Best Restaurants 2017
We go out to eat for different reasons.
Some diners are drawn to an exploration of cuisine and are more interested in what’s on the plate than the the atmosphere that surrounds them.
Other diners expect eating at a restaurant to be a special-occasion, white-tablecloth experience.
Often, we seek out the middle ground: casual, dependable and delicious places where we share great food with friends and family.
This year, our independent Restaurant Review Panel recommends 34 establishments to be honored on Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Restaurants list. These restaurants offer a diversity of dining choices that will guide Pittsburghers and visitors, no matter what they’re seeking.
This year’s list is wide-ranging. It includes a Sichuan restaurant tucked under a bowling alley in Squirrel Hill run by a James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist (Chengdu Gourmet) and a five-star, five-diamond establishment with white-glove service located 60 miles south of Pittsburgh (Lautrec). There’s a vegetable-forward, seasonal-obsessed restaurant in the heart of reinvigorated East Liberty (Dinette) and a classy, tasting-menu-only destination in suburban Sewickley (Cocothé).
Two of the newly opened spots selected for the list this year are regional-specific, vegan restaurants (Apteka and B52). We also welcome the return of a critic’s favorite (Bar Marco) as well as a long-standing restaurant finally getting its day on the podium (Salem’s Market & Grill).
Read on for our picks of Pittsburgh’s best.
This year, as Pittsburgh Magazine’s dining critic, I’ve sorted the BEST RESTAURANTS list into five categories to help you find what you’re looking for, no matter your dining style or craving. — Hal B. Klein
LAWRENCEVILLE: 3519 Butler St.
Executive Chef/co-Owner Justin Severino
[Spanish] Morcilla landed heaps of accolades from Pittsburgh Magazine’s independent Restaurant Review Panel in 2016: Best New Restaurant, Outstanding in Their Field Chef (Justin Severino) and Rising Star Chef (Chef de Cuisine Nate Hobart). Morcilla continues on the upswing in 2017. Severino and Hobart serve an array of extraordinary Spanish dishes in their taverna with a boisterous atmosphere in Lower Lawrenceville. Pittsburghers in search of a late-evening bite now can sit at the bar and enjoy charcuterie, conservas and other snacks with a glass of sherry, cider or vermouth.
STRIP DISTRICT: 2216 Penn Ave.
Executive Chef/Co-owner Justin Steel
[Italian] No other restaurant in Pittsburgh turned things around last year the way Bar Marco did. Executive Chef/Co-Owner Justin Steel found his culinary voice in 2016 and now is preparing some of the most craveable dishes in Pittsburgh. Steel focuses on regional Italian specialties such as pork tonnato, gorgeously crafted seasonal salads and extraordinary pasta dishes, as well as larger plates such as osso bucco with saffron risotto. Visit on Tuesday nights for a classic Chicken Parmigiana special. Sommelier Dominic Fiore leads an attentive, well-informed front-of-house staff.
EAST LIBERTY: 134 Highland Ave.
Executive Chef Jamilka Borges
[American] A new executive chef (Jamilka Borges) and a fresh interior design revitalized Spoon, which was one of the foundation restaurants of Pittsburgh’s recent dining resurgence. Borges brings her nuanced touch to dishes such as smoked bluefish, in which a vivid display of flavor, texture and color enhance the meaty fish. Main courses such as farrotto — a farro-based play on risotto served with sunchokes and pickled apples — are a delight. Perfectly balanced cocktails and outstanding wine service (Pittsburgh Magazine named Spoon “Best Complete Bar Program” earlier this year) complement the cuisine.
SHADYSIDE: 229 S. Highland Ave.
Executive Chef Dustin Gardner
[Mediterranean] In 2016, Executive Chef Dustin Gardner returned to Casbah, where he previously worked as sous chef, to helm the kitchen of the celebrated Shadyside restaurant. He infused the longtime favorite with new energy by adding a killer Saturday-brunch service as well as dishes such as reimagined beet salad with Marcona almonds and French green-lentil vinaigrette, and pappardelle with honey-roasted mushrooms and poppy seeds. Specialty weeks such as the seasonal Festa di Pasta celebrations and the end-of-summer Tomato and Corn Menu always are a hit.
LAWRENCEVILLE: 5336 Butler St.
Executive Chef/co-Owner Justin Severino
[Mediterranean] Cure just keeps getting better. Now in its sixth year, Justin Severino’s restaurant in Upper Lawrenceville continues its run as a destination-dining experience. Severino offers a six-course tasting menu, which enables diners to experience the full array of his outstanding, Mediterranean-influenced cuisine. A la carte dining also is a welcome option at Cure. We love that you can stop by for a salumi plate accompanied by a glass of wine, small and large portions of pasta and entrees such as Spanish mackerel with white runner beans, Calabrian chili, sweet and spicy pickled celery and preserved Meyer lemon.
