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!
We were invited out to the 2018 event as media guests of Pittsburgh Magazine and wanted to share our 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.
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In 2018 over 40 restaurants participated in the event, and the list of restaurants included the following (follow the links to read our own reviews when available!):
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 (2018's list can be viewed here), but are still some of the city's best all the same.
The $95 ticket price ($150 day of) 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).
To be honest, we were quite worried about this one prior to attending the event as the party is known to have crowds exceeding 2,000 people. With only 40 or so vendors, we had no idea what the line situation could be like as we were envisioning crowds of 50+ 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, 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 we were able to sample about 35 of the roughly 40 featured chefs and ultimately ended up getting completely stuffed before the evening ran its course.
Had we had the stomachs for it, we probably could've tried them all and we are more than okay with that being the limiting factor for this premium event!
Highlights of 2018's Best Restaurant Party
As you can gather from the list above, sampling the roughly 40 featured restaurants is next to impossible. But during our visit to the 2018 Best Restaurants Party we gave it our best and ended up sampling about 35, with a few seconds thrown in the mix for good measure.
The highlights included the following:
- Downtown favorite or, The Whale put together a hybrid of fish chowder and sashimi that could be eaten with a fork and was one of our favorite dishes of the night.
- Umami had another sashimi dish paired with radish and cilantro that was light and refreshing.
- Apteka put together a beautiful toast that featured carrot pate, cucumber, radish, smoked chilie oil, and seed bread.
- One of our highlights was Lautrec from Nemacolin which prepared a full-on taco with sous-vide pork cheek topped with Amish feta and a decadent jalapeno honey- a meal on its own right!
- On the dessert front Cure knocked it out of the park with a paw paw mousse and prune jam combo that was like a deconstructed cream pie.
But there were many other notable dishes present including the delicious Omi's slice from Driftwood Oven, a full Indian buffet by Taj Mahal, madeleines from Madeleine Bakery, pea soup from Hyeholde, and so much more that we simply wish we 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 in crostini style dishes (logical for easy sampling) as well as heavy into fish options (which we're okay with for the premium price tag).
Overall, while there were many vegetarian options, they were sparse enough that those with this dietary restriction may have reason to pause as well. 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, we opted to make this one a sober night and did not sample any of the libations- a rarity for us if we 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, we 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!
We'd like to thank Pittsburgh Magazine for inviting us out to the party in 2018. As always, all opinions are our own.