The Best New Restaurants in Pittsburgh
Dining Critic Hal B. Klein’s top 10 new restaurants of 2020, plus some notable expansions of established favorites.
Only one establishment on this list, Cobra, opened in the pre-COVID world. To that end, most of these restaurants were selected with meals that I ordered for takeaway, though I did try to eat them as soon as possible to minimize transportation shock. Heart meant more to me than detailed plating, though, of course, you can get a tasty meal at every place on this list. I’ve divided the list into two sections — one for brand new establishments and one for establishments that underwent significant enough change that they qualify as a novel experience. All things considered, this is one of the strongest Best New Restaurants lists I’ve put together in recent years.
Given everything that’s happened in 2020, it seems a dream that one of my favorite openings of the year is inside a building that features communal cooking on Shinpo Yakiniku grills, private room karaoke and a retro-futuristic bar. That’s Cobra. At the heart of executive chef Julio Peraza’s elegant menu is carefully butchered, prime-grade meat seared on a tableside grill; it’s an engaging, interactive way to dine out. Peraza’s menu is rounded out by a small assembly of Korean- and Japanese-influenced dishes. The hip bar features colorful cocktails, a strong-for-Pennsylvania sake list and excellent Japanese whisky and beer options. I’m looking forward to returning to the grill tables, as well as the adjacent room, which offers space for DJ dance parties and karaoke, as one of my first post-pandemic celebrations.
BLOOMFIELD: 4305 Main St.
Oak Hill Post
Christian Schulz and Rebecca Nicholson had just opened a brick-and-mortar location of their popup restaurant, Menuette, when public safety measures related to COVID-19 forced them to shut down. After a break, the duo decided to pivot their Brookline space into something a little more necessary to the adjusted rhythm of pandemic life, reopening as a casual eatery called Oak Hill Post. Oh, Hi, as they call it, offers a rotating menu that features layered, crushable sandwiches such as Beets + Greens (roasted beets, broccolini, arugula, marinated olives, sauce gribiche and Boursin cheese), hamburgers and a selection of handmade pasta dishes; I’m still salivating over the carrot-top pesto spaghetti I had in November. Thoughtful side salads, condiments such as giardiniera and housemade sausages round out the worth-driving-through-a-tunnel offerings. Oak Hill Post is a terrific example of what a contemporary neighborhood sandwich shop can offer with a hands-on, detail-oriented approach.
BROOKLINE: 600 Brookline Blvd.
Fig & Ash
Fig & Ash executive chef/co-owner Cory Hughes announced this project more than four years ago. The former Google Pittsburgh chef and his team spent the last two years building the establishment, which offers a lovely dining room and a cozy patio. Hughes’ menu is contemporary New American and features a glorious wood-fired grill; it’s one of the most thoughtfully constructed lists of the year. Like most openings in 2020, Fig & Ash primarily serves as a neighborhood spot. However, with dishes such as a hunking, juicy tomahawk pork chop served with sage spätzle and braised red cabbage and hearth-roasted carrots with whipped ricotta, honey, brown butter and Marcona almonds, it’s very much destination dining, too.
NORTH SIDE: 514 E. Ohio St.
Dagu Rice Noodle
With Dagu Rice Noodle, I’m breaking a longstanding prohibition of chain restaurants on my lists. I’m smitten with this outpost of the Chinese noodle-bowl restaurant; the Squirrel Hill branch is one of only three locations in the United States, which speaks to the neighborhood’s blossoming into a port of call to explore regional Chinese cuisines. The specialty of the house is a Yunnanese soup, crossing-the-bridge noodles (過橋米線). Legend has it that the components — chewy rice noodles and a selection of ingredients such as thin-cut meat, tofu, lettuce and eggs — were packed separately from the unctuous broth (typically pork, but there are several options at Dagu) to keep a scholar’s meals tip-top during the long walk needed to deliver them to him. In the age of dining-at-a-distance, this packaging also works perfectly for a take-home meal. Other dishes, such as whole fried chicken, are worth checking out, too.
SQUIRREL HILL: 5829 Forbes Ave.
