Last Updated on July 6, 2020 by Jeremy
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Pittsburgh Magazine is one of the city's largest local media outlets and features everything from news to event coverage to restaurant reviews.
Each May the magazine unveils their top restaurants for the year (generally 30-40 picks) as selected by an independent panel. This unveiling culminates in their annual Best Restaurant Party that takes place at Heinz Field in early June- with many of the top Pittsburgh restaurants participating!
I was invited out to the 2019 event as a media guest of Pittsburgh Magazine and wanted to share my thoughts of this annual event!
Pittsburgh's Top Restaurants All in One Spot
So what does Pittsburgh Magazine classify as a top restaurant?
Well, they take a very similar view to restaurant quality that we do in that to be a top restaurant you don't have to be new wave fine dining, but simply excel at your craft, execute dishes flawlessly time and time again, and be elevating the city's food scene.
This can be a mom-and-pop spot or be run by one of the city's most famous chefs. Great food is great food regardless of setting, and we can totally get behind that.
In 2019 nearly 50 restaurants participated in the event, and the list of restaurants included the following (follow the links to read our own reviews when available!):
- or, The Whale
- Piazza Talarico
- Poulet Bleu
- Pretzel Crazy
- Rivers Event Center
- Rolling Pepperoni
- Senti Restaurant
- Senya Thai Kitchen
- Silk Elephant
- Spoon (Now Closed)
- Superior Motors
- Taj Mahal
- Texas de Brazil
- The Boulevard Lounge
- The Cafe Carnegie
- The Foundry Table & Tap
- The Twisted Frenchman
- Umami Pgh
- Union Standard
- Vivo Kitchen
Our first impression of the above list is that the event features a fine cross-section of the city's top restaurants (and that we have a whole lot more work to do when it comes to eating our way around the city!).
Our second impression is more of a note that the event features several restaurants that were not picked to be in the best restaurant feature itself, but offered up some delicious options all the same. (Spots like LeMont, Texas de Brazil, La Colombe Coffee, and several others in the west wing of the event.)
A ticket gets you in Heinz Field for unlimited samples from the participating restaurants, the ability to speak to many of the chefs directly, and of course being able to mingle with a few thousand like-minded Pittsburgh food fans!
How is the Crowd at the Best Restaurant Party?
As with most events we feature on this site, we always like to dive into what the crowd was like in relation to actually getting to enjoy the event (which in this case means getting samples of the food).
We are always quite worried about this as the party is known to have crowds exceeding 2,000 people. With only ~50 or so vendors, we had no idea what the line situation could be like as we were envisioning crowds of 40+ people deep at any given spot.
Thankfully, Pittsburgh Magazine's Best Restaurant Party is an event to mingle as much as it is to sample.
We ran into chefs who weren't participating, restaurant employees who were on a quick break to grab some food, and a handful of friends as well that we got to catch up with throughout the evening.
We'd normally gloss over this point in other event reviews, but it is crucial here because the longest line at any restaurant was about 20 people deep at any given time in 2019 (only about five or so on average though), and many you could walk right up depending on your timing relative to others. Although admittedly it helps when the chefs are able to crank out plate after plate after plate at any given time as opposed to, say, drinking events where you have to wait for every single pour.
During the course of the evening, I was able to sample about 35 of the roughly 50 featured chefs and ultimately ended up getting completely stuffed before the evening ran its course.
Had I had the stomach for it, I probably could've tried them all and I am more than okay with that being the limiting factor for this premium event!
Highlights of 2019's Best Restaurant Party
As you can gather from the list above, sampling the nearly 50 featured restaurants is next to impossible. But during my visit to the 2019 Best Restaurants Party, I gave it my best and ended up sampling about 35- with a few seconds thrown in the mix for good measure.
The highlights included the following:
- Fish Nor Fowl served up a miso scallop carpaccio topped with green almond that was one of the highlights of the evening.
- Umami offered a light tuna poke bite that is on par with some of their best sashimi.
- Fairlane offered mini fried chicken sandwiches with some rather delectable flavor.
- Eliza offered an Asian bao dish which had a flavor profile unlike any other station as most stayed away from East Asian dishes.
- Poulet Bleu brought not one, but two raclette machines and covered bread and potatoes with freshly melted cheese.
- On the dessert front, Superior Motors won the show with an orange almond and fig meringue dish that I had to get seconds of.
But there were many other notable dishes present including the delicious Omi's slice from Driftwood Oven, a full Indian buffet by Taj Mahal, Jamison Farm lamb tartare from Butcher and the Rye, and so much more that I simply wished I had more room to have seconds (and perhaps thirds) of.
Suffice it to say, if you wanted to feast yourself on several dozen creations from the city's best chefs, this is the best spot to do it all in one go.
On the negative front, if there were any, it would be that the chefs went heavily into meatballs this year (crostini the year before), with several options being found. Great for a quick bite, but not so much for variety.
Likewise, while there were many vegetarian options, they were sparse enough that those with this dietary restriction may have reason to pause as well (there were also many nut features as well for those with allergies). But if you're a meat and/or seafood eater, well, you'll be quite pleased here!
Going beyond the food, the best restaurant party also has a cash bar which featured domestic beer as well as a conventional spread of wine options. In an effort to try all the foods, I opted to make this one a sober night and did not sample any of the libations- a rarity if I have to admit.
Overall, Pittsburgh Magazine's Best Restaurant Party is a great celebration of some of the city's best restaurants. Both the article feature and the event does a fantastic job at gathering a nice cross-section of the city's best chefs and puts them all in an easily accessible event.
This one is a premium night out, I have to reiterate that one again, but if you look at next year's participating restaurant list, see a ton of new spots you want to try before you visit, and have a bit of extra cash burning a hole in your pocket, this event could be a great option for just the cost of two nice meals out!
I'd like to thank Pittsburgh Magazine for inviting us out to the party in 2019. As always, all opinions are our own.