In case you somehow missed it, Pittsburgh is in the midst of a culinary transformation. Restaurants are opening at an incredible pace, with a healthy mix of eager new chefs getting into the game and familiar faces launching their own brick-and-mortars and new projects. But instead of offering more of the same, each of these restaurants brought something new that was missing from our city's dining landscape. These Pittsburgh chefs showed us the value in carving out their own spaces through menus and concepts that weren't yet represented in town. From a Japanese izakaya to a modern Eastern European vegan eatery, these are the best restaurants that opened in Pittsburgh in 2016.

Adam Milliron Photography

Morcilla

Lawrenceville

2016 has been a fine year for Justin Severino. Not only did Bon Appetit magazine call him "the most underrated chef in America," but his second Pittsburgh restaurant, Morcilla, is booked solid each and every night. And for good reason. If you do manage to score a table (or at least a spot at the bar), prepare yourself for some of the best Spanish food in the country. Severino's Basque-region tapas menu features seasonal small plates called pinxtos, with an emphasis on house-made charcuterie, and fresh takes on classic dishes, like salt cod croquettes and queso en aceite, bites of manchego cheese in Seville sour orange-infused olive oil. Sample a cocktail (or two), preferably from the extensive list of gin and tonics featuring Morcilla's house-made tonics, paired with the "All of the Meats" charcuterie board served with marinated olives and lavender & sea salt marcona almonds and you’ll quickly see what all the hype is about.

Cody Baker @tehbakery

Pork & Beans

Downtown

When the eagerly anticipated Pork & Beans finally opened Downtown in October, the wait for a table was out the door. And it doesn’t seem like that's going to change anytime soon, thanks to the restaurant's killer barbecue menu and Southern sides and a cocktail list fit for a Texas roadhouse. Having previous experience absolutely killing it at restaurant concepts like Meat & Potatoes, Butcher and the Rye, and täkō, Richard DeShantz's latest winner in Pork & Beans comes as no surprise. Add in the home-spun stylings of Keith Fuller, the brainchild behind specials like Buffalo BBQ pork mac & cheese with fried carrot curls and ranch brown butter bread, and Pork & Beans is well on its way to becoming a destination restaurant. Come here for hearty plates of brisket, BBQ pork ribs, and the Pittsburgh take on nostalgic Southern specialties, like boiled peanuts and pimento cheese with house-made pickles. And wash it all down with a selection from the vast wall of draft beer, or a sampling from one of the best bourbon programs in the city.

Fine Humans

Umami

Lawrenceville

Since opening earlier this year, Roger Li's Japanese-style gastropub has become the spot for late-night bites. With a menu that centers around robatayaki (skewers of meats and vegetables cooked over a charcoal grill) and a rotating list of fresh sushi options, Umami serves food until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays. The bar program here is strong, with a deep selection of sake bottles and Japanese beers, not to mention the cocktail list, with spicy and aromatic offerings dominating the menu. Not satisfied in bringing just one Japanese street-food concept to Pittsburgh, Li has big plans for the coming year -- look out for Ki Ramen, a collaboration with Piccolo Forno’s Domenic Branduzzi that will feature ramen with Italian influences.

Aubergine Bistro | Julie Walsh

Smallman Galley

Strip District

Four chefs, four different restaurants, one unique concept. That's the story behind restaurant incubator Smallman Galley. The expansive Strip District space, with a separate bar area and communal seating, hosts four chefs, each responsible for their own menus and kitchens. Toast, Provision PGH, Carota Cafe, and Aubergine Bistro -- the first four concepts invited into the space -- offer vastly different, yet somehow complementary culinary points of view, and the layout of the space makes it easy to pick and choose dishes from each spot to create any kind of meal you'd like. With options that range from grilled sourdough topped with sweet ricotta and local honey at Carota Cafe to shrimp & squid ink pasta with English peas and pork rinds at Aubergine Bistro, it's the perfect place to bring a group with diverse tastes. Smallman Galley's next round of restaurant concepts will be announced early next year and we can't wait to see what's on deck.

Aimee DiAndrea

DiAnoia's Eatery

Strip District

This isn't your average deli. When Dave Anoia opened DiAnoia's Eatery earlier this fall in the Strip District, we were all wondering exactly what he had in store for us. A restaurant that was open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a deli counter and an in-house bakery? It seemed like it had the potential to go off the rails. Oh, how wrong we were. From DiAnoia's playful take on a basic ham and cheese sandwich with honey-smoked ham, black garlic BBQ sauce, Boursin cheese, and pickled red onions, to the fresh zeppoles available every morning, it's a take on Italian comfort food that we haven't seen for quite some time in the city. The bar is an equal attraction, with an extensive specialty coffee menu for the daytime, and a fantastic wine list for the evening.

Rob Larson

Whitfield

East Liberty

It's not every day that you get one of your best meals of the year in a hotel restaurant. But then again, it's not every day that you have a restaurant in a hotel as dreamy as Ace Hotel's Whitfield. Led by Executive Chef Bethany Zozula, the dinner menu at Whitfield is centered around steak, with T-bones, porterhouses, and rib-eyes from Bedford's Jubilee Hilltop Ranch served family-style. The rest of the menu is one big love note to Western Pennsylvania, with touches of Polish, Italian, and Eastern European cuisines, like a braised rabbit "porchetta" with semolina gnocchi and a double-cut pork chop garnished with rhubarb BBQ sauce. The exceptional dessert menu from pastry chef Casey Renee changes with the season, incorporating compelling flavor combinations (hibiscus and cranberry top a croissant creme brulee in one particularly inventive dish), and is always worth leaving room for.

