Best Restaurants 2018

photo courtesy fl. 2

For a more recent Best Restaurants List, head to our 2019 List here

Pittsburgh’s dining options are expanding, and so is Pittsburgh Magazine’s annual Best Restaurants list. This year, our independent Restaurant Review Panel recommends 37 restaurants for inclusion and, as the magazine’s dining critic, I’ve added three more, for a neat total of 40.

Some notable longstanding Pittsburgh restaurants such as Hyeholde are resurgent, and outstanding newcomers such as Union Standard and Bitter Ends Garden & Luncheonette add their fresh perspectives to a slowly maturing culinary landscape.

On top of that, we are continuing to broaden our discussion of the definition of what makes a restaurant “best” to extend beyond the classic interpretation of fine dining. We love a fancy, formal night out at a restaurant with snappy service and pressed white tablecloths such as the one you’ll find at Lautrec (in fact, we’d like to see more of those in Pittsburgh), yet we recognize that well-executed informal restaurants such as Gaucho Parrilla Argentina and Apteka are fulfilling their mission at a high level, too.

International restaurants, once relegated as offshoot “ethnic” food back-pats, are meaningful, too, particularly those that speak with a distinctive voice. To that end, the longstanding Indian vegan restaurant Udipi Cafe gets a nod after more than two decades of operation, and we continue to celebrate the growth of Squirrel Hill’s regional Chinese specialties with the inclusion of Taiwanese Bistro Cafe 33.

What does this mean for you? Options. For the second year running, the Best Restaurants list is broken into categories so that you can find the best of what you’re looking for to suit your mood.
— Hal B. Klein

(Editor’s Note: Restaurants must have opened by December 31, 2017 to qualify for inclusion on the list.)

All Arounders

These restaurants have it all: talented chefs, top-notch service and a focus on ambience. They are perfect for a celebration yet approachable enough for a nice weeknight meal, and they often are our favorite go-to destinations.


LAWRENCEVILLE: 5336 Butler St.
Executive Chef/Co-Owner
Justin Severino​
Executive Chef/Co-Owner Justin Severino, chef de cuisine Danielle Felix and the rest of the culinary team at Cure consistently craft some of Pittsburgh’s most exciting dishes. Coddled eggs with sherry chantilly and smoked maple, for example, is elegant comfort in a calcium shell, and roasted trout with braised swiss chard, calabrian chili, crispy fried white runner beans and burnt lemon hits the mark as an elevated yet unfussy main course. Pasta dishes, available by the half- and whole-order, work as a side dish, a main course and even, paired with a glass of wine or one of Cure’s perfectly balanced cocktails, an indulgent snack.

Bar Marco

STRIP DISTRICT: 2216 Penn Ave.  
Executive Chef/Co-Owner
Justin Steel
  Whether you’re on an important third date or simply out for a casual night with pals, it always is a treat to visit Bar Marco. Now in its sixth year of operation, the restaurant has matured into a neighborhood gathering spot that’s a draw for everyone, even if you don’t live in the Strip District. Executive Chef/Co-Owner Justin Steel’s handmade pasta dishes such as bucatini carbonara and gemelli with ramp and arugula pesto and peas are pure comfort, and his seasonal dishes such as fried smelts, carrot gnocchi and fennel salad with citrus transport diners to the Mediterranean while remaining rooted in contemporary Pittsburgh dining. Sommelier Dominic Fiore applies his extensive viniculture knowledge and creative purchasing to craft a dynamic, curated list of natural wines.


​​LAWRENCEVILLE: 3519 Butler St.
Executive Chef/Co-Owner
Justin Severino​
Nothing like a flood to shake things up. Executive Chef/Co-Owner Justin Severino turned a bad situation into an opportunity after a burst pipe in the apartment upstairs caused catastrophic damage to his Lawrenceville restaurant. Severino’s new menu features an increase in large-format plates, with dishes such as lamb tagine and cider-braised chicken with calasparra rice joining Morcilla’s whole-roasted suckling pig as must-gets, as well as new shareable items including artichoke and idiazabal gratin. Severino also focused on a nagging noise problem with the new construction — with increased soundproofing through the dining room, Morcilla now is cozy and quiet.


