You might think Brian Mendelssohn sits around drinking beer and watching movies all day. (I’m certain that’s only 90 percent true). But the Lawrenceville entrepreneur occasionally takes a break to track down the city’s best Japanese food.

As principal of Botero Development, Mendelssohn has rehabbed retail and residential spaces all around the über-hip neighborhood of Lawrenceville. But of his many accomplishments, the coolest is surely owning Row House Cinema and Atlas Bottle Works, a single screen theater and bottle shop/beer bar. Quirky themed movie weeks meet a staggering selection of craft and local brews—what’s not to like?

Though Mendelssohn could always grab tacos from next-door neighbor Smoke and eat them in Atlas’s cozy new basement bar, he traveled to Squirrel Hill for last week’s best meal.

I treasure Chaya so much that I only ever go in celebration of meeting big milestones at work. Fortunately, I was allowed to go to this Squirrel Hill Japanese restaurant last week with my co-workers, and it was fantastic. One of my favorite things about Chaya is trying dishes made up of ingredients that are unknown to me. Some great discoveries have included Chawanmushi, Hotaruika and Tako-su. 

The server discouraged me from ordering the Mountain Potato because I’m not a Japan native, but last week I risked it all and tried the forbidden Mountain Potato . . . which is interesting, I would say. Anything labeled “Advanced Japanese Cuisine” I see as a challenge.

For me, with traditional Japanese food, texture is as important as taste. Chaya’s menu is full of textures I’ve never had before.

Eating family-style with multiple people is a preference for me. It’s impossible not to order my favorite sushi in town, so convincing someone else to order the Udon or Broiled Fish rounds out the meal nicely. I always order pickles and fried chicken as sides, just because. Chaya is BYOB, which I often forget, so this time I ran to the state store to pick up a bottle of Sake. 

My dream is to live the glamorous life and pre-order the Omakase in advance as it’s required. One day!

Looking for other Pittsburgh foodies’ best meals? Click here.

Drew Cranisky is a writer, bartender and recent graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program. He enjoys cats, pinball and fancy burgers.