Ben Filio

Apteka

Bloomfield

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski first came onto the Pittsburgh restaurant scene with their monthly Pierogi Night pop-ups, selling handmade pierogies to the hungry masses. Apteka, their new minimalist and everything-vegan restaurant in Bloomfield, is decidedly fancier than their last venture, with a healthy mix of Old World Eastern European favorites and modern touches. The small menu changes regularly, though one staple is the ever-present pierogies, stuffed with whatever happens to be in season, from foraged mushrooms to smoked potato and turnip greens. The duo is crazy about fermenting, and the menu features heavy doses of their own Polish pickles, horseradish slaw, and sauerkraut. They're takes on Pittsburgh staples that we haven't encountered before.

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Emily Catalano is the creator of Good Food Pittsburgh, a site devoted to all of the good food that her hometown has to offer. She loves fries on her salad, Jalapeno Hannah, and any event with a cookie table. Follow her at @emcatalano.

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1. Morcilla 3519 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA (Lower Lawrenceville)

Morcilla, Justin Severino's second restaurant in Lawrenceville, is an ode to Spain's Basque Country and its pintxo style of dining. A close relative of tapas, pinxtos are small plates that -- as reimagined by Severino -- emphasize house-made charcuterie, croquetas (fried balls filled with the likes of jamon, chestnut, and bacalao), and egg tortillas. A meal at Morcilla isn't complete without a gin and tonic made with the restaurant's house-made tonics, or a Spanish cider. The design, too, is inspired by Basque culture, with wooden ceilings and a storefront that looks like many a tapas bar in San Sebastian.

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2. Pork & Beans , Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Downtown's Pork & Beans is exactly what it sounds like: a down-country smokehouse barbecue joint. From the folks behind Meat & Potatoes and Butcher and the Rye, the expansive restaurant serves meats right from the smoker that land on communal tables in a casual space that's aesthetically somewhere between a barnyard and an industrial warehouse. Pair pulled pork with a side of baked beans or spare ribs with mac 'n' cheese. Multi-meat sandwiches are on offer too, with the Double Down (with brined, fried chicken, pork roll, foie gras torchon and truffle mornay) illustrating the commitment to carnivore flavor here. Because you better believe you'll need them, huge rolls of brown paper towels are placed throughout.

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3. Umami 202 39th St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 (Central Lawrenceville)

This Japanese-style gastropub emphasizes robatayaki (meat and vegetables skewers cooked on a charcoal grill) and fresh sushi options. Umami's late-night hours make it a strong contender for late dinners or post-drinking bites (it's open until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays). Unsurprisingly, the drink program is a strong draw, with plenty of sake and Japanese beers on offer, plus spicy and aromatic cocktails.

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4. Smallman Galley 54 21st St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 (Strip District)

A self-described "restaurant incubator," Smallman Gallery offers kitchen space to four local chefs, each with their own menus. The result is an expansive space with a full bar area and communal seating, where restaurant concepts differ from each other and rotate often. Past concepts include a vegetable-forward restaurant, a toast-based menu, and a home-style American bistro. Far from competitive, Smallman chooses chefs whose menus complement each other, ultimately giving a platform to rising Pittsburgh talent.

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5. DiAnoia's Eatery 2549 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

What began as a meeting between the two owners when one walked in on the other in the bathroom (yikes), ended in the creation of this all-day Strip District Italian café. DiAnoia's takes a New York-deli approach to Italian food, with a menu that features bakery items like fresh zeppoles in the morning and comforting savory plates for lunch and dinner. Sandwiches (try the honey-smoked ham with Boursin), pasta, and mains like steak Florentine and baked branzino are served under funky chandeliers made from blue and green bottles. Continuing with that bottle motif, vino flows at the blue-tiled bar.

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6. Whitfield 120 Whitfield St, Pittsburgh, PA 15026 (East Liberty)

Housed in the Ace Hotel's Pittsburgh outpost, Whitfield is a sunny, eclectic little restaurant with a dedication to honoring the culinary traditions of Western Pennsylvania. Taking a bit of influence from Polish, German, Italian, and Jewish cuisines, the seasonal menu is meant to represent the cocktail of cultures that the region is home to. The light-flooded restaurant carefully selects all of its produce, meat, and dairy products locally, going so far as to butcher and cure their steaks in-house. There are six distinct family style steak entrees available year-round and plenty of other hearty meat and fish dishes, in addition to a full-length vegetarian menu for those who (somehow) resist the allure of decadent red meat. The house cocktails pay equal homage to a diverse flavor palette, and the whole place maintains a modern farmhouse feel.

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7. Apteka 4606 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224 (Bloomfield)

Polish cuisine and veganism are two concepts that don't normally jibe, but Bloomfield's Apteka makes it work. The plant-based Eastern European restaurant ditches the traditional meat stuffings of pierogi and cabbage for animal-friendly ingredients like sauerkraut, mushroom, buckwheat, and roasted vegetables. Expect a charmingly hippie feel in the dining room, where the staff are known to wave burning sage over the display of pickling jars.

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