Best Restaurants 2016
Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
This year, our independent restaurant review panel recommends 33 establishments to be honored on Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Restaurants list.
The biggest point of discussion and contention for our Independent Restaurant Review panel during many meetings and deliberations over the past year involved trying to answer a seemingly simple question: “How do we in Pittsburgh define a best restaurant?”
photos by laura petrilla
Should an establishment where diners must order at a hectic counter and then pick up food in response to a page on their mobile phones be placed on the same list as a five-star, five-diamond, white-tablecloth fine-dining experience? Does outstanding cuisine trump casual service and mediocre decor? In the end members of the panel decided, for the most part, the answer is yes — as long as you know what you’re getting into. Just because an experience is different than a throwback-standard definition for fine eatery doesn’t mean it's less valuable. In fact, it often is more valuable.
Here’s how you know that Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene is ascendant: The number of restaurants for this year remains unchanged from a year ago, but readers will find a lot of new names and places: 14 of the 33 restaurants for 2016 did not appear on the list last year.
This unprecedented changeover reflects the increasingly diverse and ever-improving landscape of Pittsburgh dining. We still love our plates of meat and potatoes (and Meat & Potatoes), but we also are seeing chef-driven restaurants thrive with concepts that push beyond the traditional.
Most of the additions to this year’s list are newcomers to our city’s booming community of restaurants. They range from a white-tablecloth Italian eatery run with old-world charm (Senti) to Sichuan cuisine cooked by a master chef (Chengdu Gourmet) to a hip enclave serving simple-yet-crafted plates (The Vandal).
Some restaurants dropped from the list in previous years return this year because the panel believes the quality of ingredients and the skill of the kitchens merited newfound recognition; Dinette, one of my personal favorites, is a restaurant that meets that standard. Lautrec, at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County, also returns to the list because there is simply nothing else like it in western Pennsylvania. It’s a bit farther afield than we generally would include on our Pittsburgh-centric list, but we’re confident that this dining destination is too important to our gastronomic community to omit.
Read on for our picks of Pittsburgh’s best. Use our list as a guide, and return frequently to help you decide where you should eat, no matter what your mood or cravings dictate.
Shadyside: 5501 Centre Ave.
Executive Chef/Owner Chris Bonfili
[American] Go here for an upscale yet casual business lunch or dinner. The vibe at Avenue B sits comfortably on the line between neighborhood bistro and upscale dining. It’s the perfect place to make important decisions over fresh fish, seasonal vegetables and well-composed salads. Try dishes such as sea bass and scallops, served with purple potato succotash, spring onion pesto and saffron beurre blanc. Newly added Sunday-night dinner service is corkage-free. $$
Downtown: 212 Sixth St.
Executive Chef/Co-owner Richard DeShantz
[American] Go here for a decadent Downtown evening. The combination of classic cocktails, a massive wall of top-shelf bourbon and well-prepared, approachable cuisine makes Butcher and the Rye a perfect destination for a post-event meal. Start with “crispy pig wings” or a bowl of mussels, and then move on to hearty plates of monkfish “osso bucco” or cassoulet with duck confit, boudin noir and cannellini beans. $$
Shadyside: 238 Spahr St.
Executive Chef/Owner Toni Pais
[Mediterranean] Go here to feel as if you’re escaping Pittsburgh for a night. Cafe Zinho is a port of tranquility hidden away off Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside. There, legendary Pittsburgh chef Toni Pais connects with his Portuguese heritage with dishes such as whole branzino with lemon slices and olive oil, Portuguese fisherman’s stew caldeira and Bulhao Pato clams with white wine, roasted garlic, olive oil and cilantro. $$
Shadyside: 229 S. Highland Ave.
Executive Chef Dustin Gardner
[Mediterranean] Go here for consistent, comfortable quality. Some regulars at Casbah have been eating the same thing, week after week, for 20 years. Other Pittsburghers make Casbah their favorite destination for family celebrations or holiday parties. Indeed, what makes this restaurant so special is that it’s able to accommodate a variety of tastes while maintaining a high level of integrity in its cookery. Chef Dustin Gardner moved back to Casbah, where he previously was sous chef, from Soba earlier this year. $$–$$$
Squirrel Hill: 5840 Forward Ave.
