Some cities have a moment, and then they're done. Pittsburgh appears to be all about the slow and steady. For a good few years now, each new visit to the city has brought its own new surprises, as far as the food is concerned—one time you're sharing a giant portion of moules frites at the quaint Point Brugge Café in Point Breeze, the next you're crowding into a tiny BYOB in Regent Square named Legume, not knowing it would eventually become one of the city's most-loved restaurants.
Then, a few years later, there's Salt of the Earth, Kevin Sousa's groundbreaking spot that brought the concept of molecular gastronomy to a city not typically known for taking risks at the table. Also there was Cure, out in Lawrenceville, Justin Severino's source-conscious shrine to salumi and other things we're grateful to the Mediterranean for, followed by Morcilla, his Spanish follow-up.
Of course, one can't forget other recent additions like the Whitfield, one of the city's most fashionable dining rooms (it's inside Pittsburgh's Ace Hotel, so you expect that), or some of the prettiest food you will ever find in a Rust Belt casual café at The Vandal, or the daring Bar Marco, the "quasi American-Mediterranean" spot in the Strip District that pays its pays its workers a living wage, doesn't allow tipping and still manages to deliver great food to the table at a price that will seem extremely moderate to visitors from other, more expensive cities.
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It may have taken a good few years in getting there, but Pittsburgh's scene has absolutely now grown into something that's well worth a closer look. Ready to go see for yourself? Here's what's happening right now.
The one place you need to try. Superior Motors was supposed to be Kevin Sousa's triumphant next-level project, shattering Kickstarter records back in 2014 when the chef managed to raise more than $300,000 from over 2,000 donors around the world, all in love with the concept of dropping what was sure to be the city's most exciting restaurant in the hollowed-out industrial Pittsburgh suburb of Braddock. And then nothing happened, and Pittsburgh waited. For years. This summer, it finally opened its doors. Now Superior Motors is here, Sousa's modernist technique feels as essential as ever, the all-over-the-board menu strives for seasonality, lots of the produce comes from the urban farm down the street, the space—a historic Chevy showroom—is as industrial-cool as it gets. The big reviews haven't come out yet and the project is still getting the odd raised eyebrow from the neighbors, but make no mistake—this is definitely the place to be right now. And hopefully later, too. 1211 Braddock Ave, (412) 271-1022
New and coming soon. It's hard to believe that the Smallman Galley has only been open since 2015—the small business incubator and food hall quickly became an indispensable addition to the Strip District. The first class rotated out this past summer, bringing in four new concepts. There's Hoa Le's Banhmilicious (yes, bánh mì), Pete Tolman's Iron Born for Detroit-style pizza; Ryan Peters, a Salt of The Earth grad, has Brunoise, where he's doing a sous-vide cooked burger, while Jesse Barlass is skating through Latin America with Colonia. The project has been such a hit, its founders are hopping over to the North Side to open Federal Galley, another incubator with four more new concepts and a beer hall, sometime this fall—it's part of a $100 million redevelopment project that is expected to draw a whole lot more attention to that side of the river. 54 21st St, (412) 281-0949
Classic is back. The clue's in the name—29 year-old chef-owner Andrew Garbarino made a name for himself with inventive French cooking at the ambitious Twisted Frenchman; this summer, he upped stakes and moved the restaurant into a bi-level space in hip East Liberty, adding the casual Bar Frenchman, a brasserie-style antidote to its big brother's more ambitious tasting menu and white table cloth scene. Wines by the glass, oysters, steak frites, French onion soup—it's utterly classic, and that's completely okay. 5925 Baum Blvd, (412) 665-2880
Downtown detour. Chef Dennis Marron made his mark opening restaurants for the Kimpton Group—his Pittsburgh debut, The Commoner, opened at downtown's Hotel Monaco. Marron left corporate life behind a few years back to pursue other projects; he was on track to open an oyster joint in hip Lawrenceville, last year, was it? Well, he's definitely going to get around to that, it will be called Merchant Oyster Co., and it's absolutely still happening, but Marron has jumped back into the hotel game, opening or, The Whale (yes, that's the name) at the new Distrikt Hotel, carved out of a historic Salvation Army building. A wood-fired grill, an on-premises butchery, good cocktails, a caviar program and brunch every day—in a town that's coming to expect more from its hotel restaurants, this one's far above average. 463 Blvd of the Allies, (412) 632-0002