The 25 Best Restaurants in Pittsburgh
PM Dining Critic / Food Editor Hal B. Klein’s list of 25 restaurants reflects the state of dining in Pittsburgh as the region slowly emerges from the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pittsburgh restaurants are moving through a period of transition, resetting and restructuring. So this year, I’ve dialed back the Best Restaurants list to 25 establishments.
What was I looking for when I compiled this list? The sole fundamental qualification to be included on the list is that the restaurant must have opened by the end of the previous calendar year. Then, as I always do, I start by asking: “Does this restaurant fulfill its intention exceptionally?”
Click on the restaurant you want to check out first or continue scrolling through the entire list.
- 40 North at Alphabet City
- Alta Via
- Back to the Foodture
- Bar Marco
- Chengdu Gourmet
- DiAnoia’s Eatery
- Dish Osteria
- Driftwood Oven
- Eleven Contemporary Kitchen
- Everyday Noodles
- Fig & Ash
- Ladybird’s Luncheonette
- Oak Hill Post
- Pusadee’s Garden
- Sakura Teppanyaki and Sushi
- Salem’s Market and Grill
- Taiwanese Bistro Cafe 33
- Udipi Cafe
- Fet Fisk (Best Pop-Up)
- stuntpig (Best Food Truck)
Delicious food must be at the forefront. Whether it’s dumplings, lentils or duck, the best restaurants delight us with what they are serving. Service played a more prominent role in my rubric this year than it did last year, too. One of the things that drew me to several of these restaurants was seeing management and longtime employees helping newcomers learn the ropes.
Despite the headwinds, these restaurants found a way to thrive. Long-standing establishments leaned into systems knowledge to weather the continuing storm of uncertainty. Newcomers brought needed energy and creativity into our dining landscape. Chefs tuned into their culinary visions. Pittsburgh’s international restaurant owners continued to grow confident expressing their voices.
It didn’t happen in a bubble.
Organizations such as Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid and the Pittsburgh chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild redoubled efforts to educate, assist and advocate for hospitality industry employees. Our region’s farmers expanded their fields, extended their growing seasons and produced an ever-increasing array of flavorful crops.
The year was marked with significantly more tumult and uncertainty than anybody expected. The delta and omicron variants spurred spikes in COVID-19 cases, forcing establishments to augment operating hours. Staffing shortages got worse. That’s ebbed somewhat, but restaurateurs now need to train a new generation of hospitality staff. There were supply chain issues across the board, and inflation like we haven’t seen in decades meant price hikes at restaurants around town.
We lost some fantastic restaurants that would have had a strong case for inclusion on this list had they remained open. Other longtime stalwarts are working through a transformational phase with their menu, service or overarching philosophy, or a mix of those factors. I expect that most of those establishments will find the right footing over the next year. I certainly hope so.
Most of us have returned to dining in-person at restaurants. Once we did so, we were reminded of how much a visit can add to our lives. Restaurants are a place of connection. We gather with our friends and families or take a moment for ourselves. Restaurants allow us to explore new flavors, savor long-standing favorites and appreciate the artistry of a chef cooking with perspective. And it sure is nice just to feel taken care of, too.
It remains, by any standard, a challenging time for Pittsburgh restaurants. Yet I continue to be hopeful for the future. There’s vibrancy and creativity and a desire to push forward. I believe that things will be moving along at a faster clip by this time next year. For now, let’s celebrate what’s offered by these excellent establishments.
These are the 25 Best Restaurants in Pittsburgh.
40 North at Alphabet City
The year-old 40 North at Alphabet City brought welcome energy to the city when it revived the dormant restaurant space in the City of Asylum’s North Side building, where it shares space with a performance venue and an independent bookstore. It’s a place for vibrant conversation (or for you and your book of the moment) where you’ll get a wholesome meal, peppy-yet-professional service and an upbeat atmosphere.
