The Best New Restaurants in Pittsburgh in 2018
Our dining critic picks the eight top openings of 2018 and suggests one more to keep an eye on.
photos by laura petrilla
Once again, it was a good year for restaurants in Pittsburgh. Among the successes in 2018 were two new establishments from Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik — their most food-focused restaurants to date. Among other highlights: A restaurant in Squirrel Hill that serves food from immigrants from a remote province in northeastern China and a popular mobile pizza operation that found a permanent home in Lawrenceville. Let’s raise a glass at The Warren Bar and Burrow and Lorelei, my favorite new bars, to toast departed Avenue B, Six Penn Kitchen, Cafe Sam and Feng’s, and then another to salute the Best New Restaurants of 2018.
Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group’s first foray outside of Downtown represents a significant step-up in the group’s culinary focus. DeShantz designed the space, which opened in February, hitting all the right notes to craft a relaxing yet energized cosmopolitan space. Chef de cuisine Ryan Hart runs the day-to-day operations, overseeing Poulet Bleu’s bistro menu. I love embracing the casual French classics here. Dishes such as French onion soup, perfectly gooey cheese on the outside giving way to rich oxtail broth; mussels steamed in white wine, fennel and garlic; and trout almondine, beautifully cooked Laurel Hill trout with brown butter, capers and almonds, are among my favorites. Pair them with selections from John Wabeck’s French wine list or a vintage cocktail. Stick around for desserts by pastry chef James D. Wroblewski II, especially his chocolate souffle and pavlova.
3519 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/325-3435, pouletbleupgh.com
Neil Blazin and Justin Vetter met while working at Legume Bistro in Oakland, departing the restaurant in 2015 to open a mobile pizza operation called Driftwood Oven. In March, they opened a permanent storefront in Lawrenceville, switching from wood-fired, neo-Neapolitan pizza to pies baked in a deck oven; it landed them a spot on Bon Appétit’s 50 Best New Restaurants list. They still use a sourdough starter, crafting New York-style gas-oven pies as well as Roman-style square slices — topped with locally grown and other high-quality ingredients. Blazin, who runs the kitchen, recently expanded the menu to include sandwiches, hand pies, salads and bean dip. Service is warm, and the restaurant is family-friendly. Driftwood Oven also offers a weekly bread share featuring loaves in a variety of styles.
3615 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/251-0253, driftwoodoven.com
Pie for Breakfast
In June, Trevett and Sarah Hooper (Legume Bistro, Butterjoint) opened the budget-friendly, leveled-up diner that I’ve been waiting for in Pittsburgh. There are, of course, both pie and breakfast at Pie for Breakfast, but you don’t have to limit yourself to what’s in the name — meat-and-three options such as meatloaf and griddled ham steaks also are delightful selections, as are many of the available side dishes. For breakfast, I recommend starting with buttermilk pancakes, which are some of the best I’ve ever had. Get an omelet, too; it’s filled with whatever is in peak season. As for the pie, I’ve been thrilled with everything I’ve tried, but the vinegar pie, an Appalachian tradition, is the most rooted in the region. Pie for Breakfast also has a wonderful bar program.
200 N. Craig St., Oakland; 412/315-7342, pieforbreakfastpittsburgh.com
Restaurant impresarios Ron Molinaro and Bob Wolfinger bring upscale Italian cuisine to Downtown Pittsburgh with Molinaro Ristorante. Here, waiters in tuxedo jackets wheel salt-crusted fish and grade-A porterhouse steaks for tableside carving, a throwback to an era when dining out was a special occasion. Pasta dishes play a starring role on executive chef Domenico Cornacchia’s menu; you can’t go wrong with any, really, and I highly recommend ordering paccheri, a hands-in-the-air magnificent dish of cylindrical pasta with Genovese sauce, a Neapolitan specialty of slow-cooked onions, veal and wine. While you’re at it, dig into a veal chop, steak or Elysian Fields lamb. The commitment to quality of ingredients shines through in simpler dishes such as tuna tartare and eggplant parmigiana, too. And here’s a nice bonus: pizzaiolo Tonino Topolino is crafting the best pizza in Pittsburgh right now; stick to the classics, and you’ll dream about his chewy, flavorful crusts as I do.
