Published December 4, 2018
Was this the year of the barbecue invasion? Or was it the second year of the French occupation? Or was it the year Garfield, Deutschtown, Bellevue and Etna became dining destinations?
2018 was a hard-to-classify year in Pittsburgh food but a good one on balance, as the city’s palates continue to diversify and new flavors and concepts keep emerging. Here are our 18 favorite restaurants, in no particular order, plus a few very honorable mentions.
The Pennsylvania Market, Strip District
Here’s an idea: How about a mini-Strip District inside the Strip District? This two-story, 12,000-square-foot development in an old Strip warehouse features an upper-level food hall with three different kitchen concepts, including Bistro 108, Romulus Pizza and Charcuterie. There’s also a wine library with a bar and a seating area with wines for sale that you can’t get elsewhere. The spacious outdoor courtyard of PA Market features stalls with Edgar’s Tacos, a bakery, a micro-greens shop with lots more to come.
Fish nor Fowl, Garfield
Richard DeShantz (täkō, Meat & Potatoes, Butcher and the Rye) opened not one, but two of the best new restaurants in town this year, with chef Dan Carlton as a partner leading the kitchen at Fish nor Fowl. This modern, stylish dining room has a plant-filled green wall and long, community tables on the first floor, enlivening a space that has sat dormant since the late Salt of the Earth. Upstairs it’s beautifully Nordic in theme with lush fur throws and pillows and tree branches along the ceiling. The cuisine is also modern, yet approachable — with both fish and fowl on the menu. The halibut collar with succotash is outstanding with an interesting mix of flavors.
Enix Brewing Company, Homestead
Breweries tend to put beer first and food a distant second — but this is one of the rare craft breweries that’s worth the trip for the food alone. (Or, you can go for the bowling — there are lanes upstairs). The restaurateurs operate a few of the top breweries in Spain, and the menu at Enix is filigreed with Spanish touches. Croquetas, empanadas and patatas are the perfect salty accompaniment to one of their distinctive beers, like the MadRed, a strongly malty red IPA. The flatbreads are also terrific, thin and chewy, cooked to perfection in a wood-fired oven — like the Don Antonio, with clams, bacon, onions and a garlic cream sauce.
Azorean Cafe, Bloomfield
Every once in a while, we get something in Pittsburgh that takes even the most well-traveled diner by surprise. One of those is the food of the Azores, a small volcanic archipelago off the coast of Portugal, that can now be found at Azorean Cafe. This long, slim storefront is equal parts coffee shop, diner, pastry shop and tiny grocery, and has quickly woven itself into the fabric of Pittsburgh’s old Little Italy. Get the Polvo Guisado, a baked octopus dish marinated in olive oil, served in a thick sauce with onions and potatoes, or Feijoada, a Portuguese stew. The breakfast sandwiches on Portuguese rolls or croissants are also fantastic, wrapped up in butcher paper (printed like newspaper) and tied with string.
Driftwood Oven, Lawrenceville
Simply some of the best pizza in town — or, perhaps in the country, if their Bon Appetit Top 50 nomination is anything to go by. Their unique sourdough pies are created with incredible care — A Mason’s Best Friend white pie features mortadella and spicy pickled peppers atop ricotta, mozzarella and fresh garlic, with basil and a tomato drizzle. You can also get Roman-style rectangular cuts, called “Omi’s Slices,” like the Red Top, with pecorino Romano, oregano, olive oil and sea salt.
Poulet Bleu, Lawrenceville
The return of French cooking was perhaps the biggest surprise of last year’s crop of best new restaurants, and this cozy little bistro in Lawrenceville from the prolific Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group continues that in 2018. The dining room is an elegant throwback, from the flowery wallpaper to the blue and white tiled floor. The menu, too, is full of confident renditions of familiar flavors, like the Steak Frites in a Béarnaise or Cognac Pepper sauce, Burgundy Escargot and puff pastry Mushroom Vol-au-Vent. Desserts — Profiteroles, Fried Beignets, Chocolate Souffle — are worth the visit alone.
Siempre Algo, Deutschtown
East Ohio Street in Deutschtown seems to be on the cusp of a new phase as a thriving business district — which is going to include restaurants like Siempre Algo. Chef Brian Hammond, who formerly ran the massive farm-to-table Restaurant Echo in Cranberry, has created a more intimate, yet broadly appealing neighborhood gathering spot that caters to both adventurous diners and happy hour snackers. The name means “always something,” and the menu casts a wide net, from Bavarian sourdough pretzels and Sambal Chicken to Butternut Squash Soup, to Roasted Forest Mushrooms with marinated crimini, farro, spinach sauce, bread-and-butter-pickled serrano chilies and pecorino.