Leading the charge is executive chef Bethany Zozula. She earned a nod as a 2022 James Beard Award Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic semifinalist (her second) for 40 North’s Western Pennsylvania foodways-rooted menu. Start with one of Zozula’s salads, which always pop with the season, even in winter. Be sure to ask about the lamb specials; Zozula’s connection to the region’s agricultural producers extends to bringing in at least one whole halal lamb every week. The ribeye is one of the few pricey items on a generally reasonably priced menu, but it’s locally raised and always cooked just as it should be. Vegetarian diners are well taken care of with thoughtfully prepared dishes such as falafel, beets and yogurt, khachapuri and those aforementioned salads.
Although it’s only three years old, the O’Hara restaurant already feels like a longtime Pittsburgh fixture. Alta Via’s sprawling-yet-intimate-feeling dining room — and its lovely square bar — offers a relaxing, easy-to-love experience that’s a boon for a part of town that needed a dining boost. The restaurant is also a destination for eaters further afield. Longtime Casbah executive chef Dustin Gardner crossed the Allegheny River last year to step in as Alta Via’s executive, tightening up the wood-fired large plate section of the menu. I’m a big fan of the restaurant’s vegetable dishes, which are always made with attention to detail and just enough nuance to bring out the best flavors and textures of the plants. In addition, Alta Via’s plates of pasta are some of the best in town — I suggest taking the option for a half-portion so you can try a few of them on the same visit.
Big Burrito launched an offshoot with Alta Via Pizzeria in Bakery Square in Larimer in March. You’ll find tray and round pizza variations, plus some of the pasta and sides that make the original Alta Via one of our Best Restaurants. Early next year, a second location of Alta Via will spring up in Downtown’s Market Square.
Apteka chefs/owners Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski earned a well-deserved first nod from the James Beard Awards as semifinalists in the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category this year, as the duo continued to dive deeper into an exploration of how Eastern- and Central-European culinary traditions, Western Pennsylvania foodways and a vegan philosophy intersect into utterly delicious meals. While some menu staples such as pierogi have remained since the early days of Apteka, Lasky and Skowronski’s offerings are significantly more dynamic now. Lest this all seem a little serious, there is also a lot of merrymaking. Crapteka, the establishment’s annual January play on fast food, features housemade plant-based burgers, an array of marvelous dipping sauces and a mind-blowing sunflower-based milkshake.
I was thrilled when Lasky and Skowronski reopened a renovated dining room in July, and its backyard garden is a draw for a fun warm-weather meal. Apteka’s bar program is one of Pittsburgh’s most ambitious — housemade cordials bolster one-of-a-kind cocktails (and also are available for sipping as-is, which you should try), its deep natural and biodynamic wine list rivals any in town and the beer list features a selection of European bottles you won’t find anywhere else in Pittsburgh. Those who choose not to imbibe will appreciate the non-alcoholic drinks list, which is as detailed as the boozy one.
Back to the Foodture
It’s been a treat to see Back To The Foodture, Angel and Edward Magwood’s hamburger and wing joint, mature into a new phase with a move last May from its original Pitcairn location to a prominent position in South Side Works. The establishment’s narrow dining room has a luncheonette vibe (and limited seating) where you can power through a dozen wings while appreciating the ebullient Edward Magwood’s collection of nostalgic knickknacks. There’s also outdoor seating in the warmer months, and you can bring your bites over to the nearby square.
Angel Magwood is Back To The Foodture’s head chef. Every time I visit, I’m in awe of how she can throw together so many permutations of hamburgers and wings (38 burgers and 154 wings, plus 18 hot dogs and 26 fries) yet have them (almost) all ring scrumptious. So here’s what I suggest: go for a burger such as Dusty Rhodes (Provolone, crispy onion, bacon, sliced wing dust chips, Carolina sauce) or a wild one such as 504 Boy (Ghost pepper cheese, jalapeno, onion, coconut habanero sauce) and then get a mix of dry and wet wings ranging from mild to hot.
