Legends Eatery, North Side
It was formerly called Legends of the North Shore, which was an unnecessary mouthful. Better to save that room for the food. You’ll find plenty of Steelers stuff on the walls: The Legends in question all wear black and gold. Though the name gives few clues, this place is all about classic Italian dishes, like Gnocchi Bolognese and Eggplant Melanzane (featuring “Mama’s Gravy”), served with surprising refinement. Legends is small and sweet and consistently great. It’s also BYOB.
Max’s Allegheny Tavern, North Side
The undisputed heavyweight champion of longevity in Pittsburgh dining, Max’s has been a bar and/or hotel for more than 100 years in historic Deutschtown. It took its present form (which looks like a turn-of-the-19th-century tavern) in 1977. This is the opposite of cutting-edge cuisine, but can anything top the immortal combination of German beer, cheese and tubular meats? Expect the best; order the wurst. By this, I mean weisswurst (mild veal sausage), knackwurst (beef) and bratwurst (veal and pork sausage). Then get the amazing deep-fried Bavarian stuffed pretzels and you can practically roll yourself home.
Point Brugge, Point Breeze
There are few culinary pleasures in Pittsburgh as dependable as the Moules Frites at Point Brugge, the Belgian beer bar known for its strong menu. You can flex your mussels — a pound and a half of them! — with four different sauces (I prefer the Classic White Wine or Red Curry) and perhaps the city’s best fries. Or, go big in another direction with the Carbonnade Flamande — beef braised in a Belgian brown ale. Now they’ve got spots in Highland Park and on the North Side that are well on their way to becoming similarly beloved local institutions in those neighborhoods. But you can’t beat the original.
Amel’s Restaurant, South Hills
Though it’s on the edge of a nondescript South Hills strip mall — and only in a “neighborhood” in the vaguest sense — Amel’s is unique enough to merit a place on this list. It’s like a charming trip back in time, from the “Arabian Nights” mural to the white tablecloths and dishes like Baked Artichoke Parmesan with Spinach, which has fallen off most menus for no good reason. Instead of homely Italian, though, they mostly serve classic Middle Eastern dishes like fire-grilled shish kabobs, curiously sweet baba ghanouj, and of, course, a gyro platter.
Johnny’s Italian Dining, Wilmerding
This kind of classic red-sauce Italian-American restaurant used to be everywhere in Pittsburgh, but they’re becoming rare nowadays. It’s too bad, because sometimes you just want a familiar dish delivered with gusto, like Johnny’s Linguini with White Clam Sauce or Veal Saltimbocca a la Romano or even Oysters Rockefeller — dishes that are disappearing from menus by the day. This is the kind of place where you automatically hear Sinatra playing, even if it’s just in your head.
Check out more in this recent great Pittsburgh restaurants off the beaten path.