The Best Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh in 2017
PM dining critic Hal B. Klein's list of the 10 best openings this year.
A good number of noteworthy restaurants opened in 2017, so many so that this list of 10 is the longest “Best New” feature I've written as Pittsburgh Magazine's dining critic. The year in Pittsburgh restaurants brought a good mix of high-end, pricier establishments with ambitious menus and detailed service and smaller, highly focused restaurants that prove you still can rise to the top despite working with a limited budget. What does that mean? We're moving ever closer to becoming a well-rounded dining city.
photo by laura petrilla
or, The Whale
or, The Whale, the restaurant attached to Distrikt Hotel Downtown, delivers a complete package. Although Executive Chef/Proprietor Dennis Marron’s restaurant got off to a shaky start, he and his team quickly righted the ship, and the establishment now is running full steam ahead. Look past the gimmicky menu concept and dive into the restaurant’s fish-forward menu, which is prepared under the eye of chef de cuisine Brooks Hart. The cod chowder, fish stew and whole-grilled fish all are some of the best seafood dishes in Pittsburgh, as are shellfish preparations such as scallops with butternut squash caponata and sunflower shoots. The restaurant’s dry-aged beef program, while pricy, is top-notch and a worthwhile special occasion treat; I’m smitten with the 35 oz., bone-in ribeye. Pastry chef Adam Bates, a recent addition to the team, crafts killer desserts. Service is informed, engaged and enthusiastic, and bar manager Michael R. Anderson’s cocktail program is spot-on.
[463 Blvd. of the Allies, Downtown; 412/632-002, orthewhalepgh.com]
photo by hal B. Klein
Bitter Ends Luncheonette
Bitter Ends Luncheonette is, for many reasons, my favorite restaurant that opened in Pittsburgh this year. It’s a joy to see Chef/Co-owner Becca Hegarty's potential for excellence blooming at her pocket-sized breakfast and lunch counter in Bloomfield. Hegarty and her crew take farm- and producer-to-table to the extreme (she and partner Jason Oddo grow much of what’s served, and everything else is meticulously sourced), but they do it in the least pretentious way possible — Bitter Ends has more in common with community restaurants of yesteryear than it does with faddish restaurants making specious claims of their commitment to farms because they serve a few things that don't come from factory farms. Diners should expect a limited menu that is reflective of the season, so look for heartier sandwiches and soups — and a focus slightly tilted toward meat — in the winter months and lighter, vegetable-forward dishes during western Pennsylvania's peak growing season. Hegarty is a talented pastry chef who bakes bread (which is available for purchase) and serves doughnuts, pies and more. Seating is limited and the kitchen is small, so you might have to wait during busy hours (everything also is available to-go). It’s worth it.
[4613 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield; tillthebitterends.com]
photo courtesy fl.2
The swankiest restaurant that opened in Pittsburgh this year is fl.2, located on the second floor of the Fairmont Hotel Downtown. The stunning space was designed by Barcelona-based Lazaro Rosa-Violan — it’s a gorgeous yet comfortable combination of gilded-age era influences and modern touches. But fl.2 is more than just a showpiece. It’s a must-go lunch and dinner destination, and not merely for Downtown diners looking to fill up. The restaurant’s kitchen staff is skillful in their handling of vegetables. An earthy blend of wild mushrooms, for example, are slow-cooked in beef tallow and finished with cured roe and herb cream, and red Kuri squash is elevated with fromage blanc, Bayonne ham and smoked almonds. The restaurant’s heritage rotisserie chicken, lush with garlic jus and enhanced with tangy house-made mustard, is a fun centerpiece for a shared meal.
[510 Market St., Downtown; 412/773-8848, fl2pgh.com]
photo by laura petrilla
There’s a lot to love about Superior Motors, Kevin Sousa’s Braddock restaurant. Sousa and general manager Chris Clark set the scene with a thoughtful rotation of records played in-full and at pitch-perfect volume, and Clark’s eager front-of-house staff are engaging at every turn. Beverage director Jeremy Bustamante’s cocktails are among the best in the region. Pastry chef Kate Carney is a rising star, crafting finishing touches such as pavlova and bread pudding that beg you to save room for dessert. And then there’s Sousa’s menu, which admirably threads the needle between ambition and maturity. I’ve enjoyed exploring his New American — with touches of modernist technique and Japanese influence — menu. Sousa and his team are responsive to the whims of the season (and diligent in their sourcing). Should you feel disappointed if your favorite dish is absent or presented in a new permutation, on your next visit, embrace the opportunity to explore something new.