Executive Chef/Owner Wei Zhu
[Sichuan Chinese] Go here for the most adventurous meal you’ll have in Pittsburgh. Chengdu Gourmet can be challenging for the uninitiated to navigate. First step: focus on the Sichuan menu rather than the Americanized one. Then, work with the waitstaff to build a balanced meal. Yam noodles, Chongqing beef hot pot, snow pea shoots and double-cooked pork belly with leeks are good places to start. Don’t miss the house-made winter sausage, which is available only from December through February. Chengdu Gourmet’s Wei Zhu is among the chefs to receive Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2016 designation as “Outstanding in Their Field.” $
Sewickley: 541 Beaver St.
Executive Chef David DeVoss
[American] Go here for a quiet, refined meal on a wonderful small-town main street. We love how the quaint charm of Cocothé’s dining room pairs with the considered dishes of Executive Chef David DeVoss. Start your meal with perfectly cooked scallops paired with cannellini beans and pears, or a terrine of Hudson Valley foie gras with sweet-potato butter. Cocothé is set to expand later this year. $$-$$$
Lawrenceville: 5336 Butler St.
Executive Chef/Co-owner Justin Severino
[Mediterranean] Go here for a meal at Pittsburgh’s most recognized restaurant. Over the course of the last several years, Justin Severino — one of Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2016 “Outstanding in Their Field” chefs — has grown his flagship restaurant Cure into a nationally renowned powerhouse. Severino reaches out to chefs across the country for his Cure’ated dinner series, bringing in notable chefs such as Mike Solomonov (Zahav in Philadelphia) and Tarver King (The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville, Va.). This year he also added a multi-course tasting menu to the Cure experience. A la carte options, including half-portions of pasta, remain some of our favorites in the city. $$–$$$
Shadyside: 5996 Centre Ave.
Executive Chef/Owner Sonja Finn
[Mediterranean] Go here for a carefully crafted, casual night out. The best way to experience Dinette is to share a series of seasonal small plates and pizzas with your friends. Dinette might be best known for its pizza — and it is good pizza — but diners also should look to the top of the restaurant’s menu when assembling their meal. From a high-summer cantaloupe with Berkshire hog guanciale to late-winter parsnip-cream soup, the hyper-seasonal small plates are don’t-miss items at Dinette. The affordable and attentive menu helps to make Dinette a great draw for small groups. $-$$
Highland Park: 5904 Bryant St.
Executive Chef/Owner Kate Romane
[Mediterranean] Go here for a warm celebration with friends and family. e2 is a perennial hit with members of our independent Restaurant Review Panel thanks to Executive Chef/Owner Kate Romane’s easy-to-enjoy take on Italian comfort food. Dishes such as penne pepato (spicy Sicilian red sauce and salata ricotta) and wild mushroom ravioli with leeks and porcini broth are perfectly executed and fine crowd pleasers. Show up early for the restaurant’s wildly popular brunch; doughnut, zeppole and frittata are big draws. $–$$
South Side: 128 S. 17th St.
Chef/Owner Michele Savoia
[Italian] Go here to feel as though you’re a regular, even if you’re not. South Side locals and curious diners have been making Dish their home since Savoia took over the space — which once housed a pub called McCain’s — in 2000. He’s crafted a menu that moves with the rhythms of the seasons but also retains the comfort found in meeting the expectations of long-term regulars. Dish is a place where you want to linger; assemble a meal with a mixture of small plates, pasta dishes and excellent seafood. Be sure to enjoy the restaurant’s fabulous wine list, too. $$
Strip District: 1150 Smallman St.
Executive Chef Eli Wahl
[American] Go here for a happy hour with coworkers or an expense-account dinner. Longtime Casbah head Eli Wahl took over as Eleven’s executive chef in March, replacing esteemed Pittsburgh chef Derek Stevens. Wahl hasn’t missed a beat transitioning to the helm of the big Burrito Restaurant Group’s high-end restaurant. Indulge in a pork chop served with corn bread and braised greens, or go lighter with succulent sea scallops and polenta cake served in a smoked-onion-and-parmesan brodo. $$–$$$
Squirrel Hill: 5875 Forbes Ave.