OAKLAND: 214 N. Craig St.
Executive Chef/Co-Owner
Trevett Hooper

[American]  Trevett Hooper’s Legume restaurant won early acclaim with progressive eaters when he opened the first iteration of the producer-to-table eatery in 2007, and he reached a wider audience moving to Oakland in 2011. This year, Legume’s reputation for responsive seasonal cuisine and genuine connection to local food systems hit the national spotlight, earning a James Beard award semifinalist nod for Best Restaurant (Hooper also was a 2013 Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic semifinalist). The restaurant’s cozy attached bar, Butterjoint, serves the Legume menu as well as snacks, including one of the best hamburgers in Pittsburgh. Hooper’s new project, Pie For Breakfast, will open later this year.

All Arounders (cont.)

These restaurants have it all: talented chefs, top-notch service and a focus on ambience. They are perfect for a celebration yet approachable enough for a nice weeknight meal, and they often are our favorite go-to destinations.


SHADYSIDE: 229 S. Highland Ave.
Executive Chef
Dustin Gardner
Now into its second decade, Casbah remains one of Pittsburgh’s most important restaurants. Executive Chef Dustin Gardner caters to longtime regulars as well as new visitors with a menu that seamlessly intertwines classic Casbah favorites such as cavatelli with fennel sausage and double-cut pork chops with butternut squash risotto with newer dishes such as sheep’s-milk gnudi, bay scallops, preserved lemon, pomegranate, cauliflower puree and bread crumbs. Front-of-house service is professional, the wine list is deep and the cocktail program is, quietly, one of the best executed in Pittsburgh.


EAST LIBERTY: 134 S. Highland Ave.
Executive Chef/Co-Owner
Brian Pekarcik
Executive Chef/Co-Owner Brian Pekarcik returned to Spoon’s kitchen in February following the departure of Jamilka Borges (see “Chef of the Year,” p. 68). Pekarcik’s first full-time foray at the restaurant since 2014 means a refocused menu of contemporary American dishes such as goat-cheese souffle with frisee, grapefruit, lardons and pickled prawns and day-boat scallops with salsify purée, twice-cooked pork belly, blood orange reduction and broccolini. Service at Spoon consistently is among the best in town, crisp and professional without being overbearing.

Eleven Contemporary Kitchen

STRIP DISTRICT: 1150 Smallman St.
Executive Chef
Eli Wahl
  Eleven Contemporary Kitchen is one of Pittsburgh’s most revered establishments. The high-end flagship of the big Burrito Restaurant Group’s mix of elegant cuisine, full spectrum beverage program and attentive service makes it a destination for special occasions, and Eleven’s tavern menu also makes it one of the city’s preeminent happy hour destinations. Executive Chef Eli Wahl’s seasonal tasting menus are noteworthy, and main courses such as Elysian Fields lamb loin with smoked lamb belly, celery root purée, roasted beets, Brussels sprouts, Anson Mills oats and whole-grain mustard jus are crowd pleasers.


EAST LIBERTY: 120 S. Whitfield St.
Executive Chef
Bethany Zozula
The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty is run by two James Beard Foundation nominated chefs. Executive Chef Bethany Zozula is a 2018 semifinalist for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic and Pastry Chef Casey Renee is, two years running, a semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Visit Whitfield for, well, just about anything you’re craving. Breakfast and lunch menus offer satisfying, comforting selections such as Toad-in-a-Hole, mushroom gravy and biscuits and duck leg confit with escarole and hashbrowns. The restaurant’s dinner menu highlights Whitfield’s ambitious whole-animal butchery program. Here, diners can find selections such as Jamison Farm lamb, rabbit “porchetta” and Jubilee Hilltop Ranch steaks. There always are terrific vegetarian options, too, including a daily, multi-course tasting menu.