[1211 Braddock Ave., Braddock; 412/271-1022, superiormotors15104.com]
photo by hal b. klein
I love it when someone does just one thing, but they do it at a high level. Early on, Iron Born Executive Chef/Owner Pete Tolman offered more than pizza at his Smallman Galley restaurant. It didn’t take him long to realize that his Detroit-style pies were going to be the draw. This particular form of pizza is built on a sturdy, yet airy, crust baked in a rectangular blue-steel pan. The slight slope of the pan allows cheese to cook on between crust and pan, which ensures that every slice delivers an umami-punch of caramelized cheese. Staples Red Top (brick cheese, red sauce, pepperoni, Solo di Bruna) and White Pie (garlic cream, ricotta, caramelized onions, arugula, marinated tomatoes) always are worth ordering, plus, be on the lookout for seasonal and whimsical specials.
[Smallman Galley, 54 21st St., Strip District; ironbornpgh.com]
photo by laura petrilla
Throughout his decade-plus run as the executive chef of Eleven Contemporary Kitchen in the Strip District, Derek Stevens enjoyed the esteem of Pittsburgh’s culinary community, and, though he operated a little more under-the-radar than other Pittsburgh chefs, the city’s dining public. In February, he struck out on his own with Union Standard, a contemporary American restaurant that roots itself in the cuisines of the Mid-Atlantic and northern Appalachian regions. Stevens and his team handle seafood and land creatures with equal aplomb and are thoughtful in their sourcing of both — one meal might call for a grilled Laurel Hill trout served with kale and apples, while on another visit you might crave a wood-roasted Gerber Farms chicken with Anson Mills polenta. Union Standard is also a smart choice for a quick, tasty Downtown lunch, be it for a business meeting or a casual catching up with a friend.
[524 William Penn Place, Downtown; 412/281-0738, unionstandardpgh.com]
photos by hal b. klein
Andrew Garbarino is one of Pittsburgh’s most ambitious chefs. Earlier this year, he moved his East Liberty restaurant down the block from its original location into a space where he orchestrated a multi-million dollar renovation of an old auction house (the change in location and expansion of menu warrant consideration as a new restaurant). Downstairs is Bar Frenchman, which is worth visiting for bar manager Greta Harmon’s delicious cocktails. Upstairs, at Twisted Frenchman, Garbarino offers multi-course tasting menus that meld classic dining with modernist technique; the 3-course, $50 menu is a terrific place to start, as well as an extraordinary deal for this kind of dining experience; the restaurant also offers 8-, 14- and 21-course menus. Wine aficionados will have a tasty time geeking out with sommelier/assistant general manager Vanessa Cominsky, while guests who would prefer to leave things to her judgment are rewarded with spot-on pairings.
[5925 Baum Blvd., East Liberty; 412/665-2880, thetwistedfrenchman.com]
Ki Ramen and Ki Pollo
Longtime Lawrenceville chefs Roger Li (Umami) and Domenic Branduzzi (Piccolo Forno, Grapperia) teamed up for a duo of good eating places. August brought Ki Ramen, a three-tier restaurant featuring bowls filled with rich broths and homemade alkaline noodles — my favorite permutations are shio ramen with roasted pork, crispy pig ears and scallions and the vegetarian curry ramen with coconut-tamarind broth, cauliflower and cabbage. Chef Claudia Moyano (Umami, Tamari) joins Li and Branduzzi at Ki Pollo, where she serves crazy good empanadas crafted with a deep attachment to her Argentine heritage. Beef, with raisins, egg, onion and Manzanilla olives, is my favorite of the outstanding selections. Another key Ki Pollo draw: Korean fried chicken!
[Ki Ramen: 4401 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/586-4796, kiramenpgh.com]
[Ki Pollo: 4407 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/224-2519, kipollopgh.com]
Tucked beneath a parking garage, in a place where a Primanti Bros. used to be, are the best arepas in Pittsburgh. The Venezuelan street food specialty begins with fried cornmeal cakes, which then are filled with various mixtures of ingredients. I’m smitten with pabellon, a sweet and savory combination of shredded beef, sweet plantains, black beans and queso fresco, which is made even better when topped with the house-made hot sauce (one of several outstanding condiments prepared in-house). I’m also a fan of pernil, which is filled with roasted pork, lettuce, guacamole and pico de gallo.
[412 Cherry Way, Downtown; 412/281-0610]
Pittsburgh Magazine will publish its annual Best Restaurants list in the June 2018 issue.