Risk Takers in Pittsburgh’s Culinary Scene

For some folks, “good enough” is not good enough. Restauranteurs with the itch to keep innovating often gift us with great new food and drink, memorable dining experiences, and more reasons to love our city. These are some of the establishments taking risks in Pittsburgh’s culinary scene.

Risk Takers in Pittsburgh’s Culinary Scene

Joey Hilty

The Vandal

4306 Butler St, Lawrenceville

Infused with Chef Joey Hilty’s travels, the menu at The Vandal is restless in the best way. The menu changes seasonally, and chef-driven specials are a marvel. Ponder the choices over the restaurant’s elegant Martini Service, which is a classic martini in a properly chilled glass served on a silver tray alongside a little iced carafe that holds your second. Order with confidence: everything will be delicious.

Joey Hilty, a risk taker in Pittsburrgh stands at a bar with a martini glass in front of him.

Joey Hilty stands at The Vandal’s bar with a signature martini.

Café Momentum Pittsburgh

268 Forbes Ave, Downtown

Founded in Dallas, this is the third iteration of Café Momentum. Helmed by Chef Peter Henry and Board Chair Kirk Johnson, the restaurant unites the realms of good food and doing good. The parent organization offers young trainees a chance to get out and stay out of the juvenile justice system with wrap-around support. These young people flourish with real-life experience as well as coursework, laying the groundwork for successful careers. And guess what: the food is amazing. The Smoked Fried Chicken might change your life. While you enjoy it, you might help change a life, too.

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski


4606 Penn Ave, Bloomfield

In a meat-and-potatoes town, can you succeed without the meat? APTEKA, the brainchild of James Bead Award-nominees Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski, answers: Hell yes! Their explorations of Eastern European foodways result in herbaceous counterpoints, a layering of textures, and a variety of flavors. You will not leave craving meat or dairy––just more of APTEKA’s delicious food. A list of wines, often from tiny, family-run vineyards, makes an evening at APTEKA even richer.

Roger Li

The Parlor Dim Sum, Umami Izakaya, Nanban, Allegheny Wine Mixer

With four restaurants, how does Chef Roger Li remain friendly and unflappable? We’ll have what he’s having, to paraphrase a famous line from a famous movieent. His latest venture, The Parlor Dim Sum, started, like the others, as a pop-up, which allows him to test and refine his ideas before launching. Perhaps Roger is unflappable because he acts on facts! This old-fashioned approach, and the popularity of his mother’s and grandmother’s dim sum recipes, suggest that the old ways are the best ways.

Jamilka Borges and Dianne DeStefano


238 Spahr St, Shadyside

After a decade of working together on and off at various Pittsburgh restaurants, chefs Jamilka Borges and Dianne DeStefano decided to forge their own destiny. Lilith brings to life their vision for every aspect of a great dining experience. The décor is engaging and slightly quirky. The menu is varied and often downright exciting. The staff is knowledgeable and fun. There’s joy here. And really good food.

Nate McLaughlin and Jenna McLaughlin

Velum Fermentation

2120 Jane St, South Side

A “third space” refers to a place that is neither home nor work, but which gifts a sense of belonging to those who use it. Velum Fermentation’s third space combines brews and games in a kind of South Side living room. There’s a hint here of the 19th- and 20th-century social halls that sprang up in Pittsburgh for people who shared a homeland, a religion, or maybe just a hobby. With so much of life happening online, third spaces like this are vital.

Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik

gi-jin, Meat & Potatoes, täkō, Fish Nor Fowl, Coop De Ville, täkō tôrtä, Sally Ann’s

Gin and sushi. Until seated at Downtown’s gi-jin, we never thought about pairing them. Our conclusion? Delicious. Like much of the work of the DeShantz Group, our discovery took place in a visually stimulating environment, guided by very professional staff. After dining at each of the company’s establishments, remembering the still-closed Poulet Bleu and anticipating the soon-to-open Golden Gai Izakaya, we tip our hats to the creativity and discipline it takes to do this work.

Story by TABLE Staff / Photography by Laura Petrilla

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