Pittsburgh celebrates its annual Italian Days every summer in August, but these restaurants embody our city's Italian side every day of the year. From red-sauce places to cross-cultural cooking, these are some of the best Italian restaurants in the Steel City. And while we love pizza a lot (like, a lot), we've excluded many of our favorite places that are pie-oriented in favor of the restaurants exploring the remainder of the carb-loaded cuisine.
You can’t make a list of best Italian restaurants in Pittsburgh without starting in Bloomfield, the city’s Little Italy. The Pleasure Bar has been around since 1941, under three different family owners. The retro decor hasn’t changed much over that time (and includes lots of windows for people watching), and neither has the high-quality food. If you’re looking for an old-school Italian setting with big portions, this place is for you. The gnocchi with meatballs entree is dense and filling, but make sure you save room for tiramisu and coffee.
Girasole means “sunflower” in Italian, and it’s a perennial ingredient the restaurant incorporates into some dishes (the house salad features sunflower vinaigrette as well as sunflower seeds). While the step-down basement setup is reminiscent of a rustic European cafe, the menu reflects modernity, changing with the season. Like a big Italian family, be prepared to get cozy with customers in this tiny but charming space. The spinach and ricotta ravioli with sweet tomato cream sauce is a fan favorite that shouldn't be overlooked.
Piccolo Forno features a menu of Tuscan-style dishes incorporating interesting meats like rabbit and lamb, while also sporting an interior of traditional design elements including exposed brick. But even if the heart is set on pasta, which is certainly delicious in its own right, pizza lovers will want to order a pie from the wood-fired grill. Choose from classics like the margherita with crushed tomatoes and mozzarella, or more adventurous selections like Tartuffo, topped with asparagus, truffle oil, corn, and egg, or the famed Capricciosa with crushed tomato, fresh mozzarella, mushroom, artichoke, olive, prosciutto cotto, and egg. And don’t forget to bring a bottle of wine with you: Piccolo Forno is BYOB.
Before you venture to Alla Famiglia, you’ll want train like you’re preparing for a marathon… of eating. As soon as you sit down, all tables are set with “Holy Oil” for dipping locally made bread, which is truly a spiritual culinary experience. But as tempting as it is, try not to fill up on bread, because there’s so much more to come. This restaurant definitely likes its meats, and the veal is highly recommended, whether it’s the veal chop Pizzaiolo with hot and sweet peppers or the veal chop Milanese coated and fried in butter. In the summer, try the patio view for alfresco dining. The view, like the food, is breathtaking.
“Business park” and “Italian restaurant” are rarely uttered in the same sentence, but don’t let that stop you from seeking out Cenacolo. The venue is located within the restaurant’s pasta factory, which provides pasta to lots of area restaurants, and makes for a unique ambience with high ceilings in a space that could be described as “industrial chic.” Naturally, you’ll want to try the homemade pasta -- there’s something for everyone. The lobster ravioli is a standout for its sweet seafood flavors fused with garlic, spinach, and truffle cream.
With its white tablecloths and refined elegance, this is the perfect “special occasion” Italian restaurant. Lots of couples and families will come here for birthdays, anniversaries, and nights out because this establishment is truly a treat for the taste buds. When it comes to appetizers, the sesame calamari puts an Asian flourish on an Italian classic, crispy and crunchy with a sweet soy glaze. Try the Mafalda Giancarlo, with your choice of pasta topped with pine nuts, spinach, and sun-dried tomatoes for a tangy twist. The dessert menu is decadent, with plenty of after-dinner options, from lava cake to cannoli to butterscotch pound cake.
So maybe you like Italian food but sometimes want to pair it with cuisine from a completely different culture? Enter Adolfo’s, an Italian and Venezuelan restaurant on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield, which brings the neighborhood into the modern foodie era with its more foreign flair. Where else can you eat spaghetti and meatballs with a side of savory arepas with chicken and avocado? Plus, if you forget to BYOB, sangria is complimentary.
This isn't just one Italian restaurant -- it's three, each housed on its own separate floor, each operating at a different speed. At street level, you'll find Emporio with its spread of meatballs and sauces; go up a flight and you'll be in Mezzo, serving generous plates of charcuterie, pizzas, pastas, and wine. Go all the way to the third floor to end up at Il Tetto (literally translated as "the roof"), one of the most handsome rooftop bars in the Steel City. It'll be open even when a couple feet of snow get dumped on us -- it's got a retractable glass roof.