The evolution of Bar Marco is one of the most vibrant success stories of Pittsburgh’s modern-era dining boom. The Italian-influenced Strip District restaurant turned 10 in January, and chef/owner Justin Steel continues to find nuance in his let-the-ingredients-speak-first perspective with top-notch housemade pasta, perfectly cooked and simply dressed seasonal vegetables and larger-format dishes such as milk-braised pork with sage and lemon.
Bar Marco’s hospitality-forward team kept diners in good cheer (speaking of merriment, the beverage program here is always a crowd-pleaser) in a tented area for much of 2021 prior to reopening its intimate dining room this January. As of press time, the establishment is offering a two-course $45 menu, including a starter such as Tuscan onion soup and a pasta, meat or fish main course, with a “bonus pasta” available. Always get the bonus pasta at Bar Marco.
In a year of significant upheaval in the hospitality industry, Casbah’s management trained new staff members to seamlessly keep pace with expectations in a restaurant known for its consistency. Indeed, the Shadyside restaurant thrives because of its fine-tuned systems, some of which are obvious and some of which take place behind the scenes. As a result, Casbah is one of those places where you’ll have the same well-taken-care-of experience if you are a Wednesday night regular, haven’t visited for years (or even a decade) or are there for the first time to celebrate a special occasion.
Casbah’s pasta, fish and roasted meat selections are always a solid choice, but I’ll also steer you to the excellent vegetable cooking. The big Burrito group continues to source better and better local ingredients every year, and the chefs here know what to do with them. Look at seasonal selections such as spring salad with tender greens, fava beans, green garbanzo beans, watermelon radish, avocado tahina, benne seeds and white balsamic vinaigrette and English pea and fava bean ravioli with preserved lemon butter, sunflower shoots and sumac — and don’t skip the vegetables served on the side of those main courses, either.
Shadyside 229 S. Highland Ave.
I missed feasting around the large table in the back corner of Chengdu Gourmet’s subterranean Squirrel Hill dining room more than I missed any other singular Pittsburgh dining experience during the various stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Reveling in a shared meal around a parade of dishes ranging from soul-satisfying to mind-numbing hot is a friendship-building experience I highly recommend experiencing with people close to you. If you’re new to Sichuan cuisine, start with classic dishes such as cumin lamb, Chongqing beef hot pot and pickled vegetables, and then ask the Chengdu Gourmet staff to help round out your meal.
Executive chef/owner Wei Zhu earned his fifth consecutive James Beard Award Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic semifinalist nomination this year, and it’s well deserved. Rather than sit on his laurels, he continues his journey toward mastering the art of Sichuan cuisine, introducing new dishes such as beef filet in an electrifying green Sichuan peppercorn sauce while honing in on his interpretations of the canonical items. Look for a second, larger location of Chengdu Gourmet on McKnight Road in Ross this year.
DiAnoia’s Eatery is always humming. Over the last year, the Strip District restaurant fully reopened for breakfast, lunch and dinner service. Whichever meal you pick for a visit, you will get top-notch, informed service at the high-energy space. What I love about DiAnoia’s is how it blends a classic, red-sauce Italian-American joint with contemporary Italian culinary influences. I also appreciate how owners Dave Anoia and Aimee DiAndrea aren’t above delivering a little Instagrammable pizzazz with dishes such as gnocchi pumpkin bowl — that’s a whole pumpkin filled with gnocchi, pumpkin cream sauce, mozzarella and nutmeg.
My suggestion for dinner is to share a seasonal salad and a few of the restaurant’s outstanding pasta selections, such as rigatoni al forno and capellini alla vongole, then dive into a main dish such as the luscious porchetta and drippings served with a slab of focaccia. I’m into the vast array of hot and cold panini offered at lunch (the veal parmesan is excellent) and am glad there’s a small selection of lunchtime pasta dishes now available, too.
