Best of Food & Drink | Pittsburgh City Paper

Best of Food & Drink

Dom Branduzzi, Piccolo Forno, best of
Photo by Heather Mull
Dom Branduzzi, owner of two-time Best of Winner Piccolo Forno

Best New Restaurant (*as of August 2012)

3615 Butler St., Lawrenceville
412-586-7722 or

For anyone worried that Lawrenceville is inevitably destined for hipster preciousness, Matteo's is able to serve up a retort. A sophisticated but unpretentious wine list, familiar cuts of meat and classic pasta preparations — when done by owner Matthew Cavanaugh, these things haven't gone out of fashion. And it seems City Paper readers hope they never will.   

2nd: Tender Bar + Kitchen, Lawrenceville
3rd: Noodlehead, Shadyside

Best BYOB Dining

Piccolo Forno
3801 Butler St., Lawrenceville.
412-622-0111 or

Hearty pasta dishes, wood-fired-oven pizza, a zesty salad — what goes great with these classic Italian dishes? The right wine, of course! The days of home-style Italian food being paired with a bottle of chianti wrapped in straw are long gone. When dining at Piccolo Forno, bring your appetite and the perfect wine. It may even be a chianti.

2nd: Pusadee's Garden, Lawrenceville
3rd: Nicky's Thai Kitchen, North Side and Downtown

Best Outdoor Dining

Pusadee's Garden
5321 Butler St., Lawrenceville
412-781-8724 or

This Thai restaurant isn't called a garden for nothing. Vines sprawl on the pergola overhead in the expansive outdoor seating area, with herbs and vegetables used in the kitchen growing just a few feet away: You don't get much more locally sourced than that. And when the sun goes down, outdoor lighting makes this garden doubly enchanted.

2nd: Double Wide Grill, South Side and Mars
3rd: Round Corner Cantina, Lawrenceville

Best Chef

Kevin Sousa, multiple locations

There are more local household-name chefs now than five years ago, but Kevin Sousa is still foremost. The innovator who first brought stuff like molecular gastronomy continues to do things his way, running his flagship Salt of the Earth while opening Union Pig and Chicken, cocktail bar Harvard and Highland, and Station Street Hot Dogs, all in East Liberty.

2nd: Justin Severino, Cure (Lawrenceville)
3rd: Matt Cavanaugh, Matteo's (Lawrenceville)

Best Bakery

Oakmont Bakery
531 Allegheny Ave., Oakmont
412-826-1606 or

Pittsburgh has no shortage of neighborhood bakeries, but Oakmont Bakery is a destination for customers well outside the Allegheny Valley — especially during Lent, when its famed paczki are on offer. But all year round, its seemingly endless display cases offer a dizzying array of cakes, pastries, breads, cookies ... basically almost everything you've ever wanted, but knew you probably shouldn't have.

2nd: La Gourmandine Bakery, Lawrenceville
3rd: Prantl's Bakery, Shadyside and Downtown

Best Bread

Mancini's Bakery
Multiple locations,

Ask any Pittsburgher with roots what their favorite bread is, and the answer you'll get more than any other is Mancini's. It's the bread on our world-famous Primanti Bros. sandwiches. It's the best bread to sop up the last of the pasta sauce from the plate. And it's the bread we're willing to stand in any size line for.

2nd: Breadworks, North Side
3rd: Allegro Hearth Bakery, Squirrel Hill

Best All-Day Breakfast

Pamela's Diner
Multiple locations,

Pamela's serves just about everything on a respectable breakfast menu: omelets oozing with savory fillings like corned beef and Swiss or feta and spinach; French toast; and unique fare like chorizo patties and Lyonnaise potatoes. They even have a "morning after" special. But the diner is known for its crepe-like thin hotcakes that are pillowy, buttery discs with crispy edges.

2nd: Eat'n Park, multiple locations
3rd: Ritter's Diner, Bloomfield

Best Sunday Brunch

Grand Concourse
100 W. Station Square Drive, South Side
412-261-1717 or

The Sunday Brunch at this converted Pittsburgh and Erie Railroad Station in the South Side's Station Square has long been a favorite of both locals and out-of-towners. The elegance of the restaurant's interior is matched by the upscale buffet fare. Typical breakfast food is elevated and complemented by entrees like prime rib, salmon Rockefeller and roast pork with apple chutney.

2nd: Meat and Potatoes, Downtown
3rd: Coca Café, Lawrenceville

Best Business Lunch

The Capital Grille
301 Fifth Ave., Downtown
412-338-9100 or

For decades, Downtown Pittsburgh is where business titans have carved up the region's economy like it was a fine steak ... and vice versa. The Capital Grille, famous for its own dry-aged beef and fine dining, carries on that tradition. For particularly complicated deals, it offers private dining facilities whose creature comforts would satisfy a robber baron, and whose networking technology would impress a Silicon Valley venture capitalist.