OAKLAND: 214 N. Craig St.
Executive Chef/co-Owner Trevett Hooper
[American] Eating at Legume is a delicious cycle of the seasons. Corn and tomatoes are celebrated at the peak of summer. Squash is honored as the first crisp air of autumn sets in. Cassoulet warms our bones when it gets cold in December. Zurek, a sour rye-bread soup, is served in March when the cupboards are bare and the fields still are barren. April brings ramps and dandelions, the first edible signs of spring. In early summer, the menu once again tilts more heavily toward vegetables.
(above) Pork T-bone with grilled ramps, pickled pineapple and Carolina Gold rice.
SQUIRREL HILLl: 5840 Forward Ave.
Executive Chef/owner Wei Zhu
[Sichuan Chinese] One of the best Sichuan restaurants in the United States is located in Pittsburgh. Executive Chef/Owner Wei Zhu, a 2017 James Beard Foundation semi-finalist in the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category, serves intoxicating preparations of dishes such as cumin lamb, mapo tofu and chongqing crispy chicken, plus balancing vegetable dishes such as hand cabbage and sauteed Chinese broccoli with black pepper. The best thing to do when visiting here is to gather a group of people first: you’re going to want to order more than you’re able to eat. And don’t even think about ordering from the Americanized menu; stick to the Sichuan menus.
Eleven Contemporary Kitchen
STRIP DISTRICT: 1150 Smallman St.
Executive Chef Eli Wahl
[American] Eleven Contemporary Kitchen is flexible. Diners can enjoy a business lunch in the main dining room, a casual happy hour with friends in the comfortable bar, a great brunch with family or crushing one of the best burgers in the ’Burgh with just about anyone. Eleven also offers an elevated dinner dining experience with attentive service and skillfully prepared dishes such as wild Alaskan halibut with crème fraiche potato puree, ramps, English peas and tarragon crumb with mustard-seed vinaigrette.
EAST LIBERTY: 120 S. Whitfield St.
Executive Chef Bethany Zozula
[American] Hotel dining in Pittsburgh advanced a level when Whitfield, the restaurant attached to Ace Hotel in East Liberty, opened at the end of 2015. The restaurant offers a variety of options: a steakhouse menu with cuts from grass-finished cows from Jubilee Hilltop Ranch, a tavern menu of dishes such as smoked trout and duck confit, and a nightly vegetarian tasting menu. Don’t skip dessert. Casey Renee, Whitfield’s pastry chef, is a 2017 James Beard Foundation semifinalist in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category.
DOWNTOWN: 214 Sixth St.
Executive Chef/co-Owner Richard DeShantz
[Tacos] Executive Chef/Co-Owner Richard DeShantz and Chef de Cuisine Dave Racicot craft an ambitious menu of chef-driven tacos. Racicot’s daily taco specials such as braised-beef short ribs over crispy cheese and tuna tartare wrapped in an heirloom-corn tortilla are can’t-miss dishes. täkō’s bar program is one of the best in Pittsburgh, and servers always are helpful. DeShantz also operates Butcher and the Rye, Meat & Potatoes and Pork & Beans, all of which are within walking distance of täkō.
SOUTH SIDE: 2104 E. Carson St.
Executive Chef/Co-owner Stephen Felder
[Italian] Executive Chef/Co-Owner Stephen Felder wanted to add house-baked pizza to the menu of his restaurant from the time it operated in its original Bloomfield location. This year, he did. Now, he offers pies topped with ingredients such as artichoke, porchetta and roasted mushrooms. Pasta dishes such as ricotta cavatelli and wild boar ragu with orange gremolata and port currants also are standouts, as are the outstanding polenta selections.
UPPER ST. CLAIR: 1469 Bower Hill Road
Chef/co-owner Gloria Fortunato
[Mediterranean] One of the most sought-after tables — the most consistently hard to reserve in Pittsburgh — is found in a classic neighborhood restaurant. Longstanding regulars have first dibs on the restaurant’s 28 seats, but all that means is that would-be-diners should call and get their names on a waiting list. Chef/Co-Owner Gloria Fortunato’s menu changes frequently, inspired by the gentle passing of the seasons.
SHADYSIDE: 5847 Ellsworth Ave.
