Owner KATE ROMANE
E2 is a small neighborhood spot featuring rustic Mediterranean cuisine and farm-sourced ingredients. There’s no doubt that the kitchen staff uses fresh produce — Executive Chef/Owner Kate Romane uses some crops sourced from Churchview Farm, where she lives with her partner. Favorite dishes include the fried polenta with goat cheese, greens and hot sausage and the simple spaghetti aglio e olio, anchovy, broccoli rabe and chilis. Brunch is wildly popular; entrées include frittatas, omelets, salads and French toast. While you wait for your main course, try the housemade doughnuts. Sunday Sauce takes place the last Sunday of each month and involves a “big, fat, family-style dinner.” You also can be the host of your own family-style “Big Table” dinner in the renovated downstairs dining space.
AMERICAN | $$-$$$ | Executive Chef DEREK STEVENS
Eleven remains one of Pittsburgh’s finest dining destinations. The restaurant contains several well-designed environments, including the open main dining room, the upstairs balcony and the sleek bar. The menu lists excellent seafood choices, including raw oysters and grilled fish. Meat eaters can enjoy prime beef ribeye, lamb and roasted chicken. The vibrant bar has its own tavern menu, featuring favorites that include the crabcake sandwich. Eleven offers lunch, brunch, dinner and a chef’s tasting menu; choose your fare and reserve a private dining room for your special event.
TAIWANESE | $ | Executive Chef STEVE CHOW
Veteran restaurateur Mike Chen provides the brains behind this noodle haven, which now offers delivery service. At the restaurant’s opening, he brought chefs from Taiwan to train staffers, ensuring authenticity. Diners can watch chefs through a glass window, looking on as the pros make fresh noodles and dumplings. Top menu choices include the authentic soup dumplings — thin-skinned and filled with hot soup and small amounts of pork and/or crab — and the “dry” noodles with ground pork. New-to-Pittsburgh items include braised beef tendon, pickled jellyfish salad and the shrimp and loofah soup dumplings. Get one of the milk bubble teas, with optional additions such as lychee jelly.
WORLD CUISINE | $-$$ | Executive Chef/Co-owner BRIAN PEKARCIK
Grit & Grace, one of the hottest tickets in town, took honors this year in our Best New Restaurant and Delicious Design categories. Brought to us by the S + P Group, which owns Spoon and the BRGR burger joints, Grit & Grace makes shareable global cuisine. Dim sum on trays, small plates and large plates all borrow flavors from various styles, including American, Korean, Indian and Chinese. The cocktails match the food, and the sleek, narrow interior helps to make this stylish downtown spot a go-to.
AMERICAN | $$-$$$ | Executive Chef JIM BRINKMAN
Local stalwart Hyeholde Restaurant has been family-owned for more than 75 years. The restaurant, housed in a “castle” amid acres of gardens, features large wooden beams, tapestries and roaring fires. Hyeholde also has been the training ground for some of Pittsburgh’s finest chefs. The cuisine for the most part is old-fashioned, with options including sherry bisque, Caesar salad, pine-nut Cervena elk, pan-seared trout and grilled filet. During warmer periods, the restaurant serves casual food on its lovely outdoor patio. Hyeholde is a perfect location for a wedding, picnic (baskets can be reserved) or other special occasion.
ITALIAN | $$-$$$ | Executive Chef/Co-owner JOSEPH TAMBELLINI
Joseph Tambellini and his wife, Melissa, run one of the city’s few white-tablecloth restaurants; it’s quiet, elegant and known for more than just the popular meatballs. Flavorful dishes contain classic Italian elements such as tomato, garlic, lemon and Parmesan. Seafood always is well-prepared, and veal dishes are abundant — marsala, Parmesan, Romano, piccatta and scallopini are a few choices. Chef Tambellini makes a habit of chatting with diners at their tables. The restaurant houses a traditional first floor, a slightly more contemporary second floor and private party room on the top level.