2nd: Six Penn Kitchen, Downtown
3rd: NOLA on the Square, Downtown

Best Indian Restaurant

Taj Mahal
7795 McKnight Road, North Hills
412-364-1760 or

There's a lengthy menu of northern and southern Indian entrees, side dishes and appetizers, and desserts. Besides chicken, there is lamb, goat, fish and even beef. But rather than choose, why not partake of the Taj Mahal's extensive buffets, held every day? Try something new — or simply fill up, over and over, on your favorites.

2nd: Tamarind, multiple locations
3rd: People's Indian, Garfield

Best Japanese Restaurant

Nakama Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar
1611 E. Carson St., South Side
412-381-6000 or

The art of hibachi has taken off in Pittsburgh, thanks in no small part to Nakama. Diners sit grill-side as chefs prepare shrimp, chicken and delicacies like Kobe beef and chateaubriand. Also on the menu is a selection of sake, noodles and starters. If you want to avoid the show, you can order the full menu at tables by the bar.

2nd: Little Tokyo, South Side and Mount Lebanon
3rd: Fukuda, Bloomfield

Best Italian Restaurant

Piccolo Forno
3801 Butler St., Lawrenceville
412-622-0111 or

When the weather turns chilly, one's stomach naturally gravitates toward hearty carbohydrates. Consider this cozy spot along the popular Butler Street corridor. While gently warmed by the wood-fired pizza oven, fortify yourself with cavatelli and sausage, baked rigatoni, lasagna, risotto or perhaps one of the many pizza and panini options.

2nd: Il Pizzaiolo, Mount Lebanon and Downtown
3rd: Girasole, Shadyside

Best Thai Restaurant

Nicky's Thai Kitchen
856 Western Ave., North Side (412-321-8424)
903 Penn Ave., Downtown (412-471-8424)

Nicky's Thai Kitchen in the North Side has long been a favorite, thanks to the homey atmosphere and Eden-like outdoor seating. But the new Downtown location offers its own charms. Away from the bustle of the street, it's the perfect spot for a lunchtime escape. And, with a selection of tempting happy-hour specials, it's a great place to stop by after work.

2nd: Thai Cuisine, Bloomfield
3rd: Thai Me Up, South Side

Best Chinese Restaurant

Sesame Inn
Multiple locations,

A perennial winner in this category, Sesame Inn offers Chinese cuisine at four area locations. (Three locations also serve sushi.) Satisfy your taste for popular dishes such as kung pao chicken and Sichuan beef, or take a flutter on a whole Peking duck. Best advice: Take a group, and share the dishes family-style.

2nd: Wai Wai, Bloomfield
3rd: China Palace, Shadyside

Best French Restaurant

Paris 66
6018 Penn Circle South, East Liberty
412-404-8166 or

Owners Lori and Frederic Rongier have been cooking up what they call "everyday French cuisine" from family recipes since opening in 2009. The bistro-style restaurant makes French food accessible with favorites like quiche, croques, galletes and crêpes, as well as wonderful soups. The restaurant also offers up a fantastic Sunday brunch menu ... and there's nothing like waking up with crêpes.

2nd: Bridge Ten Brasserie, South Side
3rd: N/A

Best Middle-Eastern Restaurant

Aladdin's Eatery
Multiple locations,

Whether you're meeting a health-conscious friend for lunch, or taking the whole family out for dinner — picky eaters, vegetarians, adventurers and confirmed carnivores included — Aladdin's Eatery has something for everyone. The vast menu of Lebanese-American fare includes both the traditional and unconventional. And once you glimpse the impressive cake selection, you'll want to save some room for dessert.

2nd: Ali Baba, Oakland
3rd: Kassab's, South Side

Best Mexican/Latin American Restaurant

Mad Mex
Multiple locations,

When it comes to Cal-Mex cuisine, Mad Mex happily flouts convention. Culinary inspiration is found all over the globe — unusual menu choices range from the Thai Curry Burrito to its popular Gobblerito, a.k.a. Thanksgiving dinner in a tortilla. Margaritas — including the happy-hour favorite, the 22-ounce Big Azz Margarita — are available in both traditional and seasonal flavors.

2nd: Emiliano's Mexican Restaurant, multiple locations
3rd: El Campesino, multiple locations

Best Contemporary American Restaurant

Salt of the Earth
5523 Penn Ave., Garfield.
412-441-7258 or

You never quite know what you'll get: The seasonal menu is always in flux (fall means squash and heartier fare), and its chefs keep dreaming up new combinations, such as a corn dessert with peach, basil and popcorn. Add Ramen Sundays, Oyster Tuesdays, a lively cocktail menu, late-night hours, and it's always worth a stop.

