The Rust Belt Renaissance has been in full swing with chefs in Cleveland, St. Louis, and the Twin Cities being praised by national critics and bald-man-medal-givers alike. As for good old Pittsburgh, a city of 300,000 hanging out there in western Pennsylvania? It has only started earning the attention it deserves, with chefs like Manresa alum Justin Severino (Cure) and many others opening up ambitious restaurants that take advantage of the city’s affordable rents, robust farming community, and a captive audience of diners that are mature well beyond their meat-and-potato reputation.
“Why not, man!” I’ve asked chef Brent Young, a Pittsburgh native and owner of New York City’s cult butcher shop Meat Hook, why he’s decided to head back to his hometown to open the restaurant Whitfield at the Ace Hotel. “Opportunity is real in Pittsburgh. If you want to do something, you don’t need an investor and $100,000 down. You can actually be a part of a community of folks that want to make their city an awesome place to live. And then actually DO IT.”
Young, who plans to open his restaurant by the end of the year, says that in Pittsburgh, it’s easier to build relationships with farms and experiment because “things are set at 8”—he says, using the great Christopher Guestian scale—“instead of being cranked to 11 constantly. Eleven has its time and place, but to keep your sanity, and a bit of your hair, it’s not a bad place to get involved.”
What he’s getting at, essentially, is that Pittsburgh is where you want to be as a young, adventurous chef. It’s also, therefore, where you want to be to enjoy a spectrum of underrated eats—off-the-grid Korean barbecue grills and neighborhood red-sauce joints. Here we talked to newcomers, as well as some industry veterans and proud Pittsburghers, about their favorite food hideaways in Steel City when the last floor mat rolls up and it’s time to call it a night.
Chef-owner at Cure
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Pastitsio (3716 Butler St, Lawrenceville; 412-586-7656, greekpastitsio.com)
Severino says: “Pastitsio is a small, family-run Greek restaurant in Lawrenceville, the same neighborhood Cure is in. Pittsburgh doesn’t have a lot of good Greek food, so Pastitsio is something special. It’s really simple stuff: salads, great falafel and gyros that are made in-house. Plus, it’s super affordable. For the money, I think it’s the best lunch in Pittsburgh.” (Photos: Adam Milliron, Pastitsio)
DeShantz says: “I love this place for its super rustic and authentic dishes. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall tucked in the back streets of South Oakland, and is hard to find unless you know it’s there. There is an old couple running the place and they make everything from scratch. My number one dish here is the spicy pork with udon—I get it every time. Other favorites include kimchi pancakes and the bulgogi.” (Photo: Yelp/Peilu W.)
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Dish Osteria (128 S 17th St, Southside; 412-390-2012, dishosteria.com)
Steel says: “Dish is in a neighborhood known for college hangouts and dive bars. Two Sicilian brothers run the front- and back-of-house, and consistently put out some of the best pasta and seafood in the city. With the full kitchen open until midnight and the bar until 2am, it is equally suited for a relaxing meal on a night off or a late-night bite and cocktail after a shift.” (Photos: Facebook/Bar Marco, Yelp/Julie D.)
Corporate chef for the big Burrito Restaurant Group
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Chengdu Gourmet (5840 Forward Ave, Greenfield; 412-521-2088, chengdugourmetpittsburgh.com)
Fuller says: “Chengdu Gourmet delivers relentlessly delicious Sichuan food. Spicy, numbing, and rustic, the food is tasty and affordable. We take a bunch of guys and a couple of six-packs and eat as much of the menu as we can. I always get the cucumber with fried pepper flavor, crispy chongqing chicken, double-cooked smoky pork belly, and mapo tofu. Then I order more. That’s why I take a gang.” (Photo: Yelp/Lana L.)
Partner of Whitfield at Ace Hotel
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Tessaro’s (4601 Liberty Ave, Bloomfield; 412-682-6809, tessaros.com)
Young says: “In the midst of the constant ‘burger craze’ in dining scenes everywhere, Tessaro’s does things the way they always have—their burger is simple. Many restaurants brag about their ‘butcher blend,’ but Tessaro’s actually has a butcher in-house who grinds the meat daily. They also grill, instead of griddle, all of their proteins, which makes the place smell amazing! The waitresses are also all gems; they’re super-friendly and always get your order right. One of the best pub burgers of all time.” (Photos: Courtesy The Meat Hook, Tessaro’s)