Ki Pollo (4407 Butler St., Lawrenceville)
Korean Fried Chicken and Empanadas are one of those only-in-America marriages that brings a lot to the coupling on both sides. Ki Pollo restaurateurs Domenic Branduzzi (Piccolo Forno) and Roger Li (Umami), along with partner Claudia Moyano, bring a lot of culinary firepower to this very simple concept. It’s even possible to imagine their perfectly balanced minced-beef (or pumpkin, mushroom, tofu or ham & cheese) empanadas rivaling pierogies for Pittsburghers’ dumpling dollars, at some point. Don’t miss the delicious Scallion Bao Buns or house-made pickles, either.
Ki Ramen (4401 Butler St., Lawrenceville)
Also from Domenic Branduzzi (Piccolo Forno) and Roger Li (Umami) — and right next door to Ki Pollo — this spot serves handmade ramen in a Japanese izakaya-style restaurant. This plays out as really good pub food (Crispy Pig Ears with La-Zi, meat and veggie Bao buns), cold beer and labor-intensive handmade Shoyu, Shio and Miso ramen. Big windows look out on always-active Butler Street, but if you can, sit in the little garage-like barroom around the corner, a more intimate space adorned with spray-painted Japanese/graffiti-style murals.
Needle and Pin (3721 W. Liberty Ave., Dormont)
Just outside the city, Dormont’s Needle & Pin specializes in gin and modern English and Indian cuisine —two things that have a long history together, and apart. That means Scotch Eggs with house-made chicken sausage, sambal mustard and English toast, and chickpea-covered Chili Paneer with sautéed sweet onions and peppers, Kashmiri chili sauce and honey yogurt, and Rabbit Masala with fried vermicelli rice noodles and tikka sauce. Also, not bad for vegetarians — the Vegetable Curry features braised jackfruit, raisins and chickpeas stuffed with paneer into a roasted bell pepper, in a sweet korma sauce.
Yuzu Kitchen (409 Wood St., Downtown)
It’s easy to imagine future Pittsburghers arguing over ramen like it’s Mineo’s or Aiello’s pizza. But the argument will be short, if Yuzu Kitchen’s miso-veggie dashi, Shio Paitan (pork marrow/chicken broth) sets the standard. The Japanese izakaya is having a moment right now, for those interested in a better brand of bar food. Only a few blocks from Market Square, Yuzu isn’t exactly hidden, but has still somehow avoided the spotlight (so far). In a city full of delicious fried things, the Salt and Pepper Crispy Tofu is one of the best additions in years, covered in scallions, garlic, red onions and jalapenos. The Fried Chicken Bao buns, with a squirt of spicy paprika mayo, are also terrific.
Bar Frenchman/The Twisted Frenchman (5925 Baum Blvd., East Liberty)
You’ve got to admire dedication and creativity put into this multi-story cathedral of cuisine. On the top floor is the modern Twisted Frenchman, which isn’t new — just new to this space. Bar Frenchman, though, is new, and is really its own fully-contained restaurant, with one of the city’s most stylish rooms, and a menu that’s a little more traditional than its upstairs sister. That means one of the city’s best wine lists and credible renditions of Ratatouille, Coq au Vin, Steak Frites — all the way down to the most perfectly cooked winter vegetables (cauliflower, Brussels sprouts) imaginable. This is destined to become a date-night legend.
Acorn (5528 Walnut St., Shadyside)
The tiny acorn can grow into something really big; and so it goes with this easily overlooked Walnut Street restaurant, which has a bigger upside than the tallest oak in Schenley Park. As the most ambitious new restaurant in quite a while on Pittsburgh’s premier shopping street, Acorn has been planted in the perfect spot. Modern American cuisine, a warm minimalist-pastoral atmosphere, and strong service complement dishes like Salt Beets with carrots, apricots and hazelnut coriander atop a bed of wheatberries, and Rigatoni with mushroom sofrito, nori, pine nuts and stravecchio. Small, shareable plates dominate, though they’ll also cook a Whole Fried Chicken or Cassoulet Poisson for two to four people.