It’s taken awhile, but Korean food is slowly seeping into Pittsburgh’s culinary bloodstream. Soju is less concerned with tradition than some, and more into unlocking Korean flavors in a stylishly convivial barroom with great drinks. You can get classics like Bulgogi (thinly-sliced beef), Japchae (sweet potato noodles) and Bibimbap (mixed rice bowl with spinach, bean sprouts, mushroom, spicy cucumber and egg). You can also get less traditional Korean food like Hawaiian Poke (marinated raw tuna over hot rice) and Korean Poutine (fries and savory gravy, with tofu instead of cheese curds).
Chef/owner David Bulman has experience in world-renowned kitchens like Alinea in Chicago and The French Laundry in Napa Valley, and has decided to deploy his considerable talents on Butler Street in, yes, Etna. This tiny, 12-seat, tasting-menu-only New American restaurant is only open Thursday through Saturday, and doesn’t have a set menu. As it says on the sign, the food is determined by the seasons — whatever is freshest and best from local farms and purveyors.
Sugar and Smoke, Bloomfield
You know how Pittsburghers love to navigate by things that don’t exist anymore? Well, this went into the old Del’s spot in Bloomfield, and we hope it sticks around long enough to become a landmark of its own. Sugar and Smoke features traditional Southern cooking, with a slight New Orleans accent, putting a special emphasis on barbecue. Though it’s hard to pass up the Shrimp Po’ Boy, you should try the melt-in-your-mouth Smoked Brisket on a toasted brioche bun with Alabama white sauce — a mix of mayo and horseradish. Surprisingly, this place is also excellent for vegetarians: Vegetarian Gumbo, Vegetarian Hush Puppies, Fried Green Tomatoes and Charred Brussels Sprouts are on the menu.
Molinaro Ristorante & Bar, Downtown
It was a bit of a surprise when the high-end, Greek seafood-centric Poros closed in this beautiful Downtown spot on Market Square. Luckily, it didn’t lie dormant long before it was snapped up by the team behind Il Pizzaiolo. They hired a chef from D.C., Domenico Cornacchia, who is originally from the Abruzzo region of Italy. It’s still a stunning indoor/outdoor space, with golden-hued lighting, sleek lines and style to spare. Southern Italian cooking and seafood from the Amalfi coast are emphasized here, with dishes like Guazzetto Di Pesce, a seafood brodetto (fish stew) with tomato, monkfish, branzino, dorade and calamari. There’s also Spaghetti Pomodoro, Neopolitan pizzas and Ricotta Gnocchi, if you’re looking for the classics.
Lorelei, East Liberty
Both a cocktail bar and a German-style beer hall, Lorelei is easily one of Pittsburgh’s best new places to get a drink. German and Czech beers dominate, with a few American IPAs and some curve balls like German pear and apple cider on tap. There are creative cocktails from the people behind the mighty Hidden Harbor in Squirrel Hill. Lorelei also has some of the best bar food in town, created by a James Beard Award-nominated chef, Jamilka Borges, and a top-notch pastry chef, Dianne DeStefano (Twisted Frenchman). The long, thin Lorelei Pretzels are a must, served with mustard and bacon-kraut cheese spread. Also featured are hand pies — like gigantic, crusty savory empanadas — such as the Braised Lamb Pie, with a slight Indian accent of chickpeas, tamarind and mint chutney, and Octopus Pie, with sweet potatoes, golden raisins and nutty, peppery Catalan Romesco sauce.
Revival on Lincoln, Bellevue
If you’re looking for a reason to check out this charming little borough, Revival on Lincoln is a good one. You can’t miss it — it’s the massive red-and-white edifice with giant Greek Revival columns, vacant for years. Executive chef Jamie Sola, previously of the Allegheny Country Club and Southern Tier Brewing, fills this massive space with an eclectic menu of dishes like Pecan Crusted Akura Salmon with braised lentils, cippolini onion and charred broccoli; and Shrimp and Smoked Cheddar Grits, with roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, poached egg, scallions and a sherry glaze.
