Max's Allegheny Tavern int 1
Max's Allegheny Tavern. Photo by Tom O'Connor

Like an expanse of green parkland or canopy of old-growth trees, some restaurants are so woven into the fabric of a neighborhood that it’s hard to imagine the place without them.

These are places with great food and an authentically welcoming vibe. And yet in the constant quest for what’s new and hot right now, it’s easy to overlook them.

Here are 10 of our favorite neighborhood gem restaurants. (Admittedly, it’s a little North Side and South Side-heavy.) May they never close.

Dish Osteria and Bar, South Side

It was closed for a time, to the chagrin of many. Now Dish is back, and somehow — in a city that’s not exactly hurting for Italian food — it remains the gold standard. Picture sipping amaro in the dim light of its elegant barroom, with perfect panna cotta on the way. A hearty glow on one’s cheeks, after consuming some eternally good dish like Quaglia alla Griglia (quail atop polenta and broccoli rabe) or Polpo alla Griglia (grilled Spanish octopus). What city are we in again? What country? What century? (Who cares!)

Pizza at Sarafino’s. Photo courtesy of Joe Caliguire.
Pizza at Sarafino’s. Photo courtesy of Joe Caliguire.

Sarafino’s Restaurant, Crafton 

This humble Italian restaurant was featured on the show “Bizarre Foods,” which is a bit mystifying — and the segment spotlighted their Greens and Beans (with sausage), which seems like the least bizarre thing ever. Host Andrew Zimmern states that it’s meant to be a home-cooked dish, “too humble to be served in a restaurant” — but not in Pittsburgh! Well, come for the Greens and Beans, I guess. But stay for wonderful dishes like Pazzo’s Tuna Panini, veal parmagiana, pizza and any pasta served with Barb’s Bolognese Sauce.

Café Du Jour, South Side

Café Du Jour isn’t exactly a secret. It’s been right there on the South Side’s main drag since 2001 or so. And yet, it does so little in the way of calling attention to itself (uninspired name), that it’s easy to miss. That’s too bad because Café Du Jour has found the sweet spot between great food and a completely low-key, unpretentious atmosphere. Dishes like the North African Spiced Braised Beef (with hints of lemon, fennel and mint) and Z’atar Spiced Pork Chop take chances on bold, unexpected flavors, with much success. Plus, there’s an unexpectedly beautiful back patio when the weather’s warm.

Hot dogs at D’s.
Hot dogs at D’s.

D’s Six Pax & Dogz, Regent Square

Long before craft beer was even a thing, D’s was stocking weird and wonderful ales, lagers and stouts in its cavernous “beer cave.” Now every bar in town does it, but D’s is still among the best in this department. And besides stocking all that exceptional beer, one of its lesser-known qualities is D’s terrific menu of bar food that’s way better than it needs to be. Their hot dogs (or kielbasa, or cheesy bratwurst) are worth the trip alone — try the Hot Valentine, topped with sweet potato fries and Sriracha slaw, or the Angry Tiki, topped with hoisin sauce, bacon and pineapple. Their veggie dogs are also the best in town, and their double-fried fries have an extra dimension of crunchiness that sets them apart.

Monterey Pub, North Side

A cozy pub in a walkable neighborhood, with surprisingly good food — what could be better? Okay, the North Side is full of such places, but we won’t hold that against this cozy spot in the Mexican War Streets. Grab a Guinness and pair it with the Guinness Shredded Beef Nachos or Smoked Salmon Nachos, and you’re set for a brisk autumn night. There’s an art to good bar food and they’ve got it nailed here: the Sweet Potato Tater Tots, Fried Cheese Curds and giant Haddock Fish Sandwich are especially good. There’s also a full array of Irish pub fare, including standards like the Shepherd’s Pie and unusual things like the Devonshire Boxty — taking an Irish potato pancake and submerging it in layers of turkey, bacon and pepper jack cheese sauce — a twist on the classic Pittsburgh dish Turkey Devonshire.

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, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.