2nd: Eleven, Strip District
3rd: Meat and Potatoes, Downtown

Best Vegan or Vegetarian Restaurant

Quiet Storm
5430 Penn Ave., Friendship
412-661-9355 or

For the last 12 years, the Quiet Storm has been the city's go-to spot for vegan and vegetarian comfort food: Few things are cozier than nestling in with an order of Hangover Hash and a coffee. Sunday, Oct. 27, is your last chance to hit up the Penn Avenue spot — keep an eye out for a new location, currently in the works.

2nd: The Zenith, South Side
3rd: Eden, Shadyside

Best Cheap Eats

Eat'n Park
Multiple locations,

Eat'n Park bills itself as "the place for smiles" and is home to the iconic Smiley cookie. It's also the place you can get an enormous salad bar that, depending on the time of day (or night), is stuffed with breakfast or a plethora of soup, salad and home-made bakery items, for under $10. There's a huge menu of fresh-baked pies, all for $1.99 a slice.

2nd: Primanti Bros., multiple locations
3rd: Franktuary, Downtown and Lawrenceville

Best Steakhouse

The Capital Grille
301 Fifth Ave., Downtown.
412-338-9100 or

If you're going to get a steak dinner, why not indulge in a top-notch one? The steaks here have been dry-aged and butchered in house, and come in a variety of tantalizing preparations: coffee-rubbed sirloin, Delmonico with a porcini-mushroom crust and, of course, the classic indulgence: surf-and-turf (lobster tail and tenderloin).

2nd: Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse, North Side
3rd: Morton's The Steakhouse, Downtown

Best Seafood

Monterey Bay Fish Grotto
1411 Grandview Ave.,
Mount Washington

146 Mall Circle Drive,

Eat more fish, the doctors advise us, and it's hard not to at this Pittsburgh institution devoted to serving fresh fish in a variety of preparations. The Mount Washington location has the stunning views of The Point, but the parking is easier in Monroeville. Either way, come for the fish.

2nd: Penn Avenue Fish Company, Strip District and Downtown
3rd: Luke Wholey's Wild Alaskan Grille, Strip District

Best Sushi

Nakama Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar
1611 E. Carson St., South Side
412-381-6000 or

Nakama is best known for its hibachi-style dining. But it also offers a comprehensive sushi selection — from traditional rolls to dishes like tuna sashimi with red onion, celery, jalapeno and yuzu soy. In addition to its South Side location, Nakama offers a pared-down menu via its mobile food truck and outposts at the Consol Energy Center and PNC Park.

2nd: Little Tokyo, South Side and Mount Lebanon
3rd: Umi, Shadyside

Best Pierogies

Pierogies Plus
342 Island Ave.,
McKees Rocks

412-331-2224 or

Do you dream of little pillows of pasta and potato? Pierogies Plus has you covered with an array of traditionally prepared 'rogies: Hot sausage, sauerkraut and potato are just a couple of the flavors available daily in the McKees Rocks store. The selection available for special orders is even more impressive, including various meats, vegetables and even fruit.

2nd: Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, Bloomfield
3rd: Church Brew Works, Lawrenceville

Best Burger

932 Freeport Road,
Waterworks Mall

300 McHolme Drive,

In Catholic doctrine, "purgatory" is where souls go to be purified. But why go through all that on an empty stomach? Burger options include hormone-free beef, elk, crab and bison, with dozens of topping options. And it would take a whole hymnal to sing the praises of the milkshakes, both hard and soft.

2nd: BRGR, East Liberty and Cranberry
3rd: Tessaro's, Bloomfield

Best Pizza

Mineo's Pizza House
2128 Murray Ave.
Squirrel Hill

713A Washington Roa
Mount Lebanon

Americans seem sharply divided over almost everything nowadays: Even arguments about pizza can lead to an exchange of blows, or the shutting-down of national parks. Yet at times, a consensus emerges: Mineo's, established in 1958 and still family-owned, has won this category four of the past five years. With all due respect to partisans on the other side, the people have spoken.

2nd: Fiori's, Beechview
3rd: Pizza Sola, multiple locations

Best Wings

Quaker Steak & Lube

Sport-eaters no doubt love the challenge implicit in this regionally founded restaurant chain's Triple Atomic Wings, advertised as "Guts, Glory, Pain!" But even descending the heat scale on this gas-station-themed outlet's menu, there's plenty to choose from. Quaker Steak has 21-plus kinds of wing, including Buckeye Barbecue, Golden Garlic, Dusted Mango Habanero and Dusted Tex Mex Ranch.

