If 2020 was a shock and 2021 a scramble, 2022 marked the start of a slow rebuild for Pittsburgh restaurants.
I noticed two distinct trends among the crop of this year’s best openings: the rise of fast-casual restaurants with concise, well-executed menus and the proliferation of international offerings that speak from the culinary hearts of their owners.
Fast-casual restaurants, the kind of place where you order from a cashier or, in a nod to the modern world, your smartphone, and someone drops your order off at the table aren’t a novel idea but, now that some of Pittsburgh’s largest restaurant groups and most experienced chefs are getting into the groove, they’ve become places for a quick, quality meal in spaces with good design and smart staffing.
Among those international offerings are an elegant-yet-boisterous dim sum parlor from an energetic Pittsburgh restaurateur, the region’s first Honduran restaurant and a brick-and-mortar home for a Trinidadian food stand (that one, also a rare highlight for plant-based dining in a year that saw many of Pittsburgh’s vegan restaurants close). The icing on the cake was the expansion of one of Pittsburgh’s most lauded Sichuan restaurants to a larger location in the North Hills.
Similar to last year, comfort food prepared with quality ingredients, many of which come from local farms and pastures, is continuing to take center stage over tweezers and molecular gastronomy techniques in a nod to the idea that simpler can be better. It’s not to say there isn’t ambition out there — it’s just that that drive is geared toward pushing forward flavor rather than expanding boundaries.
These are the Best New Restaurants of 2022, presented in the order that they opened.
Pittsburgh’s big Burrito Restaurant Group has a nearly 30-year record of opening crowd-pleasing restaurants such as Casbah (1995) and Eleven Contemporary Kitchen (2004). In March, big Burrito launched its latest hit: Alta Via Pizzeria, a spin-off of its excellent O’Hara restaurant, Alta Via. As the name suggests, the spotlight here is on pizza. But there’s much more to the establishment than a mighty fine pie.
There are two base permutations of pizza at AVP — a round pie in the contemporary American baker’s style (think New York style meets boulangerie) and a square pan pie that’s sort of a fusion of Detroit and Grandma styles. The crisp-crusted round, with the right amount of leathery tug and eggshell cornichon, is the better of the two, though fans of thicker-crusted pizzas will undoubtedly enjoy the well-made square pies, too. Both are offered with specialty toppings ranging from wildly indulgent Mad Mex Wing-O to seasonal vegetables. I dig a lot of those, but often find myself drawn to the straightforwardness of an original round, where a hint of fresh oregano brings a welcome herbaceous pop to an exceptional cheese pie.
Don’t stop at the pizza, however. AVP’s menu highlights many of its parent’s excellent vegetable dishes, including lemony artichokes, bitter broccolini and earthy grilled cauliflower. Likewise, the salads are well-built, as is the AVP burger, one of the better smashburgers in Pittsburgh. I like to finish with a soft-serve gelato — neighboring new-open Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams might be buzzy, but I’d encourage you to stay local for a swirl if you’re going to add a sweet treat to end your meal.
Although AVP’s vibe is casual, it’s a full-service restaurant (complete with an ace bar program). Service here is smart, enthusiastic and engaged — so much so that the young staff gives me hope for a front-of-house revival in Pittsburgh restaurants in years to come.
6425 Penn Ave., Larimer; altaviapizzeria.com
Ulric Joseph and Jennie Canning opened Pittsburgh’s first standalone Trinidadian restaurant in April following three years of selling meals on the city’s farmers market circuit.
Joseph left Trinidad & Tobago when he was 24 and built a notable career as an artist and professor prior to exploring a vegan take on the Caribbean nation’s cuisine. Trinidadian food is a genuine fusion cuisine drawing influences from the centuries-long merger of the foodways of enslaved and free Africans, a large Indian population (who originally came to the island as indentured labor), European colonial powers, Chinese migrants and some indigenous ingredients.
