Dine: Getting that choice table in Pittsburgh becoming a tougher option

Last week the reservation website OpenTable launched an alert app for "impossible reservations" in New York, Houston and Los Angeles. The tool is a pilot called "Hot Tables," which allows users to program alerts for highly coveted seats at busy restaurants.

It's only recently that jockeying for tables has become part of dining out in Pittsburgh, when diners have had to develop advance strategies on where to eat and when to eat.

Although many hard-to-score seats are at new restaurants, others are at favorite Pittsburgh neighborhood spots with a loyal following, many of which don't take reservations. Read on for the short list.

10) Butterjoint, the barroom sibling to Legume in Oakland, doesn't take reservations, but that doesn't dissuade diners. Host Patrick Orr says that nightly happy hour from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. is the most crowded, although most nights, the quest for tables continues through the dinner rush. Also popular are pre-theater and before Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures events on Monday nights. Terrific cocktails and