Pittsburgh Restaurant Week makes new dishes accessible for all

Emma Polen & Emily Fritz | Staff Editors

Jan. 19, 2023

The start of the new year is usually trademarked with gym memberships, fad diets and conscious eating, but instead of leaning into flawed resolutions and self-punishing diet culture, the Steel City celebrates January with its semi-annual Pittsburgh Restaurant Week. The most recent Restaurant Week took place last week from Jan. 9 to Jan. 15.

The culinary celebration made its debut back in 2012 when food blogger Brian McCollum partnered with Pittsburgh TasteBuds to organize 30 restaurants for a week-long celebration full of limited-time prix-fixe menus and dining deals, according to the official Pittsburgh Restaurant Week webpage.

Although they started small, Pittsburgh Restaurant Week has grown over the last decade to include 56 restaurants in their most recent celebration. The recurring theme for the winter time is “New Dishes for the New Year” to help create buzz about the must-try venues. A similar restaurant week occurs in the summer, and the theme is celebrated as “Al Fresco & Fresh Harvests” to encourage lighter dishes that utilize locally sourced produce.

This winter, several restaurants around the ‘Burgh took on the challenge of developing new and unique menu items for the Restaurant Week festivities.

Roman Bistro, an eatery in the Forest Hills, served up three-course lunch and dinner options that welcomed in new and existing customers alike.

“It’s always something we specially make for that week. It’s always very well-received,” said Ryan Wentling, the front-of-house bartender and server at Roman Bistro.

“People really enjoy doing something different.”

The customer enthusiasm for the special restaurant week menu at Roman Bistro was so popular, in fact, that Wentling said the restaurant has incorporated this type of specialty menu an additional two to four times a year, including a night of dinner and wine pairing.

“We enjoy doing Restaurant Week quite a bit because it brings in customers that we don’t normally see and we get to feature our dishes,” Wentling said.

Even Piada, the popular Italian street food chain, added cannoli chips to their menu during Restaurant Week. According to their website, Piada’s “crispy cannoli chips [are] tossed in powdered sugar and served with chocolate chip cannoli cream.”

La Palapa Mexican Kitchen & Mezcal Bar offered a three-course prix-fixe menu consisting of new dishes, like cream of poblano pepper and corn soup or their La Palapa salad for their starting courses, followed by Calabacitas a la Mexicana (a vegetarian offering) or Mixiote de Pollo as a main course and a sweet pineapple Tamal for dessert.

For diners worried about dietary restrictions or preferences, several restaurants offered vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free options, like Kabab and Curry Restaurant & Grill. Their prix-fixe included traditional Indian staples, such as vegetable samosa and palak paneer (both vegetarian options), while also offering vegan dishes such as Aloo Tikki, Chana Biryani and Suji Ka Halwa.

Other restaurants focused on offering new dishes that were specifically tailored for Restaurant Week, without locking diners into a multiple course feast. Luke Wholey’s Wild Alaskan Grille offered three different entrees, each for the minimum price of $20.23.

Participating businesses for this season ranged from Italian street food to Indian cuisine to multiple course dining experiences. In an attempt to balance affordability and the desire to support restaurants, prices for special menus fell between $20.23 (a cheeky play on the new year) for individual dishes inspired by the event and capped at $45.23 for prix-fixe menus in order to keep venues accessible.

Many restaurants appreciate the bump in business they receive from Pittsburgh Restaurant Week following the holiday season in the wintertime.

“This week is important because it’s coming out, supporting everyone while a lot of times businesses tend to slow down, especially restaurants during winter,” said Lane Clark, the front-of-house manager at Joe’s Crab Shack in Station Square.

Clark is new to the Pittsburgh food scene after moving to the area less than a year ago from Kansas. While new, he is excited to get people back into his business after Covid.

“I mean, shoot, you can’t always be cooped up in your house. You might as well go out and celebrate life a little bit and get you some crab,” Clark said.

Right now, Joe’s Crab Shack offers many different flavors of 18 oz buckets of snow crab, and their special menu options include crab-stuffed mushrooms, seared salmon and a limited time shrimp sampler.

Through the online directory on pittsburghrestaurantweek.com, users are able to browse by price, or sort by four different categories: whether the restaurant takes online reservations, accepts walk-in diners, or the restaurant’s sustainability practices.

For the adventurous foodie or the diner who feels overwhelmed when presented with too many options, Pittsburgh Restaurant Week created a fun game of “Restaurant Week Roulette,” where users could click a button and receive a randomly generated venue and its corresponding menu.

Missed Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Winter 2023? Keep an eye on their Instagram, @pghrestaurantwk, for information about the Spring 2023 celebration. Although dates have not yet been released, “Al Fresco & Fresh Harvests” has historically taken place during the first or second week of August.