[Editor’s note: Update! The opening date for Mesa is still pending, as they’re waiting for their final inspections and delivery of equipment. We’ll let you know ASAP when the doors will officially open.]

Final touches are in the works for Mesa, a new restaurant featuring New Mexican cuisine set to open within days in the former Conflict Kitchen space in Schenley Plaza.

The new eatery is a first-time venture for Chef-Owner Robert Sayre, who previously worked as the chef and cuisine director at Conflict Kitchen, which closed last week. Sayre, who has an established relationship with the space’s landlord, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, was able to secure it for his new business and bring over many of the Conflict Kitchen employees who otherwise would be losing their jobs.

Inspiration for the menu came to Sayre after his parents relocated to New Mexico and he and his family started spending more time there.

“I fell in love with the unique take on Southwestern cuisine that happens in that region. There are a lot of influences coming together, including Native American, Mexican and Spanish—even western cowboy chuck wagon elements,” says Sayre.

He’s looking forward to introducing Pittsburgh to dishes that may be new for some people.

“A lot of the most successful menus we rotated through at Conflict Kitchen were ones where people had a general conception of what the food was about, but had little or no exposure to it here in Pittsburgh,” he says.

Sayre hopes that some of the core elements in New Mexican cuisine like fresh made green and red chili sauces, pinto beans and rice will generate a lot of interest. “We’ll be making our sauces fresh and shipping produce in directly from New Mexico,” says Sayre.

Mesa’s menu will start small with plans to expand with specials and new items in the future. Current dishes include a green chili stew made with pork, beef and chicken tostadas, pork and vegetarian tamales, and a New Mexican chopped salad. There are also regional specialties like Biscochitos (anise and cinnamon sugar cookies) and Aguas Frescas (fruit-based drinks). Mesa plans to roll out some additional“grab and go” items like breakfast burritos and homemade cornbread when school is back in session.

Future home of Mesa in Conflict Kitchen's old space. Photo by Tom O'Connor
Future home of Mesa in Conflict Kitchen’s old space. Photo by Tom O’Connor.
Future home of Mesa in Conflict Kitchen’s old space. Photo by Tom O’Connor.

Although this is a first-time independent venture for Sayre, the chef has had several years of experience managing day-to-day business at Conflict Kitchen, and before that, at the much-loved Salt of the Earth, which closed in 2015.

With so many returning employees, he’s expecting the start-up for Mesa will be smooth. Accommodating the activity in the park, which swells during the school season and for special events, will not be new to the chef and his team. “I’m familiar with the dynamics of the space and the location, he says, adding, “I think it’s a good place to demonstrate the feasibility of running a quick service, fast-food style restaurant and actually paying employees a decent wage.”

The restaurant’s employees earn $12.50 an hour and are guaranteed $15 an hour with tips and additional restaurant compensation.

Mesa plans a “soft opening” soon and hopes to be on a regular 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule by next week.

We’ll keep you posted when we know more about those breakfast burritos.

Tom O'Connor is a photographer and writer currently based in Pittsburgh.