Food & Drink

The 14 Most Essential Restaurants in Pittsburgh

Published On 04/07/2015 Published On 04/07/2015
Courtesy of Adam Milliron/e2

e2

Highland Park
What you’re getting: Brunch OMGs including the Gorgonzola Mess
Happiness lives at e2. This sweet BYOB spot packs friends and strangers into about 10 tables to feast on hearty and heart-warming Italian-inspired meals. Don’t let this adorableness fool you, though, Chef Kate Romane is a badass in the kitchen and brings big, bold flavors to the table and designs easily the best brunch in town.

Courtesy of Adam Milliron/The Commoner

The Commoner

Downtown
What you’re getting: Steak & Ale Pie, Wood Oven Charred Cauliflower; Sticky Toffee Pudding
A newcomer to the dining scene, The Commoner is already the coolest joint in town with a menu that offers tavern-style tastes with meat as the main attraction. The Sticky Toffee Pudding dessert -- a warm date cake with ice cream -- will steal the show.

Monterey Pub

Monterey Pub

Northside
What you’re getting: Pub Style Shepherd’s Pie; Bangers & Mash
This is a Northside neighborhood treasure with a cozy bar and tiny booths that make you yearn to be a regular. The Irish fare, often marinated in Guinness, goes down easily. Tender, shredded Guinness beef is featured in several menu items, but is best served under a heap of mashed potatoes and cheese in the Pub Style Shepherd’s Pie.

Courtesy of fystudio/Eden

Eden

Shadyside
What you’re getting: Peanut Butter Salad; Banana Split; Perogies
Eden lays claim to one of the most interesting menus in the city with an emphasis on raw and vegan options. The veggies come cooked too, and the creative dishes, like cashew cheese perogies, are equal parts weird and delicious.

PRIMANTI BROS.

Primanti Bros.

Strip District (& Other Locations) 
What you’re getting: Capicola & Cheese; The Pitts-burgher cheesesteak
Primanti Bros. has been a Pittsburgh institution since its Strip District location opened in the 1930s. Massive sandwiches piled high with French fries and coleslaw are used for city initiation, sports celebrating, and general food merriment. Truly, no other mouthful of food says “Steel City” more than a Capicola & Cheese.

Laura Zorch/Thrillist

Gaucho Parilla Argentina

Strip District
What you’re getting: Provoletta; Lomo (filet mignon)
Nothing beats having the jubilant dudes at Gaucho Parilla Argentina cook steaks straight on the wood-fired grill. Order a steak. Order empanadas. Order the grilled provolone on top of grilled bread (Provoletta), or a chorizo sandwich or corn on the cob. Order them all, there is no wrong choice.

Courtesy of Heather Mull/Butcher and the Rye

Butcher and the Rye

Downtown
What you’re getting: Pig Candy; Wagyu Flank Steak; whiskey flight
If you like whiskey, meet your home away from home: Butcher and the Rye. A legit wall of whiskey makes a great first impression and the meat-heavy small plates, like pork belly with miso caramel (mmmmm... Pig Candy), cement its reputation.
 

Pusadee’s Garden

Lawrenceville
What you’re getting: Pineapple Curry; Tempura Vegetables; Crispy Tilapia
Located in the Upper Lawrenceville area that's been heating up, Pusadee’s provides a garden oasis for an outdoor dining retreat. Classic Thai dishes mix well with the tranquil surrounds. Pusadee’s has “best place for wining and dining” written all over it.

Laura Zorch/Thrillist

P&G Pamela's Diner

Mount Lebanon (& Other Locations)
What you’re getting: Famous Lyonnaise Potatoes; Pamela's Famous Crepe Hotcakes
P&G Pamela's Diner serves standard greasy spoon fare, with one exception: the Crepe Hotcakes. These ultra-thin pancakes with crispy edges are worth the guaranteed sidewalk wait on weekend mornings. Even President Obama had these sweet puppies flown in to the White House (anything to not have to go out to eat with Joe Biden).