2nd: Big Shot Bob's House of Wings, Avalon and Coraopolis.
3rd: Fat Heads Saloon, South Side

Best Late-Night Menu

Eat'n Park
Multiple locations,

After a night on the town, how about a Basket of Loaded Fries (bacon bits, cheddar sauce, southwest seasoning)? This venerable regional chain — boasting at least one all-night outlet within a few miles of most Pittsburgh communities — rounds out its Midnight Menu with full breakfast options, 20 different burgers and sandwiches, dinner and salad choices ... and, of course, dessert.

2nd: Mad Mex, multiple locations
3rd: Primanti Bros., multiple locations

Best Coffeehouse

Crazy Mocha
Multiple locations,

If there's one thing Crazy Mocha has going for it, it's options. There are now more than 30 locations spread across the Greater Pittsburgh area. The menu also offers a variety of beverage choices: Whether you want just a regular cup of coffee, a chai tea latte or a frozen hot chocolate, this local chain has got you covered.

2nd: Espresso a Mano, Lawrenceville
3rd: Beehive Coffeehouse & Dessertery, South Side

Best Frozen Treats

Razzy Fresh
Multiple locations,

The flagship location of this build-your-own-frozen-yogurt shop is on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill, though there are a couple of outposts in Oakland as well. The key to success in the fro-yo business is toppings, and Razzy has plenty — from candy for the truly decadent to fresh fruit for those of us pretending we're eating healthfully.

2nd: Dave and Andy's, Oakland
3rd: Oh Yeah! Ice Cream & Coffee, Shadyside

Best Desserts

La Gourmandine Bakery
4605 Butler St., Lawrenceville
412-682-2210 or

This exquisite and competitively priced French bakery is a Butler Street gem. Opened three years ago by French-born Fabien Moreau, the shop does feature baguettes and the like, but the big draw is the sweets. Eclairs! Pain au chocolat! Tarts that are to die for! Why are you still reading this instead of running to Lawrenceville?!

2nd: Dozen Bake Shop, Lawrenceville
3rd: Vanilla Pastry Studio, Regent Square

Best Local Beer

East End Brewing Company
147 Julius St., Larimer
412-537-BEER or

Late last year, East End Brewing Company left behind the "wobbly bar" and "cramped quarters" of its Homewood location for a space in Larimer. Consider this a reminder to check out the new digs, and fill a growler with one of its tasty year-round or seasonal beers. Or swing by its shop at the (also) newly located Pittsburgh Public Market.

2nd: Church Brew Works, Lawrenceville
3rd: Penn Brewery, North Side

Best Restaurant Beer List

Sharp Edge
Multiple locations,

From vanilla Java porters to Belgian pale ales, from Pilsner Urquell to Southern Tier Pumking, the international selection at Sharp Edge's five locations is both well chosen and pages long. But while each of its five locations has dozens of varieties on tap, Sharp Edge's specialty remains those variously hearty, sweet and spicy Belgian brews beloved of enthusiasts everywhere.

2nd: Fat Heads Saloon, South Side
3rd: D's SixPax & Dogz, Regent Square

Best Restaurant Wine List

Sonoma Grille
947 Penn Ave., Downtown
412-697-1336 or

You'll find more than 1,000 wines on the list here, scores of which are available by the glass. Sound daunting? Relax. The staff are friendly, the vibe upscale but welcoming, befitting a California-themed restaurant where the emphasis is on West Coast wineries. And with happy-hour specials, wine flights and tasting pours — not to mention monthly tasting parties — the barrier to entry is low.

2nd: Toast! Kitchen and Wine Bar, Bloomfield
3rd: Eleven, Strip District

Best Food Truck

PGH Taco Truck

This food truck began in 2010 as an online idea by food blogger James Rich. In January, Rich began serving both traditional and creative takes on tacos from his food truck that is located primarily at the Coffee Buddha in the North Hills. It's worth the drive, even if you spend the trip cursing the citywide, food-truck-unfriendly regulations forcing you to make it.

2nd: Franktuary,
3rd: BRGR,

Best Juice/Smoothie Bar

Embody Natural Health
5400 Butler St., Lawrenceville
412-477-0767 or

Smoothies are just a small (but tasty) part of this recent Upper Lawrenceville addition. It's also a gathering spot for holistic-health types, with yoga classes, talks on alternative medicine and supplies like chia seeds. The smoothies and juice blends, many studded with greens like kale, are named for the tendencies they're meant to bring out, such as focus.

2nd: East End Food Co-Op, Point Breeze
3rd: Eden, Shadyside

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