When it comes to cities with a vibrant dining culture—and we can safely say Pittsburgh is one of them now —there’s a pronounced bias towards the new. Restaurants, trends, ingredients and concepts all come and go in the blink of an eye. It can be hard to keep up.
We get it. The promise of the new is always going to be a story. That’s why oceans of ink (and, uh, pixels) have been spilled on the subject of places like Superior Motors in Braddock, which just ever-so-softly opened its doors.
But we thought it would also be a good idea to showcase the places that have stood the test of time. These are restaurants that have carved out a niche and made it their own, or have found ways to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. They’ve earned their reputations the hard way, weathered adversity, and fought the fickle nature of modern dining to a draw.
Ten years is a long time for a human being. But for a restaurant, a decade might as well be 100 years. Survival is a real accomplishment.
Here are 15 really good Pittsburgh restaurants that have lasted at least that long:
15. Cafe du Jour, South Side
Cafe du Jour isn’t exactly a secret, since 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, no website—that it’s kind of easy to miss. That’s a shame, because Cafe du Jour has somehow found the sweet spot between great food and a completely low-key, unpretentious atmosphere. Current dishes include Tomatillo Bacon Bisque with Lemon Caper Crab Salad and Split Pea Veggie Burger (with kimchi, spinach and leek crema, on brioche). Plus, there’s an unexpectedly beautiful back patio.
14. Alla Famiglia, Allentown
It’s always been a bit of an anomaly—an elegant, white tablecloth traditional Italian place in gritty, potholed Allentown. Now, Allentown’s business district is in the midst of an actual revival, with food, coffee and tech startups in close proximity. Alla Famiglia is still here, doing what it does best: steaks, chops, veal, pasta, high-end, no expense spared. They even have their own farm south of the city, where much of the produce you see on the plate is grown.
13. Jozsa Corner, Hazelwood
Since 1988, Josza Corner has served “Hungarian Country Styled Family Cooking” made with passion and contagious joy by one man who’s doing pretty much exactly what he wants to do, all the time. (Seriously, call ahead—chef/owner Alex Bodnar only opens up if he’s got diners.) Hearty, rustic-like Transylvanian Gulyas, stuffed cabbage, Palacsinta (thin Hungarian pancakes) and spicy kolbasz served gregariously in a gentrification-proof corner of Hazelwood. Anthony Bourdain was just there, so those reservations are going to get scarce fast.
12. 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 just 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.
11. Soba, Shadyside
Soba pairs a creative, chef-driven approach with Asian cuisines that weren’t exactly on every corner of Pittsburgh in the early 2000s. You can mix and match classics from across Asia with more unusual dishes—Korean BBQ Ribs, Burmese Tea Leaf Dumplings, Lobster Tacos, Banh Mi Bao Buns. Soba remains a really attractive, stylish place—lots of dark wood, bamboo, rich textures and semi-hidden alcoves.
10. Café Zinho, Shadyside
There was a time when chef/owner Tony Pais was Pittsburgh’s main name brand chef, when his Baum Vivant and Café Zao were getting universal acclaim. He’s back to just one small spot, Café Zinho, tucked away on a Shadyside side street since 1997. With a terrific patio and cozy little dining room, it’s one of the most easygoing (yet outstanding) dining experiences in town. The menu reflects both Pais’ Portuguese background and just about unmatched knowledge of local tastes.
9. Casbah, Shadyside
Almost an entire a generation of Pittsburgh culinary talents have come through Casbah to hone their kitchen chops. There’s always a creative, pan-Mediterranean menu, heavy on the seaborne dishes, like Charred Spanish Rock Octopus, and pastas like short rib ravioli, and an emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients, like Elysian Fields Lamb from Waynesburg. A terrific bar and wine selection never hurts, either. A semi-enclosed dining room manages to circulate fresh air while shutting out the rain and traffic from the strip mall next door.
8. Piccolo Forno, Lawrenceville
If you do one thing supremely well . . . then, well, you should probably keep doing it. For, Piccolo Forno, that’s pizza. When it opened on Butler Street in 2005, Lawrenceville had barely begun to shake off its post-industrial doldrums. Even though others make credible Tuscan-style wood-fired pizza now, Piccolo Forno still packs in the crowds. Luckily, if you have to wait, they also own the adjacent Grapperia Bar Classico (literally around the corner), the most Italian bar in Pittsburgh, serving grappa, amari and cocktails.
7. Eleven Contemporary Kitchen, Strip District
Mad Mex may be the bulk of the big Burrito Restaurant Group’s business, but its culinary all-stars (past, present and future) often seem to end up here. Eleven is physically and metaphorically located on a hinge between classy Downtown formality and the Strip’s more laid-back, convivial culinary culture. The Eleven Burger—made with braised veal, black pepper bacon and crispy onions—is still a must-try dish. Like all big Burrito restaurants, there’s something good for vegetarians too, like the current Sheep’s Milk Gnudi (with pea puree, morels, braised endive, almonds and ramps). Throw in a top-notch wine list and Chef Eli Wahl’s nightly tasting menu, and it’s hard to think of reasons for Eleven to ever close.
6. Piper’s Pub, South Side
Here’s a good example of how to age well in the restaurant business: Find your audience—in this case, including (but not limited to) lots of British ex-pats and soccer fans of every stripe—and give them what they want. Piper’s Pub took their time, building up a dedicated clientele with yes-it’s-actually-good take on Scottish/British pub grub: Toad-in-the-Hole, Bangers & Mash, etc. Then, they took their time opening a spot next door, The Pub Chip Shop, serving take-out baked goods and street food: pasties, Baps (sandwiches on soft, buttery rolls), Steak and Ale Pies, Irish potato boxties. Recently, they also started doing doughnuts. No matter how many times you’ve been, there’s always a reason to go back.
5. Tessaro’s American Bar and Hardwood Grille, Bloomfield
Long before the gourmet burger trend caught fire, Tessaro’s in-house butcher and wood-fired grill were cranking out half-pound masterpieces of meat. There’s a lot more competition now, but Tessaro’s back-to-basics approach still sets the standard for burgers in Pittsburgh.