10 trends to expect in Pittsburgh’s restaurant and bar scene in 2019

Rossilynne Culgan

Published December 27, 2018


If there were a crystal ball for food, a gaze inside would foretell of avocado toast, fried chicken, mocktails, and spiked seltzers for Pittsburgh menus in 2019.

Restaurants both old and new are embracing fresh food trends for the coming year, continuing the buzz from this year, which welcomed dozens of notable restaurants, from Lorelei to Poulet Bleu (here’s a recap of the year’s highest-profile new spots). Big-time openings are likely to define 2019, too.

So what will you eat and experience in those new restaurants and at long-time favorites? We consulted the experts, and it seems there’s a little something for everybody.

But let’s start with what you shouldn’t expect to find in the new year. These trends are out:

  • Charcoals
  • Logo overload
  • Themed restaurants

Meanwhile if you’re into cocktails, plan to sip savory flavors in 2019. Doing a dry January (or year)? Mocktails are going to be a hit, too. For carnivores, whole animal butchering isn’t going out of style any time soon. And vegetarians, rejoice: While nose-to-tail butchering gets a lot of attention, root-to-stem is the buzzword you’re going to love this year.

So at the risk of sounding like Annabel Porter, here’s what’s trending right now.

A bit of whimsy at from The Commoner.

A bit of whimsy at from The Commoner.


1. Experiential food and drink

Interactive cocktail garnishes, glittering croissants, and ooey-gooey cheese pulls will fill your Instagram feed (and your stomach) this year.

When it comes to experiential cocktails, Alex Dando, the mastermind behind The Commoner’s mega-popular Buddy the Elf pop-up bar, is king. The Commoner, housed inside the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Downtown, will feature an urban glamping vibe with a cocktail called “That Camping Trip was In Tents,” and, yes, there will be marshmallow fluff-washed Suntory Toki japanese whiskey. Also at The Commoner, look for the tequila-based Livin’ La Vida Loca and the bourbon-heavy Up, Up, and Away.

2. Throwback cocktails

Perfect for a #TBT, throwback cocktails will continue to make a splash. Ace Hotel in East Liberty is reviving the mainstay liquors from grandma’s bar cart, like sherries and vermouths.

3. Mocktails

While cocktails will get a lot of love this year, so will mocktails. Look for mocktail-pairing dinners with as “much care, thought, and expertise as wine and spirits pairings,” said Eileen French Jordan, a parter at Revive Marketing Group, which represents restaurants across Pittsburgh.

4. Flavors from Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey

Especially in sauces, diners will get a chance to try flavors from Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey this year.

In Troy Hill, Scratch will serve a honeynut squash soup featuring aleppo and labne, for example, while South Oakland’s Eliza will prepare a crispy falafel and baba ghanoush dish.

5. Chef collaborations

What’s better than one outstanding chef? Two outstanding chefs. Sharing Knives brings some of Pittsburgh’s most well-known chefs into the Ace Hotel for a collaborative dinner series, from multi-course sit-down meals to casual buffets. Jordan describes it as “arguably the most successful ongoing chef collabs in the city.”

Snack time — upgraded. Find it at Fl. 2.

Snack time — upgraded. Find it at Fl. 2.


6. Small plates and snacking

Sharing is caring, especially when it comes to food. Sharable, snackable dishes will be a mainstay at Over Eden, the new rooftop bar coming to TRYP Hotel in Lawrenceville. The restaurant will offer “mezze-style dining,” which is all about grazing with friends. Expect sauces to share, snacks to pass, and platters piled high with local veggies and house-made bread.

Or, if you’re not into sharing food, don’t worry: Cheese boards and charcuterie for one will debut on menus this year. Head to Fl. 2 Downtown for a selection of local meats, cheeses, pickled veggies, and grilled bread.

7. New takes on comfort food

Comfort food will always have a place on menus, but this year, expect reinvented twists on the classics. Square Cafe, for example, will offer a gluten-free pancake stack, and Valozzi’s in Downtown will serve a “Raviolo” dish with egg yolk, short rib, ricotta, and swiss chard.

8. A return to the ‘authentic’

This wouldn’t be a food trend article without the word “authentic.” Seriously, though, while this word has been co-opted into marketing speak and millennial memes, at its root, the concept symbolizes something special. It’s about a “departure from big concepts and desire to explore more authentic ‘mom & pops,'” Jordan said. For example, she pointed to the family-owned Valozzi’s and community gathering spot Square Cafe.

9. Higher-level consciousness

The adage “Don’t just vote on Election Day; vote every day with your dollar” is coming to the restaurant industry this year. Diners are likely to put their money where their mouth is (literally) by frequenting establishments that prioritize sustainability, workers’ well-being, and and charitable causes. Dinette in East Liberty and The Porch at Schenley in Oakland earned Sustainable Pittsburgh’s platinum designation, the highest acclaim for their environmental efforts. If you’re into sustainability, check out Sustainable Pittsburgh’s restaurant finder.

The chicken mushroom crepe at Square Cafe.

The chicken mushroom crepe at Square Cafe.


10. Other flavors to expect in 2019

Restaurants and bars across the city plan to infuse their menus with new flavors, from CBD oil to sumac. Some beloved food trends from this year will continue, too, like fried chicken fervor and rosé all day. Look for these sweet, savory, and spicy flavors next year.

  • African spices
  • Aperol
  • Burgers
  • Champagne- and wine-based cocktails
  • CBD oil for beverages
  • Fermented flavors
  • Fried chicken
  • Frozen cocktails
  • Gut health
  • House-made syrups for drinks
  • Matcha
  • Mushrooms (Try the chicken mushroom crepes at Square Cafe, and at Fl. 2, order the wild mushrooms with cured roe and herb cream.)
  • Pickling
  • Powders (from egg white protein powder to ground turmeric)
  • Rose/rosewater
  • Rosé
  • Savory, food-based cocktails (like the carrot cocktail at Spirit & Tales)
  • Spiked seltzers
  • Sumac
  • Sustainability
  • Teas, especially in cocktails
  • Toast, especially avocado toast

Photo courtesy of FL.2

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