Union Standard

DOWNTOWN: 524 William Penn Place
Executive Chef/Owner
Derek Stevens
  Derek Stevens made his mark in Pittsburgh as the longstanding executive chef of Eleven, running the Strip District kitchen for more than a decade. In 2017, after more than 25 years of working for other people, he decided to strike out solo and open Union Standard Downtown. Stevens’ menu marries the cuisines of the Mid-Atlantic, Appalachia and the Northeast with impeccably sourced dishes such as Jamison Farm lamb with Anson Mills polenta, blistered green beans, blood orange and pistachio and Laurel Hill trout with fingerling potato, smoked jalapeno and chow chow. Union Standard is a top choice for brunch and lunch Downtown, and the raw bar and cocktail program make it a terrific after-work and happy hour destination.

Killer Casual

A solid combination of excellent food and casual-yet-attentive service draws diners to these restaurants. These are the types of places where you quickly can become a regular.

Chengdu Gourmet

SQUIRREL HILL: 5840 Forward Ave.
Executive Chef/Owner
Wei Zhu
[Sichuan Chinese]
  For the second year running, Wei Zhu, Executive Chef/Owner of Chengdu Gourmet, was honored with a nomination for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic by the James Beard Foundation. Zhu’s Sichuan cuisine is lauded as some of the best in the United States, which is all the more reason you should stick to dishes from that region, rather than the Americanized offerings, when ordering a meal at Chengdu Gourmet. Get dishes such as Chongqing beef hot pot (a spicy stew swimming with beef, vegetables, tofu, noodles and mushrooms), emerald fish, shredded potatoes with vinegar and napa with ginkgo and tofu, a cooling dish that will balance the fiery ma-la spice that’s a signature of Sichuan cuisine. Inexpensive lager beer and high-acid wines are the best pairings to bring to the BYOB establishment.


SOUTH SIDE: 2104 E. Carson St.
Executive Chef/Co-Owner
Stephen Felder
Stagioni is either a beloved part of your regular restaurant rotation or one of Pittsburgh’s best kept secrets. Executive Chef/Co-Owner Stephen Felder’s menu of seasonal Italian classics such as grilled whole branzino with fennel, orange and pistachio, tomato-braised meatballs with escarole, cannellini beans and Calabrian chili and ricotta gnocchi with sausage-rapini ragout are reason enough to visit several times per year. Make sure to make reservations for Felder’s monthly Sunday Supper dinners — the family-style feasts are a scrumptious conversation starter.

Vivo Kitchen

SEWICKLEY: 432 Beaver St.
Executive Chef/Co-Owner
Sabatino “Sam” DiBattista
  Vivo is a rare restaurant that primarily is a neighborhood favorite, yet, also is worthy as a destination dinner. The family-run business — Sam DiBattista is the restaurant’s executive chef and his wife, Lori, runs front-of-house operations — radiates warmth from greeting to goodbye. Roasted chicken is de rigueur this year in Pittsburgh, but cooking a whole, crispy bird is something DiBattista perfected years ago. He also is a prince of pescatarian cookery, using straightforward techniques such as grilling and roasting to bring the best out of the ocean’s bounty.


SHADYSIDE: 5996 Centre Ave.
Sonja J Finn
This year, Sonja J Finn celebrates a decade of ownership at Dinette, one of the establishments that prompted Pittsburgh’s modern restaurant resurgence. Dinette is one of the rare pizza establishments where we recommend bypassing traditional builds and instead looking to the seasonal, thoughtful combinations such as Empire apples with bacon, red onion, sage, Gorgonzola piccante and fresh mozzarella. We love the non-pizza dishes just as much — and often more than — the pizza. Finn’s attention to the seasons and straightforward yet thoughtful combinations always hit the spot.