2000 Smallman St. | 412/261-6565,
LATIN/CARIBBEAN | $-$$ | Executive Chef BENJAMIN SLOAN
Kaya’s cuisine melds tastes from the Caribbean Islands, South America and the Pacific. The long, colorful bar always is buzzing; there’s a special focus on rums and other Mexican and Caribbean drinks. Festive, fun food options include Jamaican jerk chicken wings with chipotle cream sauce and conch fritters. The popular signature house salad is garnished with pepitas and tossed in a lime-cilantro vinaigrette. Jerked pulled-pork quesadillas go over well with many diners. Kaya is a great destination for vegetarians, offering many meatless entrées as well as prix-fixe vegetarian dinners. The fried chicken offered Thursday evenings is well-known.
AMERICAN | $$-$$$ | Executive Chef/Co-owner TREVETT HOOPER
As stated on its website, Legume’s “continually evolving menu is the result of a seven-year-long conversation between customers, growers, cooks, servers and bartenders.” The eatery’s commitment to high-quality ingredients is evident; each ingredient reflects its natural flavor, and each dish features a nice variety of vegetables, grains and meats, many of which are locally sourced. The restaurant this year added weekday lunch service and continues to serve acclaimed burgers, pierogies and more at Butterjoint, the adjacent bar/eatery that shares a kitchen with Legume.
AMERICAN | $-$$ | Executive Chef/Co-owner RICHARD DeShantz
Meat & Potatoes, a dynamic gastropub, doesn’t need much of an introduction: Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik opened this spot, their first restaurant together, in 2011 to immediate acclaim. Since then it’s received attention locally and nationally and has proved its staying power with approachable but refined food, such as pork-belly tacos, fish and chips, and flat-iron steak. Appetizers, including ahi taquitos, perfectly match the bar menu of barrel-aged Manhattans and Sloe Gin Fizzes, along with many other cocktails, wines and beers. Brunch has become legendary; in order to try the brisket and eggs or French toast with bananas and bacon-almond brittle, you’ll want to make a reservation weeks in advance.
NORTH SIDE: 856 Western Ave. | 412/321-THAI
THAI | $-$$ | Chef/Owner RATTHASAK “NICKY” INSAWANG
Considered by many locals to be the top Thai restaurant in the ’Burgh, Nicky’s is known for fresh ingredients and clean flavors. Chef/Owner Ratthasak Insawang had run the North Side restaurant, along with a Verona site (which he later sold), for several years before opening the downtown location in 2012. The North Side spot features a lovely outdoor garden with a fountain, greenery and Thai art. The downtown site has a more sophisticated vibe but also displays vibrant Thai décor. Favorite dishes include the basil tilapia, pineapple curry and grilled beef salad with fresh mint leaves and lime. Start every meal with a few appetizers, which are perfect for sharing.
AMERICAN | $$-$$$$ | Executive Chef LEE CORBETT
Nine on Nine is a quiet white-tablecloth restaurant in the heart of the Cultural District. There are many ways to enjoy this restaurant — lunch, dinner, prix-fixe dining, private-event space, weekend music and a small bar. Dinner remains the star; wonderful appetizers include cold Spanish octopus with preserved lemon, warm blue crab cream soup, wild mushroom risotto, seared fois gras and lobster mac ‘n’ cheese. Among the well-executed main courses are the steak, scallops, Amish chicken breast and the daily vegetarian offering. The three-course theater menu is served from 5-6 p.m. In contrast, the chef’s tasting menu provides eight courses, plus dessert.
AMERICAN | $$$$ | Chef/Owner Dave Racicot
notion’s tag line is “an edible expression of creativity,” and the eatery showcases the talents of Dave Racicot, its revered chef/owner. His dishes incorporate interesting interpretations of familiar and less-familiar ingredients; the Korean-flavored tartare, for example, is served with peanuts and iceberg lettuce circles — a contemporary twist on the lettuce wrap. The menu has two prix-fixe options: a four-course menu and a chef’s tasting (as many as 11 courses). The dining room is subdued, allowing you to focus on the food. Racicot schedules informative cooking classes and collaborative dinners with other area chefs, among other events.