Executive Chef Steve Chow
[Taiwanese] Go here for soup dumplings. Every visit to Everyday Noodles should include an order of soup dumplings, the umami-rich, broth-filled dumplings that are hard to stop eating. Dim Sum dishes such as rolled onion pancakes with sliced beef are worthy additions to any table. And don’t be afraid to branch out and try something that might be unfamiliar; marinated beef tendon, jellyfish salad and sliced seaweed with minced garlic all are delightful bites. $
Strip District: 1601 Penn Ave.
Executive Chef/owner Anthony Falcon
[Argentine] Go here for a wood-fired party. Gaucho Parrilla Argentina expanded in 2015 into the neighboring building. The result of that expansion is a much larger kitchen and a significant seating area (there were no seats at Gaucho 1.0). It was a smart decision, because lines for the popular Strip District eatery continue to grow. The wait — Gaucho’s friendly and efficient staff keeps spirits high when lines are long — is worth it. Make sure to order hardwood-grilled steaks, but also get fish, chicken and other dishes too. $–$$
Mt. Lebanon: 703 Washington Road
Executive Chef/Owner Ron Molinaro
[Italian] Go here to celebrate the simple beauty of high-quality ingredients. Pennsylvania’s first Neapolitan pizzeria remains its best. Owner Ron Molinaro imports the finest Italian ingredients to make his stunning, airy pizzas. Toppings are simple and purposeful; eating here will reframe your expectation of what really should be called great pizza. Fior di latte (fresh mozzarella) is made daily from Caputo Brothers Creamery curds. Look beyond pizza to the pasta menu — all fresh pastas are made in-house — or enjoy a larger plate of eggplant parmesan. $$
Farmington, Fayette County: 1001 Lafayette Drive
Executive Chef Kristin A. Butterworth
[Fine Dining] Go here for the meal of a lifetime. Raid your closet, grab your fancy garb and take a scenic drive to Lautrec. Whether you’re in the stunning 96-seat dining room or taking it all in at the private chef’s table, Executive Chef Kristin A. Butterworth and her team will prepare sumptuous seasonal offerings for you. Lautrec is one of only 27 five-star, five-diamond restaurants in the world. This year, Pittsburgh Magazine is recognizing Butterworth’s impressive work by honoring her as one of our “Outstanding in Their Field” chefs. $$$$
Oakland: 214 N. Craig St.
Executive Chef/Co-owner Trevett Hooper
[American] Go here to celebrate the season, whatever the season. Executive Chef/Co-owner Trevett Hooper’s focus on seasonality means you’ll always find something to be excited about when perusing the restaurant menu. In winter, he coaxes funky brightness into hearty beef soup with the addition of kimchi, while at the height of summer diners can enjoy richly flavored corn soup enhanced with Morita chile oil and cilantro. If you happen to see any “limited-availability” dishes on the menu, jump on them because the season for some of the dish’s star ingredients is peaking and fleeting. $$–$$$
Downtown: 649 Penn Ave.
Executive Chef/Co-owner Richard DeShantz
[American] Go here to get your grub on, hard. Meat & Potatoes, the original restaurant of the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group, continues to pack in crowds for dinner, brunch and late-night dining. The gastropub is located in the center of the Cultural District, which makes it a solid spot for a pre- or post-show meal. Go big with “meat and potatoes for two,” a 34-ounce ribeye served with mushroom ragu and bone-marrow gratin, or snack on fried pig’s ears with chili-lime sauce while sipping a perfectly crafted cocktail. $–$$
Lawrenceville: 3519 Butler St.
Executive Chef/Co-owner Justin Severino
[Spanish] Go here to enjoy small and large plates of Spanish cuisine. Morcilla is a stunner. It’s Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2016 Best New Restaurant, and Chef de Cuisine Nate Hobart is our choice for Rising Star Chef of the Year. Diners have two options when visiting Morcilla: they can hang out, snack and drink in the standing-room-only front bar, or they can grab a seat and feast in the 50-seat dining room. Either way, be sure to order a wide variety of plates to satisfy your every craving. If you’re seated in the dining room, don’t miss the suckling pig. $$
Lawrenceville: 3801 Butler St.