Executive Chef Lily Tran
[Pan Asian] big Burrito Restaurant Group’s pan-Asian restaurant is on the upswing as Executive Chef Lily Tran deepens her exploration of cuisine. Her dim sum menu — with dishes such as roasted squash dumplings with shiitake mushrooms and cipollini onion, and bahn mi bao buns with pork belly, duck pate, pickles and cilantro — is a treat, as are dishes such as Burmese tea-leaf salad with peanuts, tomato, split peas, sesame seed, crispy shallot, shrimp dust and jalapeño.
SHADYSIDE: 5501 Centre Ave.
Executive Chef/owner Chris Bonfili
[American] Avenue B in Shadyside keeps going strong year after year, so much so that it expanded into an additional room in 2016. Bistro favorites such as wild-caught fish and chips topped with malt aioli and served with Napa cabbage slaw, and braised short ribs with sweet pea and mascarpone ravioli, mushroom dashi and black garlic keep both longtime regulars and new Pittsburghers happy. Here’s a nice bit of hospitality: the BYOB restaurant doesn’t charge a corkage fee on Sunday nights.
SEWICKLEY: 432 Beaver St.
Executive Chef/co-Owner Sabatino “Sam” DiBattista
[Mediterranean] Vivo Kitchen strikes a perfect balance between ambitious and casual, making it both a comfortable neighborhood restaurant for Sewickley residents and an easy destination drive for city dwellers looking for a night out. Go for comforting dishes such as crispy whole chicken accented with fried garlic and seasonal treats such as morels served with country ham, halloumi and chili peppers. An added touch: DiBattista designed and built most of the restaurant’s interior.
SHADYSIDE: 5996 Centre Ave.
Chef/owner Sonja Finn
[Mediterranean] Chef Sonja Finn is one of the founding figures in Pittsburgh’s dining renaissance. It’s almost a given that better restaurants now change their menus with the season. Not only has Finn been doing that longer than most Pittsburgh chefs, but she also continues to be at the top of the list of those who do it now. Whether you’re there for late-winter Jerusalem artichokes with paprika aioli or peak-summer Serbian-style rooftop-grown salad of roasted hot peppers, tomatoes, feta and onion, you’re in good hands.
MT. LEBANON: 703 Washington Road
Executive Chef Matt Stover
[Italian] Owner Ron Molinaro and his team expanded the Italian eatery and pizzeria to two new locations in the past 12 months, but the original in Mt. Lebanon remains the best of the bunch. Classic Neapolitan pizza — something Molinaro perfected long before the current trend toward that style of pizza — is a draw, thanks to high-quality ingredients and expert craftsmanship. Be sure to visit the restaurant’s cozy wine bar for a pre- or post-meal drink.
LAWRENCEVILLE: 3473 Butler St.
Executive Chef Antonio Garcia
[Italian] It’s all class at Senti, a northern Italian restaurant in Lower Lawrenceville. Executive Chef Antonio Garcia delights diners with dishes such as Capesante alla Mela Verde (seared scallops with crispy potatoes and smoked green apple) and Filetto di Maiale (pork tenderloin served with prune and fig compote, fried leeks and lemon-zest mashed potatoes). Owner Franco Braccia runs the front-of-house with an old-world charm that’s hard to find anywhere else in Pittsburgh. The wine list is one of the best you’ll find in town.
NEMACOLIN WOODLANDS RESORT, FARMINGTON, FAYETTE COUNTY: 1001 Lafayette Drive
Executive Chef Kristin A. Butterworth
[Fine Dining] Lautrec, the five-star, five-diamond restaurant at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, is destination dining for Pittsburghers. Executive Chef Kristin A. Butterworth offers prix-fixe, vegan, vegetarian and dessert menus, plus the extraordinary Chef’s Table tasting-menu experience. Ingredients often are sourced from nearby purveyors such as Footprints Farm. Sure, it’s a 60-mile drive from Downtown to Lautrec, but it’s absolutely worth it.
The Twisted Frenchman
EAST LIBERTY: 128 S. Highland Ave.
Executive Chef/partner Andrew Garbarino
[Modern French] Andrew Garbarino is one of the most ambitious chefs in Pittsburgh. His focus on high-end, hard-to-find ingredients such as Hokkaido scallops, Poulet Rouge, Russian imperial Osetra caviar and highest-grade Japanese Wagyu beef enhances his modern, French-inspired cuisine. Garbarino plans to take The Twisted Frenchman to the next level with a move down the block and a relaunch as a multilevel, dual-concept space (tasting-menu-only upstairs, brasserie downstairs) later in the year.
SEWICKLEY: 545 Beaver St.