The Vandal

LAWRENCEVILLE: 4306 Butler St.
Executive Chef Csilla Thackray
It’s marvelous witnessing a restaurant metamorphosize into a new stage of maturity. The Vandal remains as hip as when it was included on Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2016 Best Restaurants list — and the chicken sandwich and hamburger still are draws. Even better — the addition of a refined dinner menu, table service and an upgraded design makes the restaurant now as much an evening destination as it is a lunch and brunch spot. Look to dishes such as green borscht with potato, dill and cured egg and stuffed quail with paprikash, spaetzle and cucumber, where Executive Chef Csilla Thackray draws from her Hungarian heritage.

Killer Casual (cont.)

A solid combination of excellent food and casual-yet-attentive service draws diners to these restaurants. These are the types of places where you quickly can become a regular.

DiAnoia’s Eatery

STRIP DISTRICT: 2549 Penn Ave.
Executive Chef/Co-Owner
Dave Anoia
DiAnoia’s Eatery appeals to our cravings morning, noon and night. Stop by in the morning for a breakfast sandwich reminiscent of New York City bodegas and an espresso. Visit in the afternoon for a deli sandwich, salad and glass of house wine. In the evening, put it all together with a multicourse meal of antipasti, homemade pasta and delectable mains such as roasted whole branzino and porchetta with its drippings. Breads and desserts are prepared in-house by the restaurant’s top-tier pasty team. Thirsty? DiAnoia’s cocktail menu mirrors the food menu, with well-balanced, perfectly prepared drinks that get stronger as the day gets longer.

The Cafe Carnegie

Critic’s Selection
OAKLAND: 4400 Forbes Ave.
Consulting Chef
Sonja J Finn
Cafe Carnegie is one of my favorite lunch destinations in Pittsburgh. The upscale yet casual restaurant is nestled in the lobby of The Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, which means a quick cultural escape is footsteps away. One of the things I love best about Consulting Chef Sonja J Finn’s menu is that a meal will leave you feeling stronger and more energetic than when you came in. Go for peppy, satisfying salads such as the Zuni Cafe-influenced pulled chicken salad or salad chevre chaud, or a heartier dish such as Jamison Farm lamb pot pie.

Taiwanese Bistro Cafe 33

SQUIRREL HILL: 1711 Shady Ave.
Executive Chef/Co-Owner
Asan Tao
Regionally specific Chinese cuisine is on the rise in Pittsburgh, and there perhaps is no better demonstration of this trend than Taiwanese Bistro Cafe 33. Executive Chef/Co-Owner Asan Tao forgoes generic “Chinese food” in favor of a menu of Taiwanese specialties such as cold jellyfish, three-cup chicken and pork with mustard greens soup. Certain dishes, such as pork-blood “tofu” with garlic-chive soup, intestines in garlic sauce and book-tripe with vegetables, might be unfamiliar to Western palettes but absolutely are worth ordering. Co-Owner Jenny Tao oversees a genial front-of-house staff who are eager to guide guests to assemble a perfect meal.

Superior Motors

BRADDOCK: 1211 Braddock Ave.
Executive Chef/Co-Owner
Kevin Sousa
[New American]
 Executive Chef/Co-Owner Kevin Sousa serves New American cuisine influenced by modernist technique at his Braddock establishment, which the independent Restaurant Review Panel selected as this year’s Best New Restaurant. Sousa’s artfully composed dishes such as carrot or tuna tartare with nori, kimchi, miso and katsuobushi and sturgeon with spaetzle, cauliflower, cabbage and mustard are a draw to the restaurant, as is Superior Motors’ forward-thinking cocktail program.


Executive Chef/Co-Owner
Roger Li
Pittsburgh is a city starving for late-night dining options. One of the reasons we love Umami, a third-floor izakaya from Roger Li (Ki Ramen, Ki Pollo) and Derek Brunell (Round Corner Cantina) is that the establishment serves crushable Japanese pub food such as chawanmushi, karaage and okonomiyaki until midnight during the week and 2 a.m. on weekends. Li and his team also serve some of the best sushi in Pittsburgh — pay particular attention to the daily specials. We’re smitten with items such as whole fish, King Trumpet mushroom and bacon-quail eggs cooked on the charcoal-fired robata grill. The izakaya’s intricate design and DJ-curated playlists are transportive.