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1. Pleasure Bar and Restaurant4729 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh
2. Girasole733 Copeland St, Pittsburgh
3. Piccolo Forno3801 Butler St, Pittsburgh
4. Alla Famiglia804 E Warrington Ave, Pittsburgh
5. Cenacolo Restaurant1061 Main St, Irwin
6. Joseph Tambellini Restaurant5701 Bryant St, Pittsburgh
7. Adolfo's Restaurant4770 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh
8. Sienna Mercato942 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh
Situated in Bloomfield, the city’s Little Italy, Pleasure Bar and Restaurant has been around since 1941 and still maintains its retro decor -- and the quality of its Italian cuisine. The old-school space features lattice wood and fake vine in the dining room, where regulars nosh on classics like the rich and hearty gnocchi with meatballs. If you're just looking to hole up at the laid-back bar, you're in for fresh cocktails, plus domestic beers, imports, and micro-brews.
Girasole, which means “sunflower” in Italian, seeks to blend the old with the new, cooking up a modern, seasonal Italian menu inside a cozy old world-style space lined with stone walls. And yes, sunflower is incorporated into some dishes in the lineup, including the house salad with sunflower vinaigrette and sunflower seeds. This tiny lower-level spot looks like a rustic European cafe, forcing you to become a big Italian family as you nosh on plates like the customer-favorite spinach and ricotta ravioli with sweet tomato cream sauce.
Piccolo Forno is the Lawrencville neighborhood's epicenter for Tuscan-style Italian fare, and a big emphasis is put on the pizzas and rich pastas. Flames from the wood-burning oven warm the brick-walled dining room, and births all of the eight pies on offer, from a white take with ricotta and Gorgonzola to a fragrant mushroom-prosciutto pie. Twelve pastas are made with seasonal ingredients, including options like beet bucatini with salmon and pappardelle with braised rabbit. Know that there's a BYOB policy here, so it would only be prudent to pick up a nice bottle of red before you arrive. Come early if you want a table, or be prepared to wait.
Alla Famiglia is a cute and cozy Italian restaurant that's cooking up dishes so authentic even your nonna would approve. The first thing you'll nosh on at this brick-lined space with Italian bric-a-brac is the fresh, locally made bread, which is set on each table with “Holy Oil” for dipping and is so scrumptious you might not be able to stop. Do. Because you need room to have some of the highly recommended and high-quality veal. A couple choices include the Veal Chop Pizzaiolo with hot and sweet peppers and the Veal Chop Milanese coated and fried in butter. When the weather's nice, definitely opt for a seat on the open air patio.
Believe it or not, Business Park is home to one of the best Italian spots in the Pittsburgh area, Cenacolo, a restaurant meets market where fresh homemade pasta is served inside an industrial-chic space. The menu is always changing, but, considering you can see the pasta being made in the market that separates the restaurant's two cozy sections, you know the dishes here are consistently fresh, and pair well with the domestic and international wines on offer. Past plates have included basil gnocchi and lobster ravioli. Want to try your hand at crafting these delicate noodles? Cenacolo offers pasta-making classes, too.
Joseph Tambellini is a refined Highland Park Italian restaurant perfect for any special occasion -- birthdays, anniversaries, date nights -- thanks to its high-end dishes served atop white tablecloths. Inside this cozy and elegant space, you'll want to kick things off with the sesame calamari (a crispy, crunchy Asian-Italian fusion with a sweet soy glaze) before diving into the Mafalda Giancarlo (your choice of pasta topped with pine nuts, spinach, and sun-dried tomatoes). End your romantic meal with a decadent dessert, such as lava cake, cannoli, or butterscotch pound cake.
Adolfo's is probably the only place in Pittsburgh where you can pair dishes like spaghetti & meatballs with savory arepas, as this Bloomfield restaurant is an Italian-Venezuelan mashup. Nestled into a slim brick building on Liberty Ave, this laid-back neighborhood spot is BYOB, but don't worry if you forgot a bottle -- it also offers complimentary sangria. The unique menu has everything from veal parm and fettuccini alfredo to empanadas and cochino frito.
Situated on separate floors, Sienna Mercato is three restaurants under one roof, each operating at a different speed but all offering some of the best Italian fare in Pittsburgh. At street-level, Emporio has an impressive spread of meatballs and sauces, plus a full bar. Up one flight is Mezzo, where generous plates of charcuterie, pizzas, pastas, and wine abound. Finally, the third floor is houses Il Tetto (Italian for "the roof"), a chic rooftop bar with 36 drafts, cocktails, wine, light fare, and a retractable glass roof that allows it to stay open year-round.