Mola mola is the largest bony fish in the ocean. Mola is a small restaurant in East Liberty, but it’s making a splash on the Pittsburgh food scene.

Located at 6018 Penn Avenue, the new eatery blends different Asian flavors using simple, fresh, healthy ingredients. Even the water is purified using a Vero Water filtration system.

Owner and chef Alex Tang, a former engineer who has worked in kitchens all over New York City (and locally at Jimmy Wan’s), says it’s the little details that make a dish memorable.

Mola’s hand rolls, for instance, are made with the finest seaweed on the market and are wrapped like miniature burritos, instead of the traditional cone-shape. That allows for an even distribution of fish and rice in every bite.

“Most sushi restaurants still use heavy mayonnaise and heavy sauce and put 15 different ingredients into one roll so you lose the flavor of the fish,” he says.

Mola’s open kitchen concept allows customers to see that their food is being cooked without the sugar, salt and grease typically associated with modern Asian fare served in the U.S.

Organic soy sauce, vinegar and spice blends add taste, but don’t overwhelm, and induction cooking gives the chefs more precise control over the food’s temperature.

Mola is located on Penn Avenue in East Liberty. Photo by Kristy Locklin.

In addition to sushi, the tiny storefront — which Tang opened with his wife Mimi on Christmas Eve — offers a manageable menu of small plates such as seared tuna tataki and sautéed bok choy with garlic, handmade dumplings that are steamed or pan-fried, hearty rice bowls and bao.

The pork belly bao features braised pork belly, crushed peanuts, pickled cucumber and cilantro in a warm, steamed bun. Other fillings include grilled or crispy chicken, steak or vegetables.

They also feature local beer, wine, distilled spirits and specialty cocktails.

Imelda Duenas created Mola’s bar program to mirror the food menu’s fusion of different flavors. The Hao La (Very Spicy) Mule gives the traditional bourbon, ginger beer and lime juice concoction a little kick with the addition of some jalapeno simple syrup.

Mola Punch combines winter melon punch with Maggie’s Farm Falernum, a locally produced liqueur made from fresh ginger and lime zest, toasted whole cloves and allspice berries and white rum.

Non-alcoholic beverages also are available, including a variety of hot and cold teas and Red Ribbon Sodas.

Tang says Mola isn’t a concept restaurant, just a place where people can come and enjoy good food and drinks in a neighborhood that’s fast becoming a dining destination.

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.