On Saturdays and Sundays, Joseph offers doubles, Trinidad’s celebrated breakfast and street food dish that comes with two pieces of barra (a turmeric-spiced flatbread), seasoned chickpeas and a variety of chutneys, all of which are house-made at ShadoBeni. Those doubles were very good when served at the farmers markets and have leveled up now that the barras are made fresh every day they’re served. Be on the lookout for weekend specials such as a crunchy, vibrant sandwich made with locally foraged hen of the wood mushrooms.
My favorite option on the daily menu is dhal puri roti, a chewy flatbread prepared with a layer of seasoned split peas to which you add items such as okra, pumpkin, curried chickpeas and stewed soya, plus a selection of those special sauces. You can also get this — minus the roti — as a rice bowl. Rounding out the menu are sides and salads such as pineapple chow, chunks of pineapple mixed with the signature Trinidadian herb shado beni (aka chadon beni and culantro), which has a flavor a little more pronounced than its cousin cilantro.
Don’t skip the smoothies and punches. My favorite is the one made with sea moss, a high-fiber superfood rich with the thickening agent carrageenan, which is the star of a full-bodied shake flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg.
The 12-seat restaurant is cozy, with Joseph’s artwork on display in the form of a large mural he painted of one of his favorite spots in Trinidad (complete with some of the vegetables and herbs you’ll find on the menu). I appreciate that sustainability is at the forefront at ShadoBeni, too, with a commitment to minimal waste throughout the process and a partnership with Worm Return for composting.
1534 Brighton Road, North Side; shadobeni412.com
If someone made a “Less is More” poster series for locally owned fast-casual eateries, Field Day, which opened in June in Lawrenceville, could be the cover image. The all-day cafe on the ground floor of the similarly named co-working and lifestyle space is one of my new go-to spots for thoughtfully constructed sandwiches.
Joey Hilty, co-owner of nearby The Vandal, is Field Day’s managing partner and the curator of the eatery’s menu. Four to six sandwiches are typically offered at any given time, all paired with the right type of Mediterra Bakehouse bread for the specific build. Despite the limited selection, those offerings range from light and uplifting turkey club with avocado and green goddess aioli to smash-this-in-your-face rotisserie chicken with Beemster cheese, bacon and coffee jam and roasted tomatoes, meaning there’s always something to fit your mood. Spanish tuna, built with salsa verde, morcilla peppers, olives, capers, soft-boiled egg and olive oil, hits that middle sweet spot, both indulgent and uplifting.
You’ll also find a handful of marvelous salads and breakfast options to fuel you for the rest of the day. Some of those salads, such as a kale bowl with soft-boiled egg, avocado, shaved vegetables and feta work as a meal, and all are perfect for sharing with a pal if you want to split a sandwich (or two). Field Day also has a few terrific breakfast items including ricotta toast and steel-cut oats, an outstanding coffee program and a cooler stocked with some enticing non-alcoholic drinks.
The modernist-minimal space is sleek enough to feel like you’re hip to what’s cool, yet it’s comfortable enough that you’ll want to spend some time having a conversation or reading a book while you’re visiting. (Seating, however, is more limited than it should be considering the size of the venue.)
3706 Butler St., Lawrenceville; fieldday.life
Richard DeShantz has demonstrated a knack for hitting the nail on the head of what’s right for the moment ever since he opened Meat & Potatoes in 2011. Hot on the heels of a smash with its 2021 launch of gi-jin, the forward-charging Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group was at it again this year with another Downtown crowd-pleaser: Sally Ann’s, which opened on the budding Sixth Street restaurant row in June.
Sally Ann’s is the prototypical fast-casual restaurant of the era. Guests order from a wide-ranging menu at a kiosk, at the bar or with a QR code on their phone, and dishes are then delivered to your table. The space, which formerly housed DeShantz’s Pork & Beans, is breezy with a pastel color palette, plenty of comfortable indoor and outdoor seating, lots of outlets for people who want to work while they eat, and even arcade games for those who want to play.
