Dinette is not your average pizza parlor. At the East Liberty restaurant, Chef/Owner Sonja Finn and her team turn out a rotating menu of thin-crust pies that celebrate excellent seasonal ingredients. Finn sources those ingredients carefully, even growing tomatoes and herbs on Dinette’s rooftop in the warmer months. The cozy atmosphere, dynamic wine list and fresh, simple food have made Dinette a neighborhood favorite since it opened in 2008.

Recently, Finn’s attention to sourcing, sustainability and fair labor practices earned Dinette the first Gold Plate designation from Sustainable Pittsburgh. The organization recognizes and rewards restaurants making an effort to practice sustainability in a number of areas.

Though she stays plenty busy running Dinette and preparing for her newest venture (she will soon be running the restaurant at the Carnegie Museums in Oakland), Finn still finds time for a weekly family meal. Finn tells us how to navigate the menu at her favorite Squirrel Hill spot.

The best meal I ate last week was at Chaya, the Japanese restaurant on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill. You’d probably get that same answer from me any other week as Chaya is my family’s Monday night tradition.  

The chef, Fumio Yasuzawa, makes truly great sushi and sashimi. My husband loves toro, and the toro at Chaya is unreal. Sometimes, so tender that it’s a mystery to me how the tuna remains in one piece. I always get one or two items that include mentaiko, a spicy codfish roe—usually the nigiri of sake (salmon), shiso and mentaiko and the mentiako and cucumber roll.  

We go primarily to satisfy our raw fish cravings, but as my husband never fails to point out, Chaya’s other food is excellent as well. We’ll get a couple appetizers maybe the Ohitashi—cooked and marinated spinach, or the Nasu Agebitashi—lightly fried eggplant in special sauce. Also a favorite is the ebi-shisoage, a tempura of shrimp wrapped in shiso leaves, a fresh variation on classic shrimp tempura.

We began going to Chaya when my son, Miles, was one and loved miso soup. Over the years, dishes add to his lineup of favorites— avocado rolls, masago (fish roe nigiri), soba noodles. This last time he tried some salmon sashimi. My husband and I excitedly anticipate the day when he will be our required third person for the luxuriously bountiful sushi and sashimi boat.

Like any meal, the “best meal I ate last week,” is defined as much by the social experience as the food. Our Monday night at Chaya is the time my family comes together before the hectic work week really sets in. I think the people at Chaya understand this time is special for us—and happily do their best to make it more so with a warm welcome, maybe a conversation about how big Miles has gotten, and delicious, thoughtful food that can only come from a chef who wants to give you his best.

Looking for other Pittsburgh foodies’ best meals (including another enthusiastic endorsement of Chaya)? 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.