Owner Domenic Branduzzi
[Italian] Go here for a roots take on northern Italian classics. Domenic Branduzzi’s restaurant on Butler Street precedes the Lawrenceville real-estate boom, and it’s on the verge of becoming enshrined as a neighborhood classic. Regulars love the wood-fired pizzas. Pasta dishes, such as lasagna toscana and gnocchi di semolina (Roman-style gnocchi with braised short ribs and currants), also are standouts. Be sure to arrive early or plan to stay late so you can enjoy a glass of grappa or amaro at sister space Grapperia. $–$$
Regent Square: 1113 S. Braddock Ave.
Executive Chef/Co-owner Keith Fuller
[Modern American] Go here for a slightly off-centered meal prepared with a chef’s grace. Executive Chef Keith Fuller consistently creates some of the most interesting menus in the city. His dishes, such as chicken stuffed with house-made chorizo or braised lamb neck with pickled cauliflower and baba ganoush, are familiar enough to be comforting but offbeat enough to entice your adventurous side. Chef de Cuisine Kevin Costa now runs the day-to-day operations of the kitchen while Fuller develops the menu at his new venture, Pork and Beans, a collaboration with chef Richard DeShantz. $$
Lawrenceville: 3473 Butler St.
Executive Chef Shawn Carlson
[Italian] Go here for classic Italian cuisine and extraordinary service. Franco Braccia, Senti’s co-owner and proprietor, runs the restaurant’s front-of-house with a classical elegance that increasingly is hard to find. Pair that with a plate of spaghetti in salsa or lasagna alla veneta and a luxurious glass or bottle of wine from the restaurant’s deep and alluring collection, and you’re in for a elegant evening. Although the restaurant has no formal dress code, guests will feel more comfortable if they wear something nice to Senti. $$
Strip District: 54 21st St.
Executive Chefs Stephen K. Eldridge, Jessica Lewis, Rafael Vencino, Jacqueline Wardle
[Eclectic] Go here to choose your own adventure. Smallman Galley actually is four independent restaurants under a single roof. Members of Pittsburgh Magazine’s independent Restaurant Review Panel believe each eatery — Provision PGH by Stephen K. Eldridge, Carota Cafe by Jessica Lewis, Aubergine Bistro by Rafael Vencino and Josephine’s Toast by Jacqueline Wardle — is a strong contender in its own right, but panelists decided to honor the entire restaurant incubator in one swoop for its interactive experience. Diners can create custom meals by ordering a dish from one restaurant and something else from another. $-$$
Lawrenceville: 4115 Butler St.
Executive Chef/Co-owner Jeff Petruso
[Barbecue] Go here for barbecue wrapped in a tortilla. Smoke moved from its original location in Homestead to a new, bigger Lawrenceville storefront in 2015. That move came with a huge upgrade in the smoker that Executive Chef/Co-owner Jeff Petruso uses as the starting point for his epic taco creations. They’re far from traditional — think American Southwest meets barbecue — but they’re ridiculously tasty. Favorites include brisket, migas and pork rib. Hamburger Tuesdays also are a popular treat. $
Shadyside: 5847 Ellsworth Ave.
Executive Chef Lily Tran
[Pan Asian] Go here for an international experience. The big Burrito Restaurant Group’s pan-Asian restaurant is a draw for both big crowds and eaters looking to spice up their dinner. Executive Chef Lily Tran has infused the kitchen with new energy since early 2016, when she was promoted from sous chef. Tran uses the new late-night menu as an experiment station; her pho and chiang mai noodles now are must-get dishes on the regular menu too. $$–$$$
East Liberty: 134 S. Highland Ave.
Chef/Co-Owner Brian Pekarcik
[American] Go here for crisp service and upscale cuisine. Executive Chef/Co-owner Brian Pekarcik redesigned Spoon’s menu this year, adding more shareable plates and globally influenced options. Expect that trend to deepen as new Executive Chef Jamilka Borges — she won acclaim last year with her Wine Room at Bar Marco — adds her voice to the culinary conversation. The service at Spoon remains among the best in Pittsburgh thanks to general manager John Wabeck. $$
South Side: 2104 E. Carson St.