2 Sisters 2 Sons
2 Sisters 2 Sons, the Sharpsburg restaurant from sisters Denise Josephs and Marlene Siddo and their sons Michael Brown and Kwasi Prince, offers outstanding Jamaican cuisine in a region that definitely can use more. Josephs and Siddo (co-head chefs who previously ran a restaurant in Wilkinsburg) and their sons built a small following in 2017 at Pittsburgh Jerk Fess, and now, with the help of their extended family, have expanded on that with the summer’s buzziest opening, with well-earned lines of people often spilling onto the street to pick up takeout. Start with jerk chicken, which has a distinct grilled flavor and a hot, fruity and spicy rub; it’s one of my favorite dishes of 2020. If you’re looking for something milder yet still flavor-packed, brown-stew chicken or goat is the way to go, and the oxtails are fantastic, too.
SHARPSBURG: 1882 Main St.
The Speckled Egg
I love the idea of a well-executed, scratch-made diner, a place where classics begin with quality ingredients and are prepared with attention-to-detail. That’s precisely what Jacqueline and Nathan Schoedel, two chefs ready to leap into the next phases of their careers, are offering at The Speckled Egg. Their cozy restaurant is tucked into a nook in the grand lobby of the Union Trust Building, and you’ll find a daytime menu that’ll leave you feeling more cheerful for eating it. Look for morning favorites such as breakfast sandwiches, buttermilk pancakes and omelets, an assortment of salads and some thoroughly delicious sandwiches; I’m a big fan of the turmeric-enriched chicken salad sandwich. It’s a sweet spot for a drink, too, with cold-pressed juice blends, strong coffee, wine, beer and a cocktail program that punches above its weight for a space this size.
DOWNTOWN: 501 Grant St.
St. Clair Social
What I love about St. Clair Social is that it meets its promise — a neighborhood tavern with scratch-made food, affordable, well-crafted cocktails, a great beer list and a hospitality-forward mindset. The establishment is helmed by Cat Cannon and Cecil Usher, two of Pittsburgh’s most prominent bar industry leaders. The duo founded a consulting company, Mindful Hospitality, early last year and became co-owners of St. Clair Social in the depths of the pandemic. Will Randall is the restaurant’s executive chef, and his menu of sandwiches, burgers, wings, mussels and daily specials is a well-executed crowd-pleaser. Look for the space to become a local gathering spot once public health mitigations due to COVID-19 are lifted.
FRIENDSHIP: 302 S St Clair St.
New in their way, these three relaunched restaurants deserve acclaim.
Rockaway Pizza owner/pizzaiolo Josh Sickels is as obsessed with the thin-ish, floppy, greasy Queens, New York pizza pie as I am. He makes it just like they do, but with a better-fermented dough than most legacy establishments. Sickels intended on opening a larger location in the building adjacent to the original spot last year, but a series of delays halted the project until November. The unanticipated pause was unwelcome, but it allowed him time to expand his repertoire to a few other iterations of New York pies. There’s Carcosa, a pepperoni forward tray pie inspired by Prince Street Pizza, which features a long-cooked tomato sauce seasoned with piles of onion, garlic, butter and red pepper flakes. A grandma-style pie features a sesame seed bottomed crust, adding a rich depth of flavor. The original spot wasn’t very conducive to dining-in, but his new location will be a killer spot for a pizza party once that’s a thing we can do again.
WHITE OAK: 1949 Lincoln Way
Gaucho Parrilla Argentina
Every few years, Gaucho Parrilla Argentina metamorphoses into a larger entity. Anthony Falcon’s ode to the steak-forward, parrilla-style cookery of Buenos Aires started as a closet-sized, built-for-takeaway, Strip District storefront in 2013. In 2015, Falcon expanded into the adjacent space, adding menu items and ample seating. This year, he and his loyal crew — the restaurant has one of the best staff retention rates in town — migrated to the former Six Penn Kitchen space Downtown. A wood-fired grill remains the core of the kitchen, which means diners still can crush smoke-kissed, relatively affordable steaks, fish and chicken, as well as some tasty vegetables. The most significant change is that the third iteration of Gaucho has a liquor license. The cocktail list tilts toward classics such as Pisco sour, Fernet & coke and Aperol spritz, and smart takes such as a boozy horchata round the mix. Gaucho’s wine list is built almost exclusively from Argentine wines, and the draft beers are all local.
