Our culinary heritage
When it comes to Pittsburgh foods, many of our favorite dishes are covered or smothered or dunked in red sauce. That’s in part because of who we are: Pennsylvania follows New York and New Jersey with the highest percentage of Italian-Americans, with over 1.4 million residents boasting Italian heritage, according to the National Italian-American Foundation.
For this, we can thank immigrants mostly from Calabria, Abruzzi and Sicily who came to this region in the late 1800s as mill workers, masons and bricklayers. As the community took root, Italian families needed Italian markets, Italian taverns and Italian restaurants. And some of those restaurants have had remarkable staying power, feeding hundreds of customers at a time, in some cases, for generations.
But those restaurants weren’t necessarily serving dishes you’d see on menus in Palermo or Naples. Instead, they made a mark offering their takes on Italian-American dishes for which red sauce is vital, such as chicken Parmesan — blanketed with red sauce. Or lasagna — layered with red sauce. And even fried zucchini — served with red sauce on the side.
Today, we’re celebrating these Italian-American dishes and the restaurants that serve them with a series: The Pittsburgh Red Sauce Project, with a focus on family-run, Italian-American spots that have been around for a decade or more.
Years into the restaurant boom, many of these mainstays can seem like throwbacks, whether or not their tables are dressed in checkered cloths and wicker-wrapped Chianti bottles. But the dishes they’re serving are part of our identity. And their ubiquity in the region reminds us that red sauce flows through our veins — and that’s why we love them.
As we continue with the series, we want to hear from you. Nominate your favorite Italian-American dishes and tell us why they're great. Reminisce about family-owned places that you love, as well as those that you’ve lost. Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and hashtag #redsauceproject on Instagram.
From white-tablecloth stalwarts to updated classics, neighborhood BYOBs to wine-pairing destinations, there’s an Italian-American restaurant for every craving.