Pittsburgh has a panoply of great restaurant that span the vastness of Asia, specializing in everything from sushi to Szechuan. Here are some of our absolute favorites.
You can get takeout and/or delivery for most of them.
This is far from a definitive list. One estimate is that there are more than 90 Asian restaurants in the East End, and 30 in Squirrel Hill alone. As always, we welcome your comments. And stay tuned for more articles on how to support local restaurants.
KIIN Lao & Thai Eatery, Squirrel Hill
Lao food may not have caught on here the way Thai and Vietnamese have, but that should change if KIIN Lao & Thai Eatery is any indication. Everything here is great, but the Lao dishes are especially worth trying — like the Khao Poon, a red coconut curry with vermicelli rice noodles, and the Mok, a fish dish steamed (and served) inside a banana leaf. Beware: They’ll ask if you want your food “Thai hot” or “Lao hot.” Answer carefully. In my experience, their “Thai hot” is more pleasantly spiced than fiery. “Lao hot” is indeed scorchingly hot. Striking graffiti-style murals liven up the space–a departure from the usual stoic statuary found in Thai restaurants–which perches above Forbes Avenue in the old Bangkok Balcony location. Read more about it here.
Everyday Noodles, Squirrel Hill
Go for the food, stay for the show — a theatrical display of noodles being made fresh on the spot. Noodle chefs are kneading, twirling, swinging them through the air, smacking them against the counter. Everything tastes fresh and light. Everyday Noodles features dishes all over the (Chinese) map, from Taiwanese-style sesame cold noodles and spicy dan dan noodles with a peanutty twist to steaming bowls of noodle soup perfect for cold, wet day (or any day).
The appeal of street food is in its simple, unfussy, portable directness. Yet, Thai food is inherently complex — a maze of surprising yet perfectly interlocking, flavors: sweet, sour, spicy and salty. For a small menu, Noodlehead covers a lot of ground. Noodle dishes are offered at just two prices, $6 and $9. The portions are more street food-size (read: just right), so don’t assume you’ll need a to-go container. A steaming, medium-sized bowl of Sukothai is a great place to start and not often found on local Thai restaurant menus. Submerged within a spicy, peanut-filled lime broth are thin rice noodles and pork loin, with a hard-boiled egg and a few crunchy fried noodles on top.
Above Round Corner Cantina, you’ll find Umami. It’s a Japanese word for a pleasant savory flavor, one of the five basic tastes from which all dishes spring. This Umami is an izakaya, a type of Japanese pub that seems to be quite popular around here all of a sudden. Red paper lanterns reflect polished wood late into the night, as revelers choose from robatayaki (slow-cooked on skewers over charcoal) of pork belly, Japanese eggplant, chicken skin, beef tenderloin and shrimp. There’s also sushi, takoyaki (grilled octopus balls), tonkotsu ramen, okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) and plenty of sake to wash it down.
Chengdu Gourmet, Squirrel Hill
This place doesn’t look like much, online or in person. Looks can be deceiving: It may be the best Chinese restaurant in the state and one of the very few with a multiple James Beard Award-nominated chef (Wei Zhu) at the helm. Unless you’ve lived in China, you’re probably going to see some new things on the menu, many swimming in chiles. The trick is to embrace the unfamiliarity and take some chances. Prices are very reasonable, so it’s not a big risk. You can safely assume that if you order something like Spicy Rabbit in Flaming Pan, Frog with Pickled Turnip in Spicy Sauce or Spicy Duck with Devil’s Tongue Yam, it won’t need additional hot sauce to up the flavor.
Two Sisters Vietnamese Kitchen, East Liberty
There’s something quite cozy and diner-y about this little place in East Liberty that keeps me coming back. Maybe it’s the warming, filling soups, like the beef pho that makes a wintry day more bearable. Maybe it’s the friendly, easygoing service at Two Sisters, or the bright, unfussy interior. No, it’s definitely the soups. The Bun Bo Hue, a spicy lemongrass soup with beef brisket, beef shank and pork roll, tastes like something grandma would make (if she was Vietnamese).
Took Took 98, Squirrel Hill
There’s a lot of Thai food in Pittsburgh these days. But this nice little spot in Squirrel Hill focuses on the food you’d find at the night markets and street stalls of Bangkok. The extra-fried pork jerky is particularly delicious. Like street food around the world, your meal arrives quickly, served from compostable boxes and plates. There’s also a small but interesting selection of Thai breakfasts, with many combinations of egg and pork. Make sure you try the drinks — the Thai tea limeade is great for those craving something sweet.