The restaurant is geared to daytime customers (the restaurant had extended hours over the summer but currently closes at 3 p.m.), who can start the day with a plate of “boujee” hash browns with a soft-boiled egg, trout roe, creme fraiche and chives, or a bowl of golden oats pudding with chia, coconut milk, poached pear and candied nuts. Lunch brings comfort food in the form of the best Turkey Devonshire in Pittsburgh, a pot roast melt and truffled macaroni and cheese. While there are fewer lighter and vegetarian options than on earlier menus, the corned celeriac veggie melt and Mediterranean bowl are excellent choices.
As is typical with DeShantz’s restaurants, the beverage program, from coffee to cocktail, is excellent.
136 Sixth St., Downtown; sallyannspgh.com
Feng Gao and Fenping Geng, the husband and wife chefs/owners of Amazing Dumplings, found their culinary voices when they rebranded their Squirrel Hill restaurant as Amazing Dumplings in July. They took what worked during a 15-year run as Sakura Teppanyaki and Sushi, expanded the scratch-made dumplings and noodle offerings, and cut what once was a menu so lengthy it could prove to be challenging to find the best bites (which for the past few years have been quite extraordinary). Now that it’s streamlined, Amazing Dumplings is Pittsburgh's go-to spot for dishes from northern China’s Shaanxi, Ningxia and Heilongjiang provinces.
As you’ll gather from the name, dumplings are at the menu’s core. There will be 10 to 15 varieties at any given time. Some of my favorites are pork with lotus root, pork with pickled sour cabbage, Kung Pao chicken (which Geng says is all the rage in China now) and rainbow vegetable dumplings.
Geng is constantly experimenting with new stuffing permutations, so be on the lookout for any specials. She’s also gotten deep into making natural vegetable dyes, and the vivid, sometimes museum-worthy artistry of her dumpling skins are a draw unto themselves. The style of plating here is typical of a homestyle dumpling house, so don’t expect a lot of fancy garnishes (though Geng might add a whimsical touch such as a tomato-capped quail egg meant to resemble a mushroom and she has a flair for the fanciful with her cold salads). Just grab them from the plate, dip ’em in some vinegar and chili crisp and go at it.
As good as the dumplings are, the hand-pulled noodles might even be better. They’re Gao’s specialty and they sit at the top peak of noodledom in Pittsburgh. Go for hot-oil noodles with tomato and egg or beef, and make room for an order of spicy chopped peppers biang biang wide noodles. Minced lamb soup, a spicy, homestyle Xi’an specialty, is a welcome menu addition for the cold months.
5882 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill
Ever Castillo and Elizabeth Bastillo opened Five Star Honduras Restaurant in August. The restaurant is the first in the region to offer a menu focused entirely on Honduran cuisine. (There are a few other locations, such as the terrific La Cocina de Betty in Beechview, that offer Honduran dishes as part of a lengthier menu.) Every time I’ve visited Five Star, it’s been hopping with customers eagerly digging into the breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes prepared by Castillo and Bastillo.
Baleadas are a signature street food of Honduras. Even though they’re typically served for breakfast, you can get them any time of day at Five Star Honduras, and you should. The flour tortillas are prepared in-house (house-made flour tortillas are another rarity in Pittsburgh) with a nice tug to the bite and a touch of crispness on the edges. For the baleadas, they’re stuffed with refried red beans, scrambled eggs, queso fresco, avocado and crema.
You can also get lunch and dinner dishes any time of the day. I like the carne asada tipica platter, which comes with juicy grilled skirt steak, short rib and chorizo alongside tender beans, chimol (a slightly spicy salsa made with radish), rice, beans and sliced plantain. Or go for a whole fish, which was red snapper on one of my visits. It was gorgeously crispy on the outside, with a meaty, tender flesh within. Five Star Honduras also offers an assortment of soups, which always seem to be flying out of the kitchen. My favorite so far is sopa de pollo con vegetables, a comforting chicken soup with a touch of heat; the accompanying corn tortillas are terrific, too.
Service is friendly (and very helpful if you’re new to Honduran cuisine) and there’s ample seating in the restaurant. Do give yourself a little time if you’re making the trip to visit, though, especially during lunchtime. Four months into its run, Five Star Honduras remains wildly popular with Coraopolis diners.