Pittsburgh’s restaurant world felt a little more complete when Dish Osteria reopened in late September 2021. The 22-year-old South Side gem had remained shuttered longer than nearly any Pittsburgh restaurant that intended to reopen, so it was cause for celebration when Michele and Cindy Savoia (and almost the entire pre-pandemic staff) welcomed guests into their cozy Sicilian restaurant and bar. Dining at Dish, whether you’re a longtime regular (they are legion) or a first-time visitor, is a portal into the importance restaurants have in connecting us in a way that you’re not going to share over a Zoom happy hour.
Put your trust in Michele Savoia’s straightforward southern Italian cuisine. Begin with a seasonal salad — even through the cooler months, Savoia worked with farmer Jason “Joddo” Oddo to bring in locally grown vegetables such as punchy puntarelle and bitter chicories — and a fish such as grilled sardines. Get whatever soup is in season — in winter it might be earthy maccu di fave (fava bean soup) and in spring bright and pungent stinging nettles and ramps. Then, split a couple of pasta dishes; stuff-your-face-indulgent rigatoni alla scamorza is always on my must-get list. Go back to fish for the main course, or perhaps the crispy and lovely grilled quail. Finish with a few bites from the dessert menu plus a glass of a digestif from Dish’s extensive amari list.
Like a well-tended sourdough starter, Driftwood Oven adapted to its environment and grew stronger over the past year. After closing his Lawrenceville dining room in 2020, chef/owner Neil Blazin expanded the establishment’s kitchen space to bolster its roster of baked goods (a small dine-in area and some outdoor seating are still available). Now, every weekend bakery manager Alaina Phillips brings a celebration of craveable creations consisting of croissants, cruffins, cookies and cinnamon rolls to Pittsburgh. All the leavened items offered at Driftwood Oven are prepared with a natural starter, which adds a hint of pleasant, tangy roundness to the goods.
On the savory side, Driftwood Oven’s 16-inch round pies and its Roman-style trays are among the few on the peak of Pittsburgh’s pizza pyramid. Go for something straightforward, such as classic cheese or pepperoni, or dig into a seasonal or specialty pie — whatever route you choose, the pie will be well-balanced. This year, one of the more excellent changes is that the bakery’s Roman-style pizza is now also available by the cut. On top of it all, Driftwood Oven’s menu of shareables, sides, salads and sandwiches likely would merit the restaurant’s inclusion on this list even if that was all it served.
Eleven Contemporary Kitchen
The thing I dig most about Eleven Contemporary Kitchen is how it’s in a constant state of slow evolution. Things never change too drastically at the Strip District restaurant, yet it always seems to be the right fit for the time. There are menu staples such as nicely cooked scallops, salmon, chicken and a couple of beef dishes, but they swap the accompanying side sets often enough to keep things lively. For example, take the scallops from a few months back — the black garlic puree, white asparagus, peas, fava beans, radish and toasted shallot-pink peppercorn vinaigrette spoke to the early spring weather.
Everything else at Eleven is framed with friendly formality. You will find one of the most professional front-of-house crews in Pittsburgh, led by a team of longstanding managers, servers, hosts and bartenders and rounded out by the next generation of Pittsburgh’s hospitality industry. The restaurant boasts an excellent wine list and a comfortable, upscale design. That, alongside a menu just about anyone can dig, makes Eleven one of the top spots in town for an upscale meal.
As much as I enjoyed getting takeout from Everyday Noodles (bowls of savory, piquant and satisfying pickled mustard greens with pork noodle soup in particular), it sure was nice to return to the narrow Squirrel Hill dining room to enjoy a meal peppered with one after another juicy xiaolongbao, the signature dish of the restaurant. Owner Mike Chen and his team have extended the menu to offer what functionally is dim sum without the carts — you’ll find a variety of buns that range in form and filling, from classic potstickers to fried stuffed bun, which is a pork-meatball filled bun that’s fluffy like a bao on top and crunchy at the base.
Staffing remains an issue at Everyday Noodles, which means that for the moment, you won’t see the show of chefs Pop! Thwack! Roll! Slice! as they prepare noodles a la minute; prep work tends to take place during the day now. But the brisk, efficient servers are great at navigating your order and keeping the busy space moving without making you feel rushed — if you’re looking for a quick bite before heading to a show (as long as the wait isn’t too long to get a table), you can be out the door, stuffed and happy, in 30 minutes.