DOWNTOWN: 146 Sixth St.
Fet Fisk Royal Market
Nik Forsberg and Sarah LaPonte were in the early stages of seeking a permanent location for their ever-enchanting and always delicious popup series, FetFisk, when COVID-19 put a hard pause on the action. Forsberg decided to grow vegetables on an urban farm and LaPonte hit the road to pursue a master’s degree in North Carolina. Over the summer, Forsberg had the opportunity to take over an existing commercial kitchen in Shaler, and he jumped on it, launching FetFisk Royal Market in September. Forsberg’s kitchen offers something quite special to regional food lovers — a growing, scratch-made specialty food market. At its core is the smörgåsbord, which includes an ever-changing rotation of dips, spreads, sausages and raw, cooked and fermented vegetables. The market now has dishes such as juniper-crusted roast beef, gravlax and smoked trout and condiments such as rouille, strong mustard and tomato jam. I miss the energetic parties of FetFisk 1.0, but the spirit is there to create your own at home.
Some of my favorite Pittsburgh establishments multiplied in 2020. Among them, Pane è Pronto straddles the line between new and old, expanding on some of the things DiAnoia’s Eatery does best. The Strip District storefront draws inspiration from the kind of casual food shop you might find throughout Europe, though this one, like its parent restaurant, draws from Italian culinary traditions. You’ll find a variety of fresh-baked bread, pastries, ready-to-eat sandwiches and a hot bar with dishes such as greens and beans, wedding soup and meatballs.
Mediterra Cafe opened a second branch in Mt. Lebanon. Executive chef Aniceto Sousa oversees the fast-casual menu of delightful sandwiches, breakfast dishes and salads and the specialty marketplace, pastry and bread options are all a draw, too. The new location features roomy seating options and a liquor license.
One of my best days last summer was when I first visited Ladybird’s Luncheonette in Ellwood City. Chef/co-owner Jade Cageao is a rare talent who crafts multi-sensory sweets such as ginger-molasses cookie sandwiches just as well as she makes savory delights such as an overstuffed lard-fried carnitas and avocado sandwich. In August, she and business partner Alex Jordan brought their magic, and a similar menu, to a second location in downtown Beaver.
Adda Coffee & Tea House’s Shadyside and North Side locations have always been community hubs. Owner Sukanta Nag stepped up his commitment in October with Adda Bazaar. In addition to serving the cafe’s always outstanding coffee and tea drinks (try the turmeric latte), the Garfield branch of Adda features a curated marketplace heavy on Pittsburgh-made culinary and craft goods, as well as a selection of hard to find gourmet food items sourced at the suggestion of Pittsburgh restaurant owners.
Baby Loves Tacos owners Kat Muscianesi and Zack Shell expanded their low-key farm-to-table taqueria operation into Millvale this year. The roomier space offers the opportunity to expand the affordable menu here and at the original Bloomfield location, both of which offer tacos, burritos and a handful of specials.
Keep an Eye On …
Coop De Ville
The seventh restaurant from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group will be a funhouse when its full vision plays out. There’s a plush, eight-lane duck-pin bowling zone, arcade games, three bars and a fast-casual fried chicken counter all flowing in the 14,000-square-foot Strip District space. However, due to public health restrictions in place because of COVID-19, the long-awaited establishment opened in October but is not yet running at full steam. Given the restaurant group’s track record of opening entertaining spaces with good food, I have every reason to believe this will be a diversion-worthy destination once physical distancing restrictions are lifted.
2305 Smallman St.
Worth a Mention
Happy Day Dessert Factory
A meal, a bike ride, a walk or anytime, really, is even better with a sweet finish. Happy Day Dessert Factory, owned by 18-year-old Galen Rose Jr., offers scoops of excellent handmade ice cream. Everything I’ve had is delightful, though I’m partial to flavors such as cinnamon toast crunch that bring back the best memories of last-night cereal treats.
NORTH SIDE: 906 Western Ave.
Ed. Note: We misspelt the names Ladybird Luncheonette co-owners Alex Jordan and Jade Cageao in an earlier draft of the story. We have updated their names and regret the error.