809 Fifth Ave., Coraopolis; fivestarhonduras.net
The Parlor Dim Sum and Cantonese BBQ is the newest establishment from Roger Li and Claudia Moyano (Nanban, Umami, Allegheny Wine Mixer) and speaks directly to the Philadelphia-born Li’s family’s roots in Hong Kong. I’ve visited the Lawrenceville restaurant a couple of times since it opened in August, and I’m happy to report it’s living up to the hype built over two-plus years of pop-ups, previews and social media posts. Plus, amid a year of casual openings, it’s doing so with some full-service swagger. Come as comfortable as you like, of course, but you’d feel pretty good dressing hip in the slickly designed space.
The Parlor’s dim sum is the thing that’s getting the most buzz, and there’s a lot to like about Li’s 20 steamed, fried and sweet offerings. Here’s where to start when you order for the group (you should bring at least three pals to really experience the place): It takes a lot of skill to make cheung fun (stuffed rice crepes) delicately chewy, and rolled with lovely chopped roast pork or bitter broccolini and topped with house-made chili crisp, it’s a must-get. So are the vibrant steamed jade dumplings with napa, corn, spinach and chestnut and the fried taro dumplings with pork shoulder, scallions and preserved radish. The pork bao might be more stuffed and a little less airy than you’d find at a classic dim sum parlor, but they’re delicious all the same.
Don’t overlook the Cantonese part of the menu either, as there are treasures such as whole fish, gorgeously cooked vegetables including juicy, crunchy bok choy with stunning wok hei, and Cantonese classics such as beef ho fun on it. And although congee might typically be served for breakfast, the pumpkin and goji berry offering feels like something you’d eat when you leave the window open at night and come downstairs in the morning and the house is chilly — and this makes everything just warm and happy.
The Parlor has a lively, well-thought-out bar program with many tasty cocktails to enjoy. It’s wise to make a reservation — the joint was jumping at 9:30 on a Tuesday night in October, something rare right now in Pittsburgh. However, tables are easier to find now than a few months ago, especially later into the evening.
4401 Butler St., Lawrenceville; theparlordimsum.com
Chengdu Gourmet isn’t new — savvy Pittsburghers who crave Sichuan cuisine have made the pilgrimage to its original Squirrel Hill location since 2014 — but the second iteration of the restaurant, which opened in September on McKnight Road, makes this list because it’s a big step-up for executive chef/owner Wei Zhu.
He earned the bigger, fancier location. Zhu a formidable culinary all-star in Pittsburgh with a deep pedigree that began with extensive culinary training in his native Chengdu, China, and manifested as five consecutive James Beard Award Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic semifinalist nods in Pittsburgh, where he’s been cooking since 2011.
Chengdu Gourmet 2 is a 6,000-square-foot restaurant in a building that formerly housed a grocery store. Following a year-long buildout that began with stripping the space to the studs, the gracious dining room is now filled with a mix of table sizes and styles, including a banquet room with two massive round tables that seat up to 20 people each. Zhu’s new kitchen has custom-built gas lines to allow maximum firepower to the seven concrete-encased wok stations, a high-end oven capable of smoking, steaming and roasting, and a ton of cold storage for all the ingredients on the expanded menu.
You’ll want to come with a group if you can (or plan for repeated visits), because Zhu’s menu at the new location is about twice as long as the one at the original (which remains open), and it’s worth exploring, page by page, dishes designed for sharing.
Zhu demonstrates why he’s the dean of Sichuan cuisine in Pittsburgh with canonical dishes such as crispy, can’t-stop-eating laziji (Chongqing chicken), intoxicating cumin lamb and tart, slippery yam noodles, all of which make your scalp tingle as you reach for “one more” bite for the 10th time. New additions such as an expanded selection of whole fish and seafood, cold spicy rabbit and even a rather good sushi bar just add to the excitement.