Fig & Ash
There’s intoxicating magic to a restaurant when the entire staff sings the same tune. That’s what’s happening at Fig & Ash, the welcoming North Side establishment run by Cory Hughes and Alex Feltovich. The restaurant was one of my favorite openings of 2020, and it continues to shine as it rolls through its second year on Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Restaurants list. I appreciate how the restaurant sits in a hard-to-find sweet spot between neighborhood tavern and destination, night-out dining.
Hughes, executive chef Chris Shuplock and the rest of the kitchen crew deliver a crowd-pleasing menu with dishes inspired by Sunday dinners and classic American cuisine. What makes it shine is they use quality ingredients, add some nuance in technique you might not want to do at home and execute the cookery with fine attention to detail. There are now-stalwart dishes such as double-cut pork chop and short rib and pork-belly meatloaf with side sets that change seasonally (jump on the luxurious mashed potatoes if they are listed), as well as seasonal salads and soups plus rotating items such as lentil shepherd’s pie.
Gi-Jin, one of the recent additions from the always-hustling Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group, brings escapist vibes and a flair for fish to the mini-restaurant row in the Cultural District. You’ll find a ridiculous gin menu, hard-to-find (in Pennsylvania) sake bottles, and upbeat, informed service in an immersive dining space. Downtown Pittsburgh has a new superstar restaurant to enjoy as it slowly wakes up from two-plus years of sometimes near abandonment due to the coronavirus pandemic.
You’re coming to Gi-Jin for chef de cuisine Michael Taylor’s varied permutations of raw fish. It’s been a joy to see him delve into his craft as he quickly moves deeper into modern-day sushi philosophy. Taylor does everything from precision butchering to aging an aquarium of sea creatures. The quality of his work is shown in nigiri that ranges from delicate to flavor-bomb. Be sure to get some of the stunning small plates, such as hamachi crudo and spicy tuna rice cake, to share with your pals, too.
Earlier this year, Ladybird’s Luncheonette owners Jade Cageao and Alex Jordan moved the entirety of their operation from the restaurant’s original Ellwood City spot to what previously was a satellite location on the second floor of a building in downtown Beaver. That space offers more room for Cageao and her crew to prepare the array of savory and sweet treats that make the establishment a destination. It also allows the duo to throw multi-course dinners, offer classes such as sourdough baking techniques and provide a small dining room where guests can crush their Appalachian-influenced craveables to the sounds of alt-country and Belinda Carlisle.
I’m drawn to Cageao’s blend of timeless pastry skills, sense of seasonality, focus on local ingredients and flair for contemporary whimsy. Her generously filled hand pies have crackly, flaky shells, her soups are heartwarming and her desserts decadent. If you’re feeling indulgent, get messy with dishes such as BBQ Mac hand pie stuffed with roast chicken, macaroni and cheese, bread and butter pickles and barbeque sauce. Are you feeling a little more wholesome? Cageao’s avocado toast, served on homemade sourdough, elevates a tired trend with a pop of texture and flavor; pair that with one of Ladybird Luncheonette’s energizing juice blends. Whichever direction you choose (or choose both, like I do), don’t skip what’s in the pastry case.
The thing I love best about Mola is chef/owner Alex Tang’s deliberate and continuous drive to refine his proficiency in the craft of sushi making. Over the past year, he’s deepened his supply chain to import a global lineup of seafood that can’t be found at establishments elsewhere in the region. For example, there were times when he offered five varieties of uni from various geographies, allowing diners to experience how terroir affects the characteristics of sea urchin. Tang also treats fish with the utmost respect, experimenting with aging (contrary to popular belief, fresh isn’t always best when it comes to sushi) and curing techniques. His sushi rice is on-point and delicately seasoned. This year, he introduced a call-ahead omakase option, one of the few of its kind in Pittsburgh.