Cilantro & Ajo, South Side
It doesn’t seem fair to be this delicious, and cost this little. Venezuelan street food served in a bright little shop beyond the busy part of East Carson Street, toward Station Square. Fluffy corn arepas are the main draw here, like the Llanera with beef, avocado, tomato and white cheese, or the Maracucha, with roasted pork, fried cheese, avocado and a special cilantro and ajo sauce. Plus, there’s crispy, savory empanadas like Bacon & Gouda and “Seafood Explosion.” Great for breakfast or lunch, though it becomes crowded quickly. They could probably squeeze a few more tables in here.
Pie for Breakfast, Oakland
Chef Trevett Hooper, who owns the acclaimed Butterjoint and Legume next door, envisioned Pie for Breakfast like this: “Imagine if a truck stop and a European coffee shop had a baby.” He somehow managed to create just that, offering classic comfort food with locally-sourced ingredients. There are excellent renditions of standards like Buttermilk Pancakes and Quiche, as well as distinctive new dishes like Chopped Lamb Steak with harissa aioli, two eggs, cheesy grits, braised greens and Appalachian salt rising bread toast. Plus, of course, there’s pie: Apple pie, Peach pie, Shoofly pie, Pecan pie, Buttermilk pie, Vinegar pie, Chess pie. Breakfast is served through lunch. They are no longer open for dinner.
Walter’s Southern Kitchen, Lawrenceville
Southern cooking from New York City, (where else?). The team from Morgan’s in Brooklyn liked what they saw in Lawrenceville, and turned an old car dealership into one of the nicest indoor/outdoor patios in Pittsburgh, heavy on the reclaimed wood and corrugated metal. Now it’s cold, so there’s a giant green tent up in front. Dry rub Texas-style barbecue is the focus here. Brisket is the star, but try the smoked pork shoulder on a brioche bun, with a light, vinegary coleslaw on top. Bottles of BBQ sauce are handy at each table for just the right dosage — there’s a smoky, sweet one and a slightly spicier, peppery one.
Penn Cove Eatery and The Warren Bar and Burrow, Downtown
One of those Old Pittsburgh things that is sort of disappearing is the giant fish sandwich that you used to be able to get at every bar. Penn Cove Eatery isn’t that, exactly, but with the considerable piscine resources of Penn Avenue Fish Co. in the Strip, it’s hard to imagine wanting more in the fish department. Sandwiches include the English Style Cod and the Sneaky Pete, grilled salmon with arugula, hearts of palm and spicy avocado creme on whole grain ciabatta. Penn Cove is open for lunch only, and does sushi and fish sandwiches. It’s also a wine shop. There’s an adjacent bar called The Warren Bar and Burrow, run by Spencer Warren and Carrie Clayton of Subversive Cocktails (Embury), with its own excellent bar menu (that also includes sushi) and some of the best drinks Downtown, like the strong, warming Fred’s Old Fashioned and the delightfully sweet Whiskey in a Teacup.
Carnegie continues its winning streak with this unpretentious Italian cafe, named after the parents of chef Greg Alauzen (Cioppino, Eleven). If you’re looking for beautifully executed classics like Cavatelli with house-made sausage and rapini, this is the place. Also try the Italian Beef sandwich, slow-cooked with peppers, onions and mushrooms. Save room for desserts like the Chocolate-Praline Pot de Creme and Buttermilk Panna Cotta. Carnegie is crowing about this one and we understand why.
Other openings of note
Of course, there were a few worthy restaurants that just missed the list, like the unusual Northeastern Chinese cooking of Northeastern Kitchen in Squirrel Hill and the Turkish Kebab House in Shadyside. For a quick bite it’s hard to beat Choolaah in East Liberty and Duncan St. Sandwich Shop in Millvale.
The suburbs (further away than Bellevue and Etna) had a few key openings too, like Coast & Main Seafood and Chophouse in Monroeville, Mediterra Cafe in Sewickley (of the Mediterra Bakehouse family) and Calavera Tap + Taco in the North Hills.
And can we mention just one more? Alida’s in Lawrenceville, next to the Roberto Clemente Museum, offers wo0d-fired pizzas that are among the best in town and a full menu of Italian food that’s consistently great. They opened in late 2017, so we missed them last year. From the banana peppers appetizer (spicy hot but truly a treat) to any of the pastas or seafood, this place rocks. And there’s free parking next door. In Lawrenceville!
Photo courtesy Siempre Algo