Chefs Brian Hammond and Gavin Federico are busy creating upscale American cuisine for North Side residents and visitors. Photo courtesy of Siempre Algo.
Short rib over polenta. Photo courtesy of Molinaro Ristorante.

Molinaro Ristorante & Bar, Downtown

It was a bit of a surprise when the high-end, Greek seafood-centric Poros closed in this beautiful Downtown spot on Market Square. Luckily, it didn’t lie dormant long before it was snapped up by the team behind Il Pizzaiolo. They hired a chef from D.C., Domenico Cornacchia, who is originally from the Abruzzo region of Italy. It’s still a stunning indoor/outdoor space, with golden-hued lighting, sleek lines and style to spare. Southern Italian cooking and seafood from the Amalfi coast are emphasized here, with dishes like Guazzetto Di Pesce, a seafood brodetto (fish stew) with tomato, monkfish, branzino, dorade and calamari. There’s also Spaghetti Pomodoro, Neopolitan pizzas and Ricotta Gnocchi, if you’re looking for the classics.

The interior of Lorelei in East Liberty.

Lorelei, East Liberty

Both a cocktail bar and a German-style beer hall, Lorelei is easily one of Pittsburgh’s best new places to get a drink. German and Czech beers dominate, with a few American IPAs and some curve balls like German pear and apple cider on tap. There are creative cocktails from the people behind the mighty Hidden Harbor in Squirrel Hill. Lorelei also has some of the best bar food in town, created by a James Beard Award-nominated chef, Jamilka Borges, and a top-notch pastry chef, Dianne DeStefano (Twisted Frenchman). The long, thin Lorelei Pretzels are a must, served with mustard and bacon-kraut cheese spread. Also featured are hand pies — like gigantic, crusty savory empanadas — such as the Braised Lamb Pie, with a slight Indian accent of chickpeas, tamarind and mint chutney, and Octopus Pie, with sweet potatoes, golden raisins and nutty, peppery Catalan Romesco sauce.

Revival on Lincoln. The restaurant occupies a 116-year-old house. Photo by Joe Riebling.

Revival on Lincoln, Bellevue

If you’re looking for a reason to check out this charming little borough, Revival on Lincoln is a good one. You can’t miss it — it’s the massive red-and-white edifice with giant Greek Revival columns, vacant for years. Executive chef Jamie Sola, previously of the Allegheny Country Club and Southern Tier Brewing, fills this massive space with an eclectic menu of dishes like Pecan Crusted Akura Salmon with braised lentils, cippolini onion and charred broccoli; and Shrimp and Smoked Cheddar Grits, with roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, poached egg, scallions and a sherry glaze.

Cilantro & Ajo, South Side

It doesn’t seem fair to be this delicious, and cost this little. Venezuelan street food served in a bright little shop beyond the busy part of East Carson Street, toward Station Square. Fluffy corn arepas are the main draw here, like the Llanera with beef, avocado, tomato and white cheese, or the Maracucha, with roasted pork, fried cheese, avocado and a special cilantro and ajo sauce. Plus, there’s crispy, savory empanadas like Bacon & Gouda and “Seafood Explosion.” Great for breakfast or lunch, though it becomes crowded quickly. They could probably squeeze a few more tables in here.

Pie for Breakfast, Oakland. Photo courtesy of Pie for Breakfast.

Pie for Breakfast, Oakland

Chef Trevett Hooper, who owns the acclaimed Butterjoint and Legume next door, envisioned Pie for Breakfast like this: “Imagine if a truck stop and a European coffee shop had a baby.” He somehow managed to create just that, offering classic comfort food with locally-sourced ingredients. There are excellent renditions of standards like Buttermilk Pancakes and Quiche, as well as distinctive new dishes like Chopped Lamb Steak with harissa aioli, two eggs, cheesy grits, braised greens and Appalachian salt rising bread toast. Plus, of course, there’s pie: Apple pie, Peach pie, Shoofly pie, Pecan pie, Buttermilk pie, Vinegar pie, Chess pie. Breakfast is served through lunch. They are no longer open for dinner.

Walter’s Southern Kitchen, Lawrenceville

Southern cooking from New York City, (where else?). The team from Morgan’s in Brooklyn liked what they saw in Lawrenceville, and turned an old car dealership into one of the nicest indoor/outdoor patios in Pittsburgh, heavy on the reclaimed wood and corrugated metal. Now it’s cold, so there’s a giant green tent up in front. Dry rub Texas-style barbecue is the focus here. Brisket is the star, but try the smoked pork shoulder on a brioche bun, with a light, vinegary coleslaw on top. Bottles of BBQ sauce are handy at each table for just the right dosage — there’s a smoky, sweet one and a slightly spicier, peppery one.

The Warren. Image via Facebook.

Penn Cove Eatery and The Warren Bar and Burrow, Downtown

One of those Old Pittsburgh things that is sort of disappearing is the giant fish sandwich that you used to be able to get at every bar. Penn Cove Eatery isn’t that, exactly, but with the considerable piscine resources of Penn Avenue Fish Co. in the Strip, it’s hard to imagine wanting more in the fish department. Sandwiches include the English Style Cod and the Sneaky Pete, grilled salmon with arugula, hearts of palm and spicy avocado creme on whole grain ciabatta. Penn Cove is open for lunch only, and does sushi and fish sandwiches. It’s also a wine shop. There’s an adjacent bar called The Warren Bar and Burrow, run by Spencer Warren and Carrie Clayton of Subversive Cocktails (Embury), with its own excellent bar menu (that also includes sushi) and some of the best drinks Downtown, like the strong, warming Fred’s Old Fashioned and the delightfully sweet Whiskey in a Teacup.

LeoGreta, Carnegie

Carnegie continues its winning streak with this unpretentious Italian cafe, named after the parents of chef Greg Alauzen (Cioppino, Eleven). If you’re looking for beautifully executed classics like Cavatelli with house-made sausage and rapini, this is the place. Also try the Italian Beef sandwich, slow-cooked with peppers, onions and mushrooms. Save room for desserts like the Chocolate-Praline Pot de Creme and Buttermilk Panna Cotta. Carnegie is crowing about this one and we understand why. 

Other openings of note

Of course, there were a few worthy restaurants that just missed the list, like the unusual Northeastern Chinese cooking of Northeastern Kitchen in Squirrel Hill and the Turkish Kebab House in Shadyside. For a quick bite it’s hard to beat Choolaah in East Liberty and Duncan St. Sandwich Shop in Millvale.

The suburbs (further away than Bellevue and Etna) had a few key openings too, like Coast & Main Seafood and Chophouse in Monroeville, Mediterra Cafe in Sewickley (of the Mediterra Bakehouse family) and Calavera Tap + Taco in the North Hills. 

And can we mention just one more? Alida’s in Lawrenceville, next to the Roberto Clemente Museum, offers wood-fired pizzas that are among the best in town and a full menu of Italian food that’s consistently great. They opened in late 2017, so we missed them last year. From the banana peppers appetizer (spicy hot but truly a treat) to any of the pastas or seafood, this place rocks. And there’s free parking next door. In Lawrenceville!

Check out the best restaurants that opened in 2017. 

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife,...