There are some excellent small plates on the menu, too. I love the juicy hamachi collar, and Mola’s seaweed salad is a vegetal and sweet way to balance the rest of the meal. Diners looking for non-fish dishes should consider pork belly bao, pork gyūdon and Japanese curry chicken. Service at Mola is upbeat, and the small dining room is lively. Later this year, Tang and Everyday Noodles owner Mike Chen will launch a food hall centered around Asian restaurants in the Terminal Building in the Strip District.
Passing tapas and sharing big-format dishes while quaffing funky fermented cider might be the norm in Mediterranean Spain, but it wasn’t even an option in Pittsburgh prior to Justin Severino and Hilary Prescott Severino opening Morcilla in late 2015. The restaurateurs entrusted longtime Cure chef Nate Hobart with the kitchen, who, as executive chef and partner, is offering a ridiculously tasty menu of Spanish-style dishes. Morcilla’s menu moves with the seasons, so don’t miss dishes such as almejas en salsa verde (Manila clams, green garlic salsa verde, vermouth, lemon) when offered. You’ll also find consistency in shared items such as the Laurel Hills Farm trout with fried artichokes, salsa verde and lemon and costillas de la matanza; those baby back ribs are my favorite rib dish in town.
The bar at Morcilla, with picture windows opening to Butler Street, is one of my favorite places to relax with a drink and a snack. Morcilla’s beverage menu has a deep sherry and vermouth list, its cocktails are refined and balanced, the beer is local and the wine list is marvelous. As for snacks, I’d go for the Salty Pork Bits platter (Severino’s charcuterie business is top-class), zesty fried artichokes and the luscious oxtail montadito.
Oak Hill Post
Oak Hill Post owners Christian Schulz and Rebecca Nicholson strengthened the voice of their already outstanding Brookline establishment by slowly transforming what began as a takeaway sandwich and pasta shop into Pittsburgh’s premiere daytime restaurant. When I reviewed the restaurant in February, I noted how it walks a perfect line between a contemporary, ingredient-driven restaurant and a diner with a small-town vibe. I crave visits to Oak Hill Post for the depth of flavors on its small-yet-dynamite menu, and I return for the warmth of service.
Breakfast is a big draw here, with crusty, flaky biscuits that serve as a base for sweet (lemon curd and jam) and savory (get the breakfast sandwich). The hearty breakfast burrito and airy French toast are fantastic options, too. For lunch, Oak Hill Post’s All American Burger makes a strong case for Pittsburgh’s top hamburger. Sandwiches such as No. 26 (a wildly yummy fried chicken sandwich) and The Breakfast Club (turkey, bacon, fried egg and more) round out a delightful list of items.
The most exciting Pittsburgh restaurant opening of 2021 kept rolling strong in 2022. A visit to the sophisticated reimagining of Pusadee’s Garden in Upper Lawrenceville is transportive. I feel like I drop all of my worries the minute I step into the elegant, breezy entrance arcade and land in a seat in one of the semi-private dining rooms, the glass-box bar or the restaurant’s gorgeous garden, which, fewer than two years in, is already starting to mature into a dreamy modernist fantasy (I can’t wait to see how beautiful it’ll be as it matures over the years).
Pusadee’s Garden’s menu has staple small plates, such as charcoal-cooked lemongrass meatballs (be sure to enjoy the sugarcane stick they are grilled around) and pork belly with garlic caramel, and mains such as khao soi short rib with egg noodles and pickled mustard greens. There always are a few new dishes for voracious eaters to explore. If you’re a fan of spicy food, I’ll steer you to som tum; the spicy green papaya salad is brightly acidic, a little sweet and comes with an (adjustable) heat that awakens the palate for the rest of the meal.
Fenping Geng and Feng Gao’s Squirrel Hill restaurant has a Japanese name and a wide-ranging menu that offers everything from sushi to canonical Chinese-American dishes. But dig in deeper to what effectively is a restaurant within a restaurant, and you’ll find one of the most exciting places to eat in Pittsburgh. That’s because Geng, the effusive front-of-house personality, and Gao (a chef growing ever more confident in his culinary vision) have moved the dishes of their native Shaanxi province to the forefront of the menu. And those dishes, along with Geng’s gracious presence, are why Sakura is on this list.