Fancy Night Out

These are the places for which you should dress up when you visit — special-occasion restaurants that entice diners with high-level decor and service in addition to cuisine. 


1001 Lafayette Drive
Executive Chef
Kristin A. Butterworth
[Fine Dining]
  This year, Lautrec Executive Chef Kristin A. Butterworth earned a well-deserved, and long-overdue, semifinalist nod for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic from the James Beard Foundation. Butterworth’s cuisine marries classical technique and contemporary culinary philosophy with impeccable sourcing as she crafts dishes such as escargot with aerated potato, wheat berry, shiitakes, bone marrow crumb and garlic-herb butter for the restaurant’s tasting menus. Combine those plates with pampered service and it’s clear why Lautrec is one of just a handful of Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five-Diamond restaurants in the world.


SEWICKLEY: 545 Beaver St.
Executive Chef
Dave DeVoss
[New American]
  There perhaps is no restaurant in Pittsburgh which is as darling an upscale hidden gem as Cocothé in Sewickley, where Executive Chef Dave DeVoss crafts forward-thinking dishes inspired by Continental dining tradition. His seasonal menus include appetizers such as beef tartare with port wine poached pear, radicchio salad and cranberry and hazelnut crackers as well as entrees such as roasted salmon with apple and lemon smashed potatoes, beurre blanc sauce and shaved apple and fennel salad. You’re lucky if you live nearby, and it’s worth the drive if you don’t.

The Twisted Frenchman

EAST LIBERTY: 2595 Baum Blvd.
Executive Chef/Partner
Andrew Garbarino
[Modern French]
  In 2017, Executive Chef/Partner Andrew Garbarino moved The Twisted Frenchman restaurant down the block into a multimillion-dollar remodel of an old auction house. On the second floor of the building is the new iteration of his modern French restaurant, which sits above the more casual Bar Frenchman. He and his kitchen team prepare 3-, 8- and 14-course tasting menus, as well as a 21-course chef’s table experience. Garbarino focuses on high-quality ingredients and uses both classic French and modernist techniques in his preparations. Service is top-notch, as is the wine list.


​LAWRENCEVILLE: 3473 Butler St.
Franco Braccia
  Senti is the perfect destination for diners who desire a bit of pampering while indulging in a classy evening of refined northern Italian cuisine. Owner Franco Braccia applies his decades of experience in the restaurant industry at Senti by running an attentive front-of-house, reading tables and quickly reacting to ensure the best experience for guests. Senti offers delectable classic Italian dishes such as Brodetto di Pesce con Pasta (spaghetti with an array of seafood in white wine tomato sauce), squash ravioli with beef broth, radicchio, gremolata and raisin coulis and grilled branzino with lemon, arugula and cauliflower. Lunch service is more casual but just as polished as dinner. The wine list is splendid.

Fancy Night Out (cont.)

These are the places for which you should dress up when you visit — special-occasion restaurants that entice diners with high-level decor and service in addition to cuisine. 

umi Japanese Restaurant

SHADYSIDE: 5849 Ellsworth Ave.
Executive Chef
Mr. Shu
  Umi is a trailblazing Pittsburgh restaurant. The nearly 20-year-old establishment became a sushi destination long before there were any options of its caliber in Pittsburgh, and it remains on top of the seasoned rice pile. Executive Chef Mr. Shu’s handiwork is beloved by everyone from Pittsburgh’s professional athletes, visiting film stars and an array of regulars. We recommend the 7- or 11-course omakase offerings, though we also enjoy menu items such as black cod with miso. Make a reservation, particularly if you’re interested in enjoying Mr. Shu’s omakase at the sushi bar.