Sienna Mercato

Emporio: A Meatball Joint

Downtown
What you’re getting: Crispy Pickle Chips with bacon ranch; Meatball Grinder; Saucy Balls
With a menu of saucy balls (it's ok, your giggling will make more room in your stomach), Emporio hits all of the right notes with beef, chicken, turkey, and veggie balls, complete with a variety of complementary sauces like "government cheese" and spinach-almond pesto. The mushroom and bean veggie balls served as a grinder, topped with the spicy arribiatta sparks table-flipping as a response of pure joy.

Smoke BBQ Taqueria

Smoke BBQ Taqueria

Lawrenceville
What you’re getting: Queso; Brisket Taco
A tiny menu of tacos with BBQ fillings is all it takes to make Smoke an all-star. A rich mac and cheese and queso dip round out the terrific, teeny offering. Plan to have the smell of meat lingering on you long after exiting.

Laura Zorch/Thrillist

Carmi Family Restaurant

Northside
What you’re getting: Chicken & waffles, macaroni and cheese, Stuffed Pork Chops
The chicken & waffles at Carmi are the stuff dreams are made of, coincidentally the same dreams you'll have after a post-chicken & waffles nap. Crispy and juicy fried chicken rests next to a fluffy, buttered waffle and alongside the enchanting duo, there's a variety of soul-satisfying soul food in a feels-like-home atmosphere.

Courtesy of Adam Milliron/Cure

Cure

Lawrenceville
What you’re getting: Salumi
Chef Justin Severino is a meat magician and while Cure's carefully curated menu rotates, it always features both tricks and treats. Passing up the salumi boards of lardo, duck speck, mortadella, and oh so much more, would be an incurable (!) mistake.

Courtesy of Legume

Legume

Oakland
What you’re getting: Chicken Cooked Under the Skillet; Mercy of the Bartender
Few places have the premium consistency that Legume boasts, even as the menu changes daily. Every dish is on point, and the accompanying bar, Butterjoint, crafts intricate whistle wetters. Leaving the decision making to the professionals is easy with the Mercy of the Bartender cocktail option.

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Laura Zorch is a Pittsburgh writer who loves the crap out of cake. Follow her sweet tooth at eatpgh.com where she eats around town with her three pals.

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1. e2 5904 Bryant St, Pittsburgh, PA 15206 (Highland Park)

Happiness lives at this Highland Park eatery. This sweet BYOB spot packs folks in to about 10 tables to feast on hearty and heart-warming Italian-inspired meals. Don’t let this adorableness fool you, though, Chef Kate Romane is a badass in the kitchen and brings big, bold flavors to the table and designs easily the best brunch in town.

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2. The Commoner 458 Strawberry Way, Pittsburgh, PA 15219 (Central Business District)

Located within Downtown's Hotel Monaco, The Commoner gives an attention to American fare and cocktails that is less common than the name suggests. Comfort dishes are given an elegant treatment, as low dishes like mac & cheese get gussied up by higher brow ingredients like braised pork belly, fusilli, buttered breadcrumbs, smoked peas and brie cream. Even the humble cocktail names betray their more refined appeal: The Farmer's Son is garnished with flowers, and made up of a blend of gin, Pimm's, lemon sorbet, pickle brine and an IPA float -- hardly something a typical peasant farmhand would be sipping.

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3. Monterey Pub 1227 Monterey St, Pittsburgh, PA 15212 (Northside)

This is a Northside neighborhood treasure with a cozy bar and tiny booths that make you long to be a regular. The Irish fare, often marinated in Guinness, goes down easy. Tender, shredded Guinness beef is featured in several menu items, but is best served under a heap of mashed potatoes and cheese in the shepherd’s pie.

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4. Eden 735 Copeland St, Pittsburgh, PA 15232 (Shadyside)

This Shadyside spot may look casual and unassuming, but just wait until your meal arrives: the team here is whipping up some of those most visually interesting menus in the city, focusing on raw and vegan cuisine. We're talking cashew cheese pierogies, raw lasagna, and raw vegan sorbet -- all of them brimming with flavor and color. You may be hesitant to even stab your fork into some of these works of art, but trust us, you'll want to taste these inventive dishes. Gluten-free fans will feel right at home here, too.