Geng and Gao significantly expanded Sakura’s handmade dumpling list earlier this year, and what’s offered now is extraordinary. Get into the “Amazing Dumplings” list with selections such as the spicy, crunchy pork with lotus root, vegetal pork with fennel fronds and the juicy northern classic pork with sour pickled cabbage. A new “Chef’s Secret Northwest Noodles” list includes hand-pulled noodle treats such as beef hot-oil noodles and ripped noodles topped with tomato and egg. Don’t skip out on other Northern dishes such as the crackly Laotongguan pork sandwich and cold chicken salad popping with cilantro and warm spices, either.
Salem’s Market and Grill
The dining room at Salem’s Market and Grill got an upgrade this year with new flooring, tables, and bright digital signs, making the fairly lengthy menu easier to navigate. While you wait in line to order, watch executive chef Nurul Huda oversee a multicultural crew of cooks working grill stations and batching portions of flavorful Middle Eastern cuisine in the Strip District restaurant’s open kitchen. Since it’s attached to a best-in-the-region butcher shop, the halal restaurant is reasonably priced, especially considering that the meat is locally raised and of remarkable quality. Vegetarian diners are looked after, too — the establishment offers a tantalizing array of dishes for those who choose not to eat meat.
There’s the hot bar, one of the best meal deals in Pittsburgh, where you can order heaping portions of goat curry and chicken biryani along with sides such as spinach paneer. Or go for the grill, where kebabs and shawarma come as plates or sandwiches. And while it might seem like a bit of a departure for a Middle Eastern restaurant to offer a hamburger, Salem’s has one of the best in Pittsburgh; the custom blend is ground in-house daily.
As Pittsburgh (in line with restaurant trends across the country) settles into an era where casual dining and comfort food is at the forefront, it’s particularly critical for our city to celebrate its elegant dining options, too. Senti fits the bill. With friendly-formal service and refined contemporary northern Italian cuisine, the Lawrenceville restaurant is a perfect spot for a special-occasion meal, out-of-town family visit or a lovely mid-week date.
Senti’s spaghetti pomodoro reminds us that even the seemingly most straightforward dishes can spark perfection when everything works in harmony; the al dente noodles seem to be drunk with tomatoes and basil. Agnolotti di vitello, dumplings stuffed with veal and herbs, swim in a bright veal and sage broth; the tiny pockets are deep, vegetal and wondrous to eat. Senti’s menu includes a rotating selection of seasonal main courses (typically, two are offered) and a dynamite list of starters. The restaurant’s wine list is one of the most exceptional in Pittsburgh.
I appreciate how Spork is a restaurant driven by curiosity. This year, the major evolution for the Bloomfield restaurant was in the style of service, which became significantly more formal. The kitchen sends out a series of amuse-bouche between courses, many of which will be among the best bites of the meal, and you’ll find a bit of theater as a bartender prepares beautiful classic cocktails on a roving bar car (the whole bar program is top-notch). Unless you alert staff otherwise, dinner may linger for a few hours. I’m here for it — this sort of heightened dining experience is a real treat, and the dynamic, upbeat soundtrack featuring artists such as The Clash and Blondie keeps the energy high.
The menu changes pretty frequently at Spork, but dishes typically don’t move forward without testing. Take an early spring halibut dish — the firm, juicy fish was seasoned with toasted rye bran and coriander and served with grassy English pea puree and hard-to-find corn sprouts, plus a painter’s palette of sauces such as spicy yogurt, pistachio miso and harissa. Executive chef Chris Frangiadis and his team go one or two steps extra in a way that nearly always works by using fresh, preserved or fermented elements from the restaurant’s adjacent garden.