Mola, East Liberty
Sushi gets people in the door here, but it’s the fluffy bao that really sets Mola apart. These soft steamed buns are like an entire meal in one dumpling. The pork belly, for instance, has a rich array of textures and flavors, with peanuts, pickled cucumber and cilantro, and the crispy chicken has slaw and Sriracha mayo packed inside. East Liberty is quickly becoming the best place for lunch in Pittsburgh, so watch for Mola’s lunch specials, which can pair sushi and/or bao with sides like Spicy Crab Salad or Seaweed Salad.
Ki Ramen, Lawrenceville
This spot serves handmade ramen in a stylish, convivial 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, Spicy Tonkatsu and Inferno Ramen. Big windows look out on always-active Butler Street. If f you can, sit in the small garage-like barroom around the corner, a more intimate space adorned with spray-painted Japanese/graffiti-style murals.
Soju is less concerned with tradition and more into unlocking Korean flavors in a stylishly minimalist barroom with great drinks. You can get classics like Bulgogi (thinly-sliced beef), Japchae (sweet potato noodles) and Bibimbap (mixed rice bowl with spinach, bean sprouts, mushroom, spicy cucumber and egg). You can also get not-at-all-traditional Korean food like Hawaiian Poke (marinated raw tuna over hot rice) and Korean Poutine (fries and savory gravy, with tofu instead of cheese curds).
Yuzu Kitchen, Downtown
It’s easy to imagine future Pittsburghers arguing over ramen like it’s Mineo’s or Aiello’s pizza. It’s going to get heated if Yuzu Kitchen’s Shio Paitan (pork marrow/chicken broth) and Spicy Curry Veg Ramen (ginger tofu, kale, tomato, edamame) 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 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.
Soba pairs a creative, chef-driven approach with pan-Asian cuisines that weren’t exactly on every corner of Pittsburgh in the early 2000s, when this place first opened You can mix and match classics from across Asia with more unusual dishes—Lobster Tacos, Spinach & Ricotta Momos, Short Rib Eggrolls, Wild Mushroom Fried Rice, and Filet Bulgogi Bi Bim Bap. Soba remains a really attractive, stylish place—lots of dark wood, bamboo, rich textures and semi-hidden alcoves.
Umi Japanese Restaurant, Shadyside
Right above Soba, since 1999. Here, you’re in the hands of a master sushi chef, Mr. Shu, so you should eat whatever he feels like making (though they do have a menu.). The seven- and 11-course omakase meals unfold gradually, subtly, like gently rolling waves lapping at the beach. Both Soba and Umi hail from the ubiquitous big Burrito Restaurant Group.
Taiwanese Bistro Cafe 33, Squirrel Hill
It’s so hard to believe that this space was once a grimy laundromat. Thankfully, a new front patio and glass garage door and the savory scent of Taiwanese cooking has banished any lingering scent of soap suds. A lot of care went into the subtle, stylish lighting and décor here. The Chinese-only menu is enormous and doesn’t hide the unusual dishes. Squid with Chinese Pickle Mustard Green and Intestine with Sour Cabbage are right at the top, like a challenge to the adventurous eater. Soup Dumplings, Potstickers and/or Minced Pork with Chives in Black Bean Sauce are a good introduction to Taiwanese cuisine, which tends to revel in subtle layers of spices rather than overwhelming heat.
Nicky’s Thai Kitchen, Downtown, North Side, North Hills
Just great Thai food in beautiful spaces–the Downtown location is elegant and refined, and the North Side one has a terrific, secluded back patio in the warmer months, surrounded by a small jungle of tropical greenery. You can’t go wrong with classics like the Phad See Ew, a flat noodle dish, or the pleasantly-spiced Panang Curry.
Silk Elephant Thai Tapas & Wine Bar, Squirrel Hill
Thai tapas? Sure, why not? Trying lots of small plates is always a fun way to eat, and Silk Elephant always has something interesting–sometimes traditional, sometimes not. This week, they’ve got Maple Pork Belly over Tom Yum risotto, and Pan Roasted Potato Croquettes with a Mussaman curry reduction–creative ways to take Thai flavors to new places. The Curry Puffs, filled with chicken, potato and onion, are always on the menu, as is the lightly-fried Chicken Wrapped in Pandanus Leaf, and sweet-and-spicy Mango Salad.
Spice Island Tea House, Oakland
There was a time, 15-20 years ago, when Atwood Street in Oakland was the most delicious place in Pittsburgh. One of the few things left standing (besides Mad Mex) from that era is the incredibly durable Spice Island, which has introduced Thai, Burmese, Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean dishes into the culinary bloodstream of Pittsburgh for a long time. It’s still good. The Sambal Goreng Udang (Indonesian Shrimp Curry) and Singapore Rice Noodle are two great places to start, as is the Gutgyi Gut (Southern Burmese Noodle), a wide rice noodle dish with shrimp and beef.