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5. Gaucho Parilla Argentina 1607 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 (Strip District)

This Latin American steak joint in the Strip District serves up five cuts of beef in their bright, al fresco eatery. The restaurant exclusively offers counter service -- chefs call out customer's names as they line wood-fired steak, chicken, and fish dishes (including a build-your-own-paella entree) onto the food bar, and hungry guests are expected to seat themselves after placing their orders. The entrees are best paired with a classic rice and beans plate, grilled corn on the cob, or an order of the famous Gaucho Parilla empanadas. The place has a lax BYOB policy, plenty of communal seating, and a private sub-ground event space called The Bodega.

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6. Butcher and the Rye 212 6th St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 (Central Business District)

It's hard to miss Butcher and the Rye's emphasis once you enter: a huge two-story wall lined with some 600 whiskeys makes it very clear that this New American restaurant is mostly about the amber elixir. And people have noticed: the mixology program earned a James Beard Award semi-finalist assignation for two consecutive years. Oil lamps and antler chandeliers gesture to a rustic Americana past here, while a meat-heavy menu sings to carnivores, featuring dishes like dry-aged steaks, duck broth, bone marrow with oxtail jam, and smoked lamb neck with mint chimichurri. The spot's proximity to the theater district makes it an obvious pre- and post-show visit, and also served as a suitably dark cocktail den with a lineup that would impress even Holden Caulfield.

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7. Pusadee's Garden 5321 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201

Eats like fresh Thai spring rolls, pad Thai, and curry can be enjoyed in the lush outdoor garden, a retreat filled with vine-laden pergolas and fresh flowers, or in the cozy dining room on a cooler day.

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8. Emporio: A Meatball Joint 942 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

A menu of saucy balls. This is real life. Emporio hits all of the right notes with beef, chicken, turkey, and veggie balls complete with a variety of complementary sauces like "government cheese" and spinach-almond pesto.

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9. Smoke BBQ Taqueria 4115 Butler St, Lawrenceville, PA 15201 (Central Lawrenceville)

Whether it's an early brunch, a mid-day lunch, or a late-night snack you're coming for, the choice is made easy by Smoke's super simple menu. What they make up in lack of options they more than make up for in quality and flavor with predominately tacos and bbq sandwiches made with Australian wagyu beef, Berkshire pork, and Gerber chicken, slathered in mustard-y sauce and caramelized onions, unless you're coming at breakfast, in which case prepare for a tasty flood of runny egg yolk.

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10. Carmi Family Restaurant 917 Western Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15233 (Northside)

Falling asleep dreaming of chicken and waffles becomes a regular occurrence after a visit to Carmi. Crispy and juicy fried chicken rests next to a fluffy, buttered waffle -- heaven. Along with this enchanting duo, Carmi offers a variety of soul-satisfying soul food in a feels-like-home atmosphere. What’s dreamier than that?

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11. Cure 5336 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 (Upper Lawrenceville)

Chef Justin Severino presents a cure to your food ethics concerns at his hyper-local Mediterranean-leaning restaurant in Lawrenceville, where all of the meats come from ethically raised and butchered animals. True to the name, charcuterie is king here, and the epic salumi platter is reason enough to eat here. The rest of the menu is both meaty and thoughtful: beef tartare is spiked with pickled chili, oyster aioli, and black garlic; smoked lamb is tossed with ricotta cavatelli; and steak au poivre can be topped with foie gras. The stuffed boar heads overlooking Cure's country-casual dining room are almost as much of a red flag as the menu to any vegetarians who wander in.

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12. Legume 214 N Craig St, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

What was once a tiny BYOB in Regent Square went big-league when Legume reopened in Oakland, bigger and better. The 90-seat space (roughly three times larger than the original) has a New American menu with French and European influences that changes daily, in true bistro fashion. Diners can expect meals that traditionally blend seasonal vegetables with meat and fish: slow-cooked veal shoulder is rosemary sprinkled with red Russian kale and roasted potatoes while braised monkfish gets served with cranberry beans and pea shoots. Sharing plates can serve as appetizers, or accompany your bar fix, with a country-style pate made with duck, prosciutto, and pistachio as a must-order.