Taiwanese Bistro Cafe 33
One of the liveliest places in Pittsburgh is the dining room of Taiwanese Bistro Cafe 33. Tables are nearly elbow-to-elbow at the Squirrel Hill restaurant, which is located in a former laundromat around the corner from the hubbub of Forbes Avenue. Co-owner Jenny Tao and her upbeat front-of-house staff walk newcomers and loyal regulars through her husband Asan Tao’s Taiwanese menu, which runs the gamut from mild items such as chicken cutlets over rice and turnip cakes to the assertive changsha chou doufu, known in English as stinky tofu.
It’s easy to put together a balanced meal at Cafe 33. I adore Asan Tao’s approachable yet elegant dishes such as steamed halibut dressed in soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions and cilantro (be sure to ask about fresh fish specials), and I crave comfort food such as pork rolls with oyster sauce and lightly fried tofu with chive blossoms. Tao’s approach to canonical Taiwanese dishes such as beef noodle soup, scallion pancake with eggs and three-cup chicken (listed as chicken with basil and garlic in a hot stone pot) are terrific, too.
Udipi, which opened in 1996, is the Pittsburgh-area’s longest continuously operating vegetarian restaurant. The lively eatery offers an expansive menu primarily focused on the southern Indian cuisines of the Tuluva-Mangalorean and Andhra regions. The Monroeville establishment garners long-standing love from devoted regulars yet continues to remain under the radar enough to make it a bit of an unsung gem. Owner/chef Manjunath Sherigar dialed things in another step this year. It is operating with a precision of execution that makes it even more of a destination than it has been all these years.
Udipi has built a reputation as the go-to spot for dosa, a thin crepe prepared from a batter of fermented lentils and rice. Lacy with umami on the inside and filled with items such as potatoes, onions, minced vegetables and spicy chutney, they are energy-dense and utterly delicious. Be sure to get some selections from the appetizer menu — the sampler plate with vegetable cutlet, vegetable samosa idli, medu vada and pakoda is a mighty array of crispy bites that are particularly yummy when dipped in some of Udipi’s spicy condiments.
Monroeville 4141 Old William Penn Highway
Nik Forsberg and his crew carry a lot of good cheer under the Fet Fisk umbrella. There’s a small farm, which he’s expanding this season. There’s the Bloomfield farmers market stand where Fet Fisk sells pickled vegetables, smoked fish, condiments and other housemade delights. There are whimsical specials such as the “Fisk Fry” and “Burger Knights.” There are Forsberg’s cleverly crafted newsletters. There’s a newly introduced series of multi-course dinners in collaboration with Nine O’Clock Wines.
And then there’s the continuation of where it all began with collaborator and co-founder Sarah LaPonte in 2019 — the pop-up series. Forsberg found a temporary spot for the typically biweekly popups at now-closed Pear and the Pickle in Troy Hill and in May moved the events to (for the time being, at least) Soju in Garfield. Forsberg and his crew shine with menus that seamlessly combine local seasonality and foodways with Scandinavian culinary influences. What’s offered changes each time, so just dive in with a few friends and get into it.
BEST FOOD TRUCK
Ariel Alexander and Cody Maze launched stuntpig in mid-2021, delighting an ever-growing multitude of fans with their lineup of raise-your-hands-in-the-air tasty sandwiches. There typically are three or four of them available when the Pig Rig rolls up to one of the region’s terrific breweries (and, occasionally, other locations). I crave the backyard barbeque delectability of Mr. Pink (smoked pork shoulder, chipotle mop sauce, fennel-coriander slaw, violet mustard) and the bright heat of Mr. Orange (smoked and pulled chicken, spicy piri piri sauce, briny cucumbers, chimichurri aioli), while Mr. Blonde (house-cured rosemary ham, melty swiss, bread and butter pickles, mustard jam) is an easy-to-love pressed sandwich.
Not all of stuntpig’s sandwiches are named for “Reservoir Dogs” characters, and the menu is rounded out with just-as-enjoyable items such as herby “grandma-style” potato salad, grilled carrot salad and jerked chicken drumettes.