Pittsburgh’s food renaissance has continued through 2015 with stand-out restaurants and bars from both established chefs and welcome newcomers. Key innovations from the past year include new recipes for artisan dough, a coffee shop/art gallery hybrid, and a cocktail menu made of vintage office supplies. Several spots have emerged from vacant or unused buildings (take that, urban sprawl!), a testament to the city’s rebirth and growth. We’ve honed in on 11 best-of Pittsburgh categories to highlight new additions to the city.
Best new restaurant (overall)
MorcillaAddress and Info
Despite opening in the last few weeks of 2015, this highly anticipated Spanish tapas restaurant from James Beard Award-nominated chef Justin Severino (Cure) has wowed diners with its ample selection of cured meats. Aside from the signature charcuterie, the menu offers pintxos (snacks), seafood tapas, sandwiches, family-style dishes, and a twisted churro dessert with mugs of hazelnut chocolate and cinnamon cream.
Best new bar (overall)
SpiritAddress and Info
With its expansive disco ball-adorned dance floor, cheap PBRs, and an in-house pizza shop, this Moose Lodge-turned-bar has quickly won hearts in Lawrenceville. Themed events are hosted regularly from Divas Night to punk shows to the popular “In Bed By Ten” dance party series (for all you dancy party dads out there).
Best new brewery
Voodoo BreweryAddress and Info
There’s something for every beer drinker at Voodoo Brewery’s new location, from the hoppy “Good Vibes” to the malty “Big Brown Ale.” The spray-painted murals and chalk drawings on the ceiling of this former municipal building are part of the aesthetic charm. Voodoo is just outside the city limits, but it’s so close and so good that it’s worth the trip across the Homestead Grays Bridge.
Best new beer bar
BiergartenAddress and Info
On the roof of the freshly minted Hotel Monaco, Biergarten’s outdoor space was quickly touted as a summertime favorite. The patio’s long picnic tables were full all season (when it was sunny, anyway). The Belgian and German beers are the main attraction, of course, but it’s hard to ignore the waitstaff walking around with hot pretzels big enough to share with the whole table and people cheering (maturely) over oversized patio games.
Best new cocktail bar
Butcher and the RyeAddress and Info
Butcher and the Rye’s cocktail program achieved all-star status long ago, but this year’s fall/winter menu outdid itself. The 38-cocktail menu is alphabetized and presented in a Bates address book, a sleek vintage relic that appears as if plucked from Don Draper’s desk. A few standouts from the menu: "Conqueror’s Ruin" with a surprise garam masala syrup; "Joy of Landing," which is the legit version of an apple martini; and "European Songs," a mix of gin and Champagne, chilled with lemon sorbet ice cubes.
Best new drink
Grapperia’s “LaVanda”Address and Info
Until this year, grappa was tough to find in Pittsburgh, even as an aperitif in Italian restaurants. But Grapperia made the stiff, grape-based liquor more accessible by mixing it into cocktails. The best is a not-too-sweet, not-too-potent drink called "LaVanda," a mix of lavender-infused grappa, green pepper honey, and lemon juice.
Best new pizza
Bread and SaltAddress and Info
The pizza at Bread and Salt is unlike any other in the city. Not only is it the best new pizza in 2015, it might just be the best in Pittsburgh -- period. This Roman-style (raised dough in long, rectangular shapes) gourmet pizza is sold by the pound, measured out based on each customer’s order and snipped into slices with a large pair of scissors. No matter the toppings: from the more traditional to the unusual, it’s the airy dough that makes this slice so otherworldly.
Best new barbecue joint
Smoq PittAddress and Info
At Smoq Pitt, meats are smoked for more than 20 hours, sealing in an authentic smoky flavor and guaranteeing tenderness. The Sam & Erna sandwich, a mix of pulled pork and brisket, became a classic this year. The punchy sauces are made in-house from meat stock, but the meats don’t need the dressing to be delicious; they stand on their own.
Best new first date spot
4121 MainAddress and Info
Equal parts floral shop, coffee bar, and art gallery, this bright, relaxed new spot in Bloomfield embraces the right vibe for a first date. The high-quality coffee is sourced from Heart Roasters in Portland, OR, and the ambiance is made for talking, not hiding behind laptop screens. But if the first date doesn’t go well, there are plenty of opportunities for #latteart Instagrams to break the awkward silence.
Best new taco
TäkōAddress and Info
Täkō somehow achieves a surf shack vibe in the heart of the city’s Cultural District. The namesake is the Täkō taco -- for you sushi people, you’ll recognize this as grilled octopus. If that’s a little too adventurous for your palate, there are plenty of other margarita-friendly options, like Korean-style Waygu short rib, roasted mushroom, and grilled chicken. Definitely try the Yellow Jacket, a tequila and liquer drink made with lemon and charred yellow pepper.