or, The Whale

DOWNTOWN: 463 Boulevard of the Allies
Dennis Marron
  Sustainability, seafood and steaks are the buzzwords at or, The Whale, the restaurant at the Distrikt Hotel Downtown. Chef/Owner Dennis Marron and his team are meticulous in their sourcing, working with suppliers such as Jubilee Hilltop Ranch to craft a menu from ethically raised and very delicious ingredients. You won’t feel landlocked with seafood dishes such as dayboat scallops with butternut squash caponata, sunflower shoots, black radish and fingerling potato chips, and selections from the dry-aged steak program, grilled over hardwood fire, are unbeatable.

fl. 2

DOWNTOWN: 510 Market St., second floor
Executive Chef
Julio Peraza
Architect Lázaro Rosa-Violán’s stunning redesign transformed the restaurant space at the Fairmont Pittsburgh into Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2018 Delicious Design winner. Executive Chef Julio Peraza’s dinner menu includes shareable main courses such as a whole rotisserie chicken served with an herb salad and braised lamb shank with white-bean stew and double-smoked bacon, as well as delicate dishes such as scallop crudo and cured kampachi. We also love fl.2 for an elegant yet casual lunch or brunch; it’s a perfect spot for a business meeting or quick catch up with a friend.

Best Budget

The focus of these establishments is tasty food at an approachable price-point. Atmosphere and/or service often are secondary considerations — the low-fuss attitude of these restaurants is a draw for some diners.

Gaucho Parrilla Argentina

STRIP DISTRICT: 1601 Penn Ave.
Anthony Falcon
  There regularly are lines around the block at Gaucho Parrilla Argentina, and for good reason. Chef/Owner Anthony Falcon, Executive Chef Matt Neal and their team are serving some of the tastiest steaks in town, and they’re doing it at an affordable price. Flank, ribeye, New York strip and other cuts of beef are cooked over open hardwood fire to smokey perfection; top them with one — or more — of the house-made sauces. Gaucho’s menu also includes excellent pork, fish and chicken options, as well as seasonal vegetarian options. Look for the Asado Truck, the restaurant’s mobile option, around town.


BLOOMFIELD: 4606 Penn Ave.
Kate Lasky & Tomasz Skowronski
[Central/Eastern European] 
Apteka is so cool. Chefs/Owners Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski dig into their central and eastern European heritage with an all-vegan menu that includes popular dishes such as pierogi and borscht, but also lesser-known, equally tasty items such as zupa grzybowa (mushroom and smoked chili soup with cabbage and herbs) and boczniaki z kapusta (oyster mushroom and braised cabbage in beer broth with butternut miso and rye crumb). The duo this year introduced a late-night special — a vegan burger that, and we don’t say this lightly, is a deeply satisfying alternative hamburger treat.

Bitter Ends Garden & Luncheonette

Critics Selection
BLOOMFIELD: 4613 Liberty Ave.
Becca Hegarty
  Combine the best aspects of the farm-to-table movement with an old-school neighborhood lunch counter, and you have Bitter Ends Garden & Luncheonette. The restaurant, which seats 17, might be pocket-sized, yet Chef/Co-Owner Becca Hegarty makes magic with what she serves on her curated, vegetable-forward menu that also features house-baked breads and pastries. Hegarty and her partners pay fastidious attention to quality of ingredient, farming some of what’s cooked and teaming up with other regional producers for the rest. Saddle up to the counter for a killer sausage and egg breakfast sandwich, a vegetable hoagie or a bowl of soup. Or, all of them … and a doughnut.

B52 Cafe

LAWRENCEVILLE: 5202 Butler St.
Omar Abuhejleh
[Middle Eastern]
 Omar Abuhejleh’s Upper Lawrenceville establishment is a restaurant with flavorful, Levantine-influenced vegan cuisine that also serves as a soulful community cafe. Start your day with a specialty coffee or a bracing shot of espresso while enjoying avocado or almond butter toast on house-baked bread; the buckwheat sourdough pancakes are another excellent option. For a healthy and satisfying lunch, begin your meal with a selection of mezze such as best-in-town baba ganouj and labneh made from fermented cashews, crush a za’atar flatbread and dig into a falafel salad.