Executive Chef/Co-Owner Stephen Felder
[Italian] Go here for honest Italian cuisine and seasonal specialties. Executive Chef Stephen Felder’s seasonal suppers are a treat for the palate. From the Feast of the Seven Fishes in December to a height-of-the-summer celebration in August, these four-course dinners are evocative of the best Italian tradition: Find the best of what’s growing and do as little as you can to highlight the flavors. Stagioni’s lunch menu also is a sleeper treat. $$
Bloomfield: 4744 Liberty Ave.
Executive Chef Curtis Gamble
[Modern American] Go here for of-the-moment cuisine in a modern gastropub setting. Executive Chef Curtis Gamble’s menu combines classic and contemporary flavor profiles with a hint of modernist technique, with dishes such as miso-poached apple and lavender pound cake. The two-room restaurant offers bar seating in the casual front room and larger tables in the back room, which is meant to evoke a turn-of-the-century railroad waiting room. Sunday brunch is a fun, tasty time. $$
Downtown: 214 Sixth St.
Executive Chef/Co-owner Richard DeShantz
[Tacos] Go here for a good time and good grub. Executive Chef Richard DeShantz and Chef de Cuisine David Racicot (formerly of notion) take tacos in a new direction at this hotspot Downtown. Traditional bites such as carnitas and pollo asado will cure your craving for a trip to the Baja peninsula, while adventurous tacos such as tako (octopus) and Korean break the mold in a craveable way. The bar program is one of the best in the city, so don’t miss the margaritas and the delicious drinks on the custom- and classic-cocktail list. $
Bloomfield: 4601 Liberty Ave.
Grill Master Courtney McFarlane
[Burgers/American] Go here for hamburgers. Although the new wave of gourmet hamburger spots might be getting much of the recent attention in Pittsburgh, members of the independent Restaurant Review Panel are happy to recognize this Pittsburgh classic for its top-notch hamburgers. Tessaro’s opened in Bloomfield in 1985 and is one of the city’s burger institutions. A recent building remodel and new outdoor courtyard make this a better time than ever to visit this old-school gem. $
East Liberty: 128 S. Highland Ave.
Executive Chef/Partner Andrew Garbarino
[Modern French] Go here for upscale, classically influenced dining with a twist. Executive Chef Andrew Garbarino’s ambitious kitchen combines French technique with modernist thought, and he peppers warm service with a bit of whimsical theater. The chef, trained at the Culinary Institute of America, shoots for the stars with dishes such as a three-way risotto tasting and petit poussin with Perigord truffle stuffing. The waitstaff is top-notch, as is the wine list. $$$
Shadyside: 5849 Ellsworth Ave.
Executive Chef Mr. Shu
[Japanese] Go here for sushi. Executive Chef Mr. Shu (Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2003 and 2013 Chef of the Year) brings solid selections to an otherwise sushi-starved city. He uses fish flown in from Japan and other locations, and he keeps his well-seasoned rice at an ideal temperature for nigiri. The best experience a guest can have at Umi is ordering a seven- or 11-course omakase (chef’s tasting menu), but diners also can enjoy sushi, sashimi and maki from the restaurant’s a la carte menu. Be sure to make a reservation, as tables at Umi book fast. $–$$$$
Lawrenceville: 4306 Butler St.
Executive Chef Csilla Thackray
[American] Go here for a taste of what’s cool, right now. The Vandal is one of the restaurants that is redefining the dining experience in Pittsburgh. It’s casual as can be — guests order at the counter, take a number and wait for food to be dropped off at their tables — yet it also is warm, hospitable and professionally run. Go for breakfast, brunch or lunch and enjoy diligently sourced and thoughtfully prepared dishes, such as beets with house-made ricotta, a killer pork sandwich and baked Anson Mills red peas with a poached egg and toast. $
Upper St. Clair: 1469 Bower Hill Road
Chef/Co-owner Gloria Fortunato
[Mediterranean] Go here to snag a seat at the hardest-to-get table in town. It might be a shock to some readers to discover that this table isn’t found in the city at all but in suburban Upper St. Clair. Chef/Co-owner Gloria Fortunato cooks enticing dishes, such as pan-seared mallard duck breast with basil-pistachio relish and Luxardo cherries, and bistro ravioli stuffed with braised spring peas and leeks served in a lemon broth with walnut pesto, at her 28-seat restaurant. The menu changes frequently, so diners should come with an open mind. They also should make reservations well in advance of when they hope to dine there. $$$-$$$$