Federal Galley (200 Children’s Way, North Side) When they were in the Navy, Benjamin Mantica and Tyler Benson were amazed at the incredible, cheap food available in the food halls and street markets of Asia. In the Strip, they assembled Smallman Galley — making it into a streamlined accelerator for four mini-restaurant concepts, giving talented chefs the space and resources to learn about running a restaurant. It took off, and this year they opened Federal Galley in Nova Place, the formerly desolate Allegheny Center Mall, now becoming a tech campus. Provision brings back one of Smallman’s best chefs and his beloved burger. El Lugar is pan-Mexican tacos. Supper is veg-forward new American. Michigan & Trumbull does Detroit-style pizza — which has also taken off at Smallman Galley’s new class this year, with Iron Born.
Burgh’ers (3601 Butler St., Lawrenceville)
One of the Pittsburgh’s suburbs’ best restaurateurs, chef Fiore Moletz (Della Terra) put his first farm-to-table burger outpost in Lawrenceville, and it stands out even in that crowded terrain. In a spare, cement-and-glass space, farm-to-table beef from Jubilee Hilltop Ranch finds the perfect home, with toppings like the Maggie’s Farm (smoked gouda, horseradish, caramelized onion, rum aioli and roasted chilies). Don’t feel you have to commit to a burger, either — the Pickle Brined Fried Chicken might actually be the best thing on the menu. They also brew their own beer.
Threadbare Ciderhouse and Meadery (1291 Spring Garden Ave, Troy Hill)
We love the vibe at Threadbare Ciderhouse and Meadery with its cool design — from the colorful Johnny Appleseed mural to the wonderful touches in the rehabbed interior. It’s a fun spot throughout and the three varieties of cider — a dry hopped version, a farmhouse and a dry cider — are quite good. Who knew we were cider fans? There’s also a craft beer and wine list and of course, creative cocktails since the owners also own Wigle Whiskey and the Barrelhouse just down the street. The menu is divided into platters, plates and pizzas. The pizza combos are unusual and worth a try. You can build your own or go with a Roasted Apple with Russian fingerling potatoes, kohlrabi, and celeriac salad with horseradish vinaigrette. We recommend. On Saturday mornings, you can take a kid-friendly tour of the distillery, drink in hand. This is also a great place for events.
Le Lyonnais (947 Penn Ave., Downtown)
French cooking, of course, isn’t just one thing — Le Lyonnais takes more of a comfort food approach, inspired by chef/owner Yves Carreau’s hometown of Lyon. Carreau is one of the people who made Downtown dining a thing (Poros, Seviche, Nola, Perle, Sonoma Grille), but this project seems personal. The former Sonoma Grille space is as understatedly attractive as ever, and dishes like Duck Confit Cassoulet, Beef cheek Bourguignon, and Lamb Pithivier (slow-braised lamb shoulder) are hearty and filling in the best way. For a lighter lunch, grab a Croq’ Monsieur or Croissant au Poulet.
We kept it close to the city this year, but Bruneaux brought formal French to Sewickley, continuing the year’s most significant and unexpected trend.
2017 may have also been the year fast-casual finally stepped it up, thanks to Pittsburgh Poke, Banh Mi & Ti, Ineffable Ca Phe and honeygrow. We have to mention the The Merchant Oyster Co. in Lawrenceville, one of two outstanding restaurants from chef Dennis Marron (Or, The Whale) to open this year. And don’t miss Mesa — a New Mexico-inspired food kiosk in Schenley Plaza in Oakland that replaced the departed (and much-missed) Conflict Kitchen.
Then, there’s Downtown. There are almost as many good new restaurants Downtown as in the rest of the city combined. We tried to make sure there was at least some geographic diversity. Still, we ought to mention the significant Downtown openings of fl.2 in the Fairmont Hotel, seafood specialists Eddie V’s, Red, The Steakhouse and of course, Stuff’d Pierogie Bar.