Best Budget (cont.)

The focus of these establishments is tasty food at an approachable price-point. Atmosphere and/or service often are secondary considerations — the low-fuss attitude of these restaurants is a draw for some diners.

SMOKE Barbeque Taqueria

LAWRENCEVILLE: 4115 Butler St.
Executive Chef/Co-Owner
Jeff Petruso
Pittsburgh doesn’t have many terrific taco options, which is why we love this hybrid barbecue-taco shop. Executive Chef/Co-Owner Jeff Petruso does a fantastic job of mashing up Texas-style barbecue with Austin taco culture at SMOKE Barbeque Taqueria in Lawrenceville. He prepares tantalizing smoked meats such as brisket, ribs and pork shoulder that are served in house-made flour; freshly made corn tortillas also are available. Look for daily specials, too. Tuesdays mean hamburgers, which are scratch-made top to bottom and rank among the best in Pittsburgh.

Udipi Cafe

MONROEVILLE: 4141 Old William Penn Highway
Manjunath Sherigar
2018 might mark Udipi Cafe’s first year on Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Restaurants list, yet savvy diners have known since 1996 that Manjunath Sherigar’s restaurant is home to the region’s best vegan southern Indian cuisine. Look past the bare-bones decor and treat your taste buds to invigorating dishes such as avial (vegetables cooked in coconut sauce and spice) and kadhi bhindi curry (Okra with herbs and spices). The restaurant’s dosas — thin pancakes made from fermented rice and lentil flours, stuffed with ingredients such as spiced potato, onion and chutney — are a draw.


SHADYSIDE: 242 S. Highland Ave.
Watcharee Tongdee and Michael Johnson
  Quick and casual is the name of the game at Noodlehead. All of the noodle recipes on the restaurant’s modest menu were created or inspired by Tongdee family matriarch Pusadee Tongdee. With a name like Noodlehead, it’s not much of a surprise that noodles are what you want to get at this cash-only, BYOB restaurant. Standout dishes include chiang mai curry (egg noodles, chicken, pickled mustard greens, crispy shallots, yellow curry coconut milk sauce) and kee mao (big flat rice noodles, bok choy, napa cabbage, spicy chili garlic sauce); the noodle soups are solid, too.

Salem’s Market & Grill

Critic’s Selection
STRIP DISTRICT: 2923 Penn Ave.
General Manager/Owner
Abdullah Salem
[Middle Eastern]
  Salem’s may very well be the most inclusive restaurant space in Pittsburgh. Although the establishment has a cafeteria atmosphere — think hot-line and disposable table settings — I believe the informality is part of the draw to Salem’s. The restaurant’s menu is 100 percent Halal, and the meat — better sourced than most Pittsburgh eateries — is part of a whole-animal butchery program that extends to the attached market. From-the-grill items such as seekh and kufta kabobs are savory delights, and dishes from the hot bar, particularly goat and lamb curries, spinach paneer and chickpeas, make for a deeply satisfying, and also affordable meal. Be sure to order naan — hot from the restaurant’s tandoor, it’s pure comfort food.

Classic Pittsburgh

Familiarity of service and go-to menu favorites make these long-standing restaurants important destinations for Pittsburghers.

Tessaro’s American Bar & Hardwood Grill

BLOOMFIELD: 4601 Liberty Ave.
Grill Master
Courtney McFarlane
  Pittsburghers have since 1981 flocked to the Bloomfield burger joint and bar for a taste of a true Steel City classic. Every day, Tessaro’s butcher Dominic Piccola grinds the restaurant’s custom blend of chuck, brisket, short rib, New York strip and other cuts. Then, grill master Courtney McFarlane cooks the ground beef over a hardwood fire, as he’s done nearly every day since 1992. As any regular would tell you, there are no French fries at Tessaro’s; instead order a favorite side such as boiled red-skin potatoes or broccoli (hey, your body will thank you). On Thursdays, there is a ribs special. We love the bar — and the longstanding bartenders — at Tessaro’s too.