PPG Place 2, Downtown; 412/586-4599, molinaroristorante.com
photo by hal b. klein
When Zheng Yuan and Chong Xue Liu decided to open a restaurant that specializes in their native Heilongjiang cuisine, they contacted an old friend, You Shan Pei. The chef, with 17 years experience cooking in Flushing, Queens, moved to Pittsburgh to head Northeastern Kitchen. The subterranean restaurant is a little hard to find — look for the sign on Forbes Avenue and descend to the lower level to weave your way through the hallway to the small dining room — for an array of homestyle dishes which are drawn from Dongbei, as well as Russian, Korean and Shandong culinary influences. Go for sauerkraut dumplings, iron pot stews and vegetable dishes such as shredded potato with celery.
5824 Forbes Ave., Lower Level, Squirrel Hill; 412/422-2888, northeasternkitchen.com
It’s a rare treat for a new restaurant to feel like it’s a longstanding neighborhood classic. Such is the case at LeoGreta, which opened in Carnegie in April. Executive chef/owner Greg Alauzen is a veteran of Pittsburgh dining; when he was 15, he worked at Fatigati’s restaurant while attending Chartiers Valley High School. Alauzen graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1987, working in New York and New Jersey before returning home as the executive chef of Steelhead Grill, and later served as the opening executive chef of Eleven Contemporary Kitchen and Cioppino. At LeoGreta, Alauzen offers approachable Italian-American dishes such as beans and greens, cavatelli with sausage, white bean dip and chicken parmesan. Be sure to try the daily specials; Alauzen’s pork ragu with risotto, for example, is outstanding.
301 W. Main St., Carnegie; 412/489-6382, leogreta.com
Fish nor Fowl
It was a busy year for the owners of the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group. Following the opening of Poulet Bleu in February, DeShantz and company added a sixth concept, Fish nor Fowl, in August. DeShantz’s eye for design is a highlight at Fish, with a Scandinavian-influenced lower floor featuring a floor-to-ceiling living wall, a glass bar overlooking the main dining room and an ultra-cozy upstairs with fur-lined throw blankets draped over the seats. Executive chef/partner Dan Carlton recently switched his menu format, now organizing his modern American dishes into “Small,” “Sides” and “Large.” Among my favorite dishes were charred broccoli with smoked goat cheese and pan fritto, farfalle with uni and baby corn and grilled halibut collar with chanterelles and succotash. Michael R. Anderson designed a cocktail menu to match the culinary one, with an array of drinks to pair with the dishes; Blue Algae — mezcal, Madeira, blue curacao, amaro, blue algae, pineapple, lime, sea salt foam — is my pick for best new cocktail of the year.
5523 Penn Ave., Garfield; 412/460-4644, fishnorfowlpgh.com
photo by erin kelly
I’m a city person at heart, but Mediterra Cafe — the hybrid cafe/sandwich shop/high-end market and cheese counter from Nick Ambeliotis, owner of Mediterra Bakehouse, and his children — makes me a little envious of those who live in Sewickley. Sandwiches all are served on bread baked at Ambeliotis’ Robinson bakehouse; those loaves also are available for takeaway. Breakfast features a selection of toast and feel-good day-starts such as grain porridge and coconut-flour pancakes. Plus, you can pick up a sweet selection of high-end cheese, conservas, charcuterie and other grocery items.
430 Beaver St., Sewickley; 412/740-7064, mediterracafe.com
Keep an eye on: Seasons
If I wrote this list a few months from now, Seasons in Etna likely would be a strong contender for one of the top spots. Executive chef/co-owner David Bulman opened his 12-seat, tasting-menu-only spot in October; it is the most specifically ambitious opening of 2018. Seasons still is a work-in-progress, but I’m impressed by Bulman’s culinary vision and a hyper-local menu that almost exclusively features ingredients from the region, down to the West Virginia salt and the honey that’s produced a couple blocks from the restaurant. What I like best about Seasons is that Bulman is marrying of-the-moment, modern American culinary philosophy, classical technique (meat roasted on the bone rather than cooked sous vide) and a welcoming sense of hospitality. It is a serious restaurant that mostly forgoes the stuffy pretension that often comes along with that sort of thing, and I’m rather looking forward to seeing where Bulman takes it.
372 Butler St., Etna; 412/781-1371, seasonspgh.com