Best new brunch
The CommonerAddress and Info
There’s so much to love on The Commoner’s menu. Let’s start with the expansive DIY Bloody Mary bar with options for vodka, plus all the fixings -- pickled veggies, hot sauces, hard-boiled eggs, mini grilled cheese sandwiches, sausages, olives, and celery. Then, there’s the pub toast: a dense Irish soda bread French toast topped with chantilly cream and whiskey barrel-aged maple syrup. Talk about a decadent brunch.
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Rossilynne Culgan is a Pittsburgh native who hopes her future home will look like the interior of 4121 Main, preferably including a Spirit Duette espresso machine. Follow her #HouseGoals: @rossilynne.
1. Morcilla3519 Butler St, Pittsburgh
2. Spirit242 51st St, Pittsburgh
3. Voodoo Homestead205 E 9th Ave, Homestead
4. Biergarten620 William Penn Pl, Pittsburgh
5. Grapperia3801 Butler St Rear, Pittsburgh
6. Bread and Salt330 Pearl At, Pittsburgh
7. SMOQ PITT BBQ600 Brookline Blvd, Pittsburgh
8. 4121 Main4121 Main St, Pittsburgh
9. täkō214 6th St, Pittsburgh
10. The Commoner458 Strawberry Way, Pittsburgh
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.
Crispy, thin-crust, square-cut pizza meets Pennsylvania booze -- it's a love story to end all others. That's what happens every night at Spirit, a spot on the upper West corner of Allegheny Arsenal that tricks everyday passerby with its outer abandoned warehouse look. Those in the know, however, regularly flock here for the simple Slice Island pies and glass after glass after glass of craft beer, wine, and cocktails alongside some live indie music in '70s-prom kind of dance hall or out on the back patio.
There’s something that feels so forbidden about drinking in a former police station and firehouse. VooDoo Brewery’s taproom features a great selection of craft beer, from lagers to IPAs with names like HooBoo IPA, Cowbell Oatmeal Stout, and the Voodoo Love Child Belgian Ale. There are long farm tables and small round high tops for for all sized groups. Grab a boardgames from the stack and stay a while (throwback to the Pre-App Stone Age).
Biergarten at the Hotel Monaco features an exhaustive list of European beer, like bottled German favorites the Spaten Optimator doppelbock, the Weihenstephaner hefeweizen, and the Spaten marzen, and Belgian Trappist ales and sours. German-inspired bar bites range from house-made currywurst and sauerbraten to giant pretzels and a full array of pickles. And if you think the highlight of the evening will be trying to pronounce all of this German after a few drinks, try your hand at any of Biergarten’s pub games, like Jenga, garden chess, and super-sized Connect Four, and see how long you can last.
Grapperia in Lawrenceville is extremely true to its name, as it focuses on grappa. Grappa is an Italian brandy made from the skin of grapes used in winemaking -- and it packs a punch. This Italian bar centers around the liqueur and also offers other Italian beverages, including amari, limoncello, and grappa cocktails like the LaVanda -- lavender-infused grappa, green pepper honey, and lemon juice.
Bread and Salt Bakery is already amassing long lines at its Bloomfield shop. Long, rectangular pizzas -- some are classic tomato-and-mozzarella rendition, others are tasty experiments with leeks and herbs -- sit on display in the bakery’s entryway. Customers can point to their choice and measure out how much they’d like. Yes, pizza is sold by the pound, and with the pizza’s airy dough and fresh ingredients, it’d be easy to gain several pounds here.
SMOQ PITT has some truly incredible barbecue. Owner and pitmaster Mitch Liebovich has been perfecting his brisket since childhood. He applies a sugar rub to the brisket, which is then cooked in a giant smoker over logs for 20 hours. The mac and cheese with gouda, monterey jack and sharp cheddar is also incredible.
Nestled in a small 1920s house in the center of Pittsburgh, 4121 Main is an actual Pinterest board come to life. Part art gallery, part florist and part coffee shop, this rustic-chic space is host to craft coffee drinks, which they've sourced from Heart Coffee Roasters (all the way from Portland) and brewed with artful machines imported from Holland. All about aesthetic, this place for the visual folk, who'll enjoy the specifically curated art selections and floral arrangements dotting the walls and shelves.
Think you know tacos? You haven't tried the Asian-Mexican fusion versions coming out of täkō, serving up modern street food with a global bent. The namesake octopus (täkō is octopus in Japanese) is the must-order: coming grilled and folded into a tortilla adorned with harissa aioli, preserved lemon, greens, and pickled onion. The lineup ranges from unexpected to familiar, with a Korean-inspired taco (with Wagyu short rib, peanuts, and fermented cucumber) balanced by more safe Mexican choices like chorizo or carnitas. Whatever you do, try one of the eight margaritas, which can be spiked with lychee & pepper or sweetened with Thai coconut milk.
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.