Cafe Zinho

SHADYSIDE: 238 Spahr St.
Executive Chef/Owner
Toni Pais
  Executive Chef/Owner of Cafe Zinho Toni Pais taps into his Portuguese roots with dishes such as mariscada, a garlic-and-cilantro-forward shellfish stew with a wine and tomato base and bulhao-pato style clams (cooked in white wine, olive oil and garlic). Other seafood standouts include branzino with olive oil and lemon slices and the not-to-be-missed daily specials. Dishes such as suckling pig shanks in papaya barbecue sauce will please meat-forward diners, and plates such as spinach ricotta ravioli with piquillo pepper coulis are certain to delight vegetable-forward ones. Be sure to grab an outdoor seat in the warmer months.

Penn Avenue Fish Company

STRIP DISTRICT: 2208 Penn Ave.
Henry B. Dewey and Angela Earley
  Penn Avenue Fish Company merges a vibrant fish market with a casual, BYOB eatery. Deep inside the space is a sushi counter, where chefs craft nigiri bites with fresh fish lofted atop seasoned rice served at body temperature. If sushi isn’t your thing, go for a decadent fish sandwich, such as English-style cod with breadcrumbs and tartar sauce or Sneaky Pete — grilled salmon on whole-grain ciabatta with fresh arugula, hearts of palm and spicy avocado crème sauce.

Classic Pittsburgh (cont.)

Familiarity of service and go-to menu favorites make these long-standing restaurants important destinations for Pittsburghers.

Piccolo Forno

LAWRENCEVILLE: 3801 Butler St.
Domenic Branduzzi
  In 2005, long before Lawrenceville became a booming hotspot, third-generation Pittsburgh restaurateur Domenic Branduzzi started serving pizza, pasta and more at Piccolo Forno. The focus here is on Tuscan cuisine. Branduzzi’s mother, Carla, still hand-makes all of the pasta for the restaurant, just like she did at her former restaurant in the Strip. Go for gnocchetti di Castagne (ricotta and chestnut flour gnocchi with braised beef short rib, fig and marsala ragu, ricotta salata and hazelnuts) and pappardelle con coniglio e funghi (braised rabbit with pappardelle pasta, roasted tomatoes and wild mushrooms).


MOON TOWNSHIP: 1516 Coraopolis Heights Road
Executive Chef
Brent Peyton
  Diners looking for an elegant meal packed full of history that can’t be found anywhere else in the region should look to Hyeholde, where meals have been served in the faux-Tudor manor house for 80 years. Brent Peyton currently is the establishment’s executive chef and his menu leans toward classic dishes such as rosemary-cranberry crusted elk and braised beef short ribs but also includes lentil stew with Wagyu beef cheek and winter vegetable flan. Business casual attire is suggested, unless you’re enjoying a picnic basket on Hyeholde’s gorgeous grounds.

Alla Famiglia

ALLENTOWN: 804 E. Warrington Ave.
Executive Chef/Owner
Jonathan C. Vlasic

[Italian]  Alla Famiglia remains a favorite among members of the independent Restaurant Review Panel for its bountiful portions, crisp service and white-tablecloth dining that suggests a dressed-up evening. Jonathan C. Vlasic expanded his 13-year-old restaurant this year into the adjacent building, adding an upscale dining room and bar. The house specialty is a double-cut veal chop, and that’s exactly what you should get. It comes in a variety of permutations such as grilled Florentine style with lemon and rosemary jus and pizzaiola, a braised preparation with marinara, hot and sweet peppers, sausage, onions and fontina, caramelized on the outside and tender within.

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