4768 McKnight Road; chengdugourmet2.com
As if Pittsburgh needed more proof that this was the year of earnest fast-casual dining, Brian and Jessica Pekarcik’s October opening of Local Provisions in late October was the icing on the cake. You’ll find a well-constructed menu that tilts heavily toward sandwiches and salads and dynamic bar and coffee programs, as well as a retail food market chock-full of locally prepared eats in the airy location in Fox Chapel Plaza in O’Hara.
Brian Pekarcik runs the kitchen. He’s best known in Pittsburgh for Spoon, the upscale East Liberty restaurant he co-owned from 2011-2020. Pekarcik is also a partner in the casual hamburger chain BRGR, which currently operates in Mt. Lebanon and State College. At Local Provisions, he distills the layered construction of Spoon’s higher-end dishes with the easy-to-love appeal of casual dining. The restaurant’s sandwiches include mighty meaties like a terrific double-stacked burger and roast pork and broccoli rabe with house-made cheese whiz, and vegetarian offerings such as maitake mushroom tartine with jammy roasted tomatoes. I’ve enjoyed the depth of flavor in the soups and salads (which work as light meals), too. Pekarcik recently introduced a clever “pick your plate” option, which allows guests to assemble their lunch or early dinner by choosing a protein, sauce and side dish.
Jessica Peckarcik is the general manager and, even though it’s an order-at-the-register deal, the service is warm and informed. It’s made even better with the talented bar and cafe staff, led by hospitality industry veteran Carrie Clayton. Her bar program, which includes a delightful cocktail list ranging from funky to fanciful, a dynamic wine list and a bevy of locally brewed beers, is top-flight. Combine that with an excellent selection of coffee and tea drinks, and Local Provisions is a place where you might want to hang out for a happy hour or mid-afternoon sip and a snack.
The 1,500-square-foot market is the gravy on top. It’s stocked with a who’s who of Pittsburgh-area food producers, perfect for some grab-and-go eats or as a means to supplement your visits to larger grocery stores.
1111 Freeport Rd., O’Hara; localprovisionspgh.com
How good were the Mexico City-inspired tacos at Duo’s Taqueria? They were so good that even though the restaurant only had a couple of outdoor tables and now is closed for expansion into a full-service establishment scheduled to open in the spring, it was an easy call to include it on this list as an honorable mention. Here’s what I wrote prior to the announcement of renovations. I’m stoked to see where they take it next year.
Duo’s executive chef, Marcella Ogrodnik, made a name for herself with the Salavadorian-focused Cafe Agnes, which she operated at farmers markets from 2019 to 2021. Once again, heirloom corn is at the heart of her menu. You’ll see why the labor-intensive process of making tortillas from scratch using a process called nixtamalization, which is still a rarity in Pittsburgh, is worth it the second you bite into one. Ogrodnik’s have a sweet-savory aroma, a soft tug in the texture and a flavor reminiscent of toasted, buttered popcorn.
Those tortillas get even better with Duo’s toppings. Suadero, slow-simmered brisket, is meltingly tender with a deep beefy flavor. Pork lovers will crave repeat visits for al pastor, made the time-honored way of stacking marinated pork shoulder on a trompo to roast, and lush, porky carnitas with crispy edges and a hint of citrus in the background. Vegetarian options are more limited but satisfying: Bittersweet nopales, tender-crisp strips of cactus served with avocado, tomato and queso fresco stand out.
Duo’s menu has expanded a little bit since the establishment opened in June. For example, quesadillas made with plate-sized tortillas come with butternut squash, queso Chihuahua, epazote and salsa negra. (You can add meat, but you don’t need to.) That salsa negra is one of the Cafe Agnes carryover items available to purchase in bulk; you can sometimes also get tamales.
Sure, being a spin-off of a deep-pocketed technology company gives Duo’s an advantage. Still, credit where credit is due. Duolingo is walking the walk by forwarding its mission, which includes employing a bilingual staff. Here’s a fun kicker — since Duolingo is a language-learning software, you can take a simple, one-question Spanish language challenge to get a reward such as 10% off the order, a free taco or a complimentary aguas frescas.
5906 Penn Ave., East Liberty; duostaqueria.com
Hal B. Klein
Laura Malt Schneiderman