Executive Chef Dave DeVoss
[American] Cocothé’s move into the space adjacent to its original location earned Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2017 Delicious Design award for this American restaurant with French influences. It also allowed Executive Chef Dave DeVoss to deepen his exploration of cuisine and offer two- or three-course tasting menus with dishes such as veal sweetbreads with braised red cabbage and cheese ravioli topped with lingonberry sauce and a seafood tartar of osetra caviar, scallop, bluefin tuna and pickled pink peppercorn.
Sewickley: 409 Beaver St.
Executive Chef Patrick Kaderka
[French] Members of Pittsburgh Magazine’s independent Restaurant Review Panel were taken with Bruneaux’s ambitious French-inspired menu, noting that Continental cuisine and elegant decor are hard to find in Pittsburgh, particularly in the suburbs. Panel members loved Executive Chef Patrick Kaderka’s beautiful plating, too. The baked Dover sole, served with lemon, capers and blistered tomatoes, is a solid jumping-off point.
umi Japanese Restaurant
SHADYSIDE: 5849 Ellsworth Ave.
Executive Chef Mr. Shu
[Japanese] Seats — especially those at the sushi counter — book quickly at umi. Executive Chef Mr. Shu began running the raw bar at big Burrito Restaurant Group’s high-end sushi restaurant in 1999, drawing diners from all around the region. Make a reservation for omakase, the seven- or 11-course tasting menu, or create your own meal with appetizers such as ebi-stuffed shiitake and tako su (octopus salad) plus an array of sushi and sashimi.
Gaucho Parilla Argentina
STRIP DISTRICT: 1601 Penn Ave.
Executive Chef/Owner Anthony Falcon
[Argentine] You’ll smell Gaucho before you see it. The warming aroma of beef cooking over the restaurant’s hardwood grills envelops the Strip District, acting as a homing beacon for meat lovers. There often is a line — sometimes around the block — but it moves fast, and the wait is worth it. Flame-kissed steaks are a draw, as are wood-roasted pork, fish and chicken. Thinking of throwing a party for a large group? La Bodega, Gaucho’s downstairs event space, fits 30 people for a sit-down dinner and 45 for a cocktail party.
BLOOMFIELD: 4606 Penn Ave.
Chefs/owners Kate Lasky & Tomasz Skowronski
[Central/Eastern European] Chef/Owners Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski are redefining central and eastern European cuisine with their enticing, all-vegan menu. Pair those dishes with any of the innovative cocktails bolstered by unconventional ingredients such as pickled prune, celery seed and juniper, and it’s pretty clear why Pittsburgh Magazine’s independent Restaurant Review Panel selected Apteka as its 2017 Best New Restaurant. Lasky and Skowronski also have the esteem of Pittsburgh chefs — the duo is honored in the 2017 chefs’ poll as the city’s Rising Star chefs.
LAWRENCEVILLE: 5202 Butler St.
Chef/owner Omar Abuhejleh
[Middle Eastern] Looking for a restaurant that demonstrates that animal products aren’t a necessary component to your meal? You might find yourself to be a frequent visitor to B52, a cafe and eatery that specializes in Levantine vegan cuisine. Dishes such as lentil soup, baba ghanouj, falafel sandwich and kofta tofu scramble all are standouts. Coffee and tea drinks — bolstered by house-made almond milk and other flavors — are a draw to B52 as well.
Smoke Barbeque Taqueria
LAWRENCEVILLE: 4115 butler st.
Executive Chef/co-owner Jeff Petruso
[Barbeque] Catch the best southwestern flavors at Smoke. The specialty here is barbecued meat served in fresh-made flour tortillas (Executive Chef/Co-Owner Jeff Petruso also crafts delicious corn tortillas, but you have to ask for them). Smoke turns into a hamburger joint on Tuesday, and the burgers — particularly the decadent specials — are every bit as tasty as the tacos. Sunday brunch also is a lot of fun: Smoked, then-fried chicken tacos and chorizo-gravy biscuits are treats, and the drinks are excellent.
Penn Avenue Fish Company
STRIP DISTRICT: 2208 Penn Ave.
Owner Henry B. Dewey
[Seafood] Pittsburgh’s finest fish market also houses one of the city’s best budget eateries. Diners are drawn to Penn Avenue Fish Company for a rotating — dependent on what’s fresh — selection of sandwiches such as North Atlantic salmon with teriyaki glaze and grilled swordfish with house-made barbecue sauce. Soups, fish-topped salads, fish tacos, wraps and more round out the menu. Penn Avenue Fish Company also serves a highly regarded selection of sushi.
Salem’s Market & Grill
STRIP DISTRICT: 2923 Penn Ave.