EUROPEAN | $-$$ | Executive Chef KEVIN HUNNINEN
Park Bruges serves one of Pittsburgh’s best roast chickens. Steamed mussels, Mediterranean seafood stew and the hamburger also are hits at this friendly neighborhood joint. Special appetizers include classic Montreal poutine, available with such toppings as brisket and cheese curds. Park Bruges often is packed during brunch service, when lines of loyal patrons regularly form outside the door as they daydream about the Liège waffles. Belgian and craft beers are available, and in pleasant weather you can sip brews outside.
STRIP DISTRICT: 2208 Penn Ave. | 412/434-7200,
SEAFOOD | $-$$$ | Co-owners ANGELA EARLEY and HENRY DEWEY
Penn Avenue Fish Co.’s Strip District location is one of Pittsburgh’s premier seafood markets. Angela Earley and Henry Dewey are doubling its size by taking over the space next door to make everything larger, adding a salad bar, more dining space, additional restrooms and a new refrigerated room where patrons can watch staff cut fish through glass windows. Hours also will be extended into the evening. At any size, this place guarantees some of the freshest seafood in town. Sushi chefs prepare lovely raw offerings; the cooked menu includes seafood in many preparations. The downtown location is solely a restaurant with a more intimate feel. At lunchtime, it serves a bustling crowd of downtown workers who want a healthy, speedy lunch. Executive Chef Gary Osiol heads up the kitchen at the downtown restaurant, which gets its seafood from the Strip District location; the downtown site added alcohol service this year.
ITALIAN | $-$$ | Chef/Owner DOMENIC BRANDUZZI
Piccolo Forno has been a local favorite for years; there’s often a long wait for lunch and dinner. Domenic Branduzzi, chef/owner, uses a wood-fired oven for his famed pizzas. The lasagna Toscano is a must-have, with layers of fresh noodles, meat ragu and béchamel cream sauce. Housemade pastas incorporate such proteins as rabbit and salmon. Look for Branduzzi’s second restaurant project, Arde, which he plans to open this summer on the North Side.
EUROPEAN | $-$$ | Executive Chef JAMES McCASLIN
Point Brugge has been an East End staple since it opened in 2005. This sister restaurant of Park Bruges serves Belgian-inspired cuisine — including the Prince Edward Island mussels and frites, which have quite the following. Other popular selections include the burger and entrée-sized salads. The beer selection’s focus is on European imports. For brunch, there are $20 and $24 prix-fixe meals, covering the main dish, side and beverage.
AMERICAN | $$ | Executive Chef/Co-owner KEITH FULLER
A small chef-driven restaurant, Root 174 delivers top-notch, sophisticated cuisine. Chef/Co-owner Keith Fuller and his team churn out comfort food with panache; for example, the roasted chicken is prepared with Moroccan spices and pistachios, and the flat-iron steak is served with black rice, kimchi, ginger, pickled vegetables, roasted peanuts and egg. The vegan and vegetarian dishes are top-notch, including the vegan falafel and the vegan “meatballs” made with polenta, mushrooms and a basil pureé. Affordable, interesting cocktails and housemade sodas are but two options for drinks. Desserts are a cut above. Root 174 has added takeout and offers chef’s tasting menus (prices vary based on the number of courses).
AMERICAN | $$ | Executive Chef CHAD TOWNSEND
2011 was a banner year for Salt of the Earth, which earned our Best New Restaurant and Delicious Design awards. Since then, things at the restaurant have progressed nicely. Named for the hard-working folks of Pittsburgh, the restaurant provides an exceptional dining experience without pretense. Toward that end, the kitchen is completely open, and the first-floor tables are communal. There’s a daily chalkboard menu, the interior design is streamlined and the waitstaff genuinely is friendly. Don’t let these down-to-earth features fool you, though: Salt offers one of the most refined dining experiences in town, with spotless presentation and innovative flavor combinations. The notable bar program includes a wide range of wine and a small but inventive cocktail list.