General Manager/Owner Abdullah Salem
[Middle Eastern] Salem’s very well may be the most inclusive restaurant in Pittsburgh, attracting everyone from recent immigrants to city government workers. The 100-percent halal menu is a delicious mix of Middle Eastern, Indian, Pakistani and Mediterranean cuisines. Go for dishes such as luscious lamb or goat curry, saag paneer, seekh and shish kebabs, and lamb chops. Don’t skip the hot, pillowy naan, which comes fresh from the restaurant’s tandoor. The attached market contains one of Pittsburgh’s finest butcher shops.
Joseph Tambellini Restaurant
HIGHLAND PARK: 5701 Bryant St.
Executive Chef/co-Owner Joseph Tambellini
[Italian-American] Talk about classic Pittsburgh: Executive Chef/Co-Owner Joseph Tambellini is part of an extended family of Tambellini restaurateurs; he cut his teeth working for his father and uncle in 1979 at Robert Tambellini’s, Downtown. Members of our independent Restaurant Review Panel enjoy dining at this eponymous restaurant for its classic, white-tablecloth service. Italian-American greatest hits such as zucchini planks, chicken Marsala and meatballs are favorite dishes for Pittsburgh diners. Don’t skip the wine list; it’s terrific.
LAWRENCEVILLE: 3801 Butler St.
Chef/owner Domenic Branduzzi
[Italian] Piccolo Forno was cool long before its neighborhood, Lawrenceville, became so. Chef/Owner Domenic Branduzzi prepares Northern Italian comfort food with dishes such as lasagna toscana and rotating risotto specials. Branduzzi also was well ahead of the recent boom in quality, house-made pizza; it’s worth a visit to have one for lunch or share one as part of your dinner. Look for Ki Ramen, a partnership between Branduzzi and talented chef Roger Li (Umami), this year.
Tessaro’s American Bar & Hardwood Grill
BLOOMFIELD: 4601 Liberty Ave.
Grill Master Courtney McFarlane
[Burgers/American] Tessaro’s, an iconic Pittsburgh establishment, expanded into a neighboring building and added outdoor seating in 2015. That’s great for the neighborhood, because the enticing aroma of burgers built from house-ground chuck and juicy steaks cooking on the restaurant’s hardwood grill permeate throughout Bloomfield. Sit at the bar to feel as though you’re a regular, even if it’s your first time visiting (because it certainly won’t be your last).
SHADYSIDE: 238 Spahr St.
Executive Chef/owner Toni Pais
[Mediterranean] Executive Chef/Owner Toni Pais is one of the deans of Pittsburgh dining. He moved to our city from Portugal in 1978 and rose to prominence with the opening of Baum Vivant in 1992; the restaurant won Pittsburgh Magazine’s nod for Restaurant of the Year for eight consecutive years. But it’s Café Zinho, which he opened on a quiet street in Shadyside in 1997, that’s proved to be his lasting legacy. Loyal diners rave — and return often — to enjoy his Portuguese-influenced cuisine both in the vibrant dining room, and, when the weather is pleasant, at a table on the peaceful street.
Dragon Roll, Dean Roll, Philadelphia Roll, California Roll & Edememe
Little Tokyo Japanese Restaurant
Mt. Lebanon: 636 Washington Road
Owner Frank Lin
[Japanese] Welcoming and gracious service draw diners to Little Tokyo, a neighborhood institution that opened in 1997. The Japanese restaurant is the type of establishment where the staff, led by personable owner Frank Lin, makes first-time guests feel at home and longtime regulars feel like family. Dishes such as salmon dengaku — a miso-marinated, grilled fillet — and tonkatsu are popular, as are selections from the very good sushi counter.
In addition to compiling the Best Restaurants List, members of Pittsburgh Magazine’s independent Restaurant Review Panel this year opted to recognize eateries with laudable specialties. They turned to PM dining critic Hal B. Klein for a list of restaurants he visits to satisfy a specific craving:
- Chef-Made Sandwiches: Thin Man Sandwich Shop
- Outdoor Dining: Pusadee’s Garden
- Old-School Meets New-School: DiAnoia’s Eatery
- Ice Cream: Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream
- Smoked Ribs: Pork & Beans
- Beautifully Plated Food with a Chill Vibe: The Vandal
- Lunch with a View: Café Carnegie
- Mobile Pizza: Driftwood Oven
- New-School Pittsburgh Pizzeria: Pizza Taglio
- Late-Night Eats: Umami
- Southern Indian Cuisine: Udipi Cafe
- Korean Eats: Nak Won Garden
- Soup Dumplings: Everyday Noodles
- Soup and a Sandwich in Suburbia: Cafe Io
- Kaiseki: Chaya