ITALIAN | $$ | Executive Chef MATTHEW PORCO
Our 2013 Best New Restaurant continues to delight with its upscale Italian cuisine. The menu is extensive, offering a variety of antipasti, housemade pastas, meats and seafood. The flavorful food is unpretentious yet exciting. The staff opens up the front of the restaurant in warm weather, allowing tables to be in the midst of Market Square activity. Executive Chef Matthew Porco also is involved in the Sienna team’s latest venture, Sienna Mercato, in the Cultural District. At press time, the ground-floor “meatball joint” and rooftop beer garden were open; Porco says the eatery on the second floor will open by the fall.
PAN-ASIAN | $$-$$$ | Executive Chef DANIELLE CAIN
Soba’s innovative pan-Asian cuisine always has been dependable. Last year, Soba underwent a major renovation, expanding into an adjacent building. The new, much larger bar area features light-colored wood with chic light fixtures and plum-colored accent seating. The Soba team also expanded its dining room to absorb the former bar space; it continues to be a peaceful Zen environment. The food playfully spans Asia through the use of assorted ingredients — think yuzu, chilis, tamarind, togarashi, daikon, peanuts and coconut. It’s all there to please your palate and those of loved ones; this is a fine place to host a private event.
AMERICAN | $$ | Executive Chef/Co-owner BRIAN PEKARCIK
Spoon continues to be a destination for well-prepared, wholesome food. The kitchen staff — led by Executive Chef/Co-owner Brian Pekarcik, our 2012 Chef of the Year — strives to source fresh, local and sustainable products; farmers and artisans are credited on the menu. Pekarcik also is the primary creative force behind our 2014 Best New Restaurant, Grit & Grace, as well as BRGR, one of our 2014 Best Restaurants. Spoon’s menu lists fun appetizers, such as trout and caviar with goat milk yogurt and chicken meatballs with rosemary gravy. Some entrées to consider: Alaskan black cod with crab cakes and duo of beef with a grilled ribeye and a braised beef cheek. The bar is a nice spot to grab a drink and snack; the restaurant is known for its wine collection, so look to a bartender for a recommendation. Because of its busy location, Spoon offers valet parking.
ITALIAN | $$$ | Executive Chef/Co-owner STEPHEN FELDER
Stagioni is a small, relaxed South Side restaurant that is much different from most of the neighboring businesses. Executive Chef/Co-owner Stephen Felder, our 2012 Rising Star Chef, makes simple Italian food that would impress friends visiting from Italy. A killer appetizer is the white anchovies with preserved lemons. There are a number of interesting polenta options, including one with grilled shrimp and salsa verde. Handmade pastas are very delicate, and entrées incorporate such proteins as fish, duck and steak. Affordable Italian wines also are featured. The focus here is on simplicity and quality ingredients. Felder brought back brunch, which he’d offered when the restaurant was in Bloomfield.
JAPANESE | $-$$$$ | Executive Chef MR. SHU
Umi’s emphasis is on sushi. At the helm of the kitchen is the revered “Mr.” Shu, who is such an integral part of the restaurant that it closes when he is on vacation. The restaurant is known for its fresh ingredients; Mr. Shu spends hours each day sourcing seafood that’s flown in daily from around the world. There are no bad dishes, but to get the full experience, splurge and order the omakase — Mr. Shu’s daily multicourse option of seven courses plus dessert or 11 courses plus dessert. Grab one of the few sushi bar seats to watch him in action.
MEDITERRANEAN | $$$ | Chef/Co-owner GLORIA FORTUNATO
Classical dish preparations are spotlighted at Wild Rosemary. This intimate, 6-year-old spot in the South Hills has just 28 seats and two nightly seatings; if you don’t make reservations, don’t count on dining here. Great choices include any treatment of lamb, bistro whole fish and grilled scallops. Starch dishes accompany most offerings, such as spring soufflé, ricotta gnocchi or bacon-wrapped potatoes. The seasonal menu changes every two weeks. Co-owner Lynne Bielewicz handles the straightforward, satisfying desserts, such as pavlova and shortbread apple pie, while co-owner Cathleen Enders handles the front of house. Upon finishing your meal, you’ll realize that the menu tag line “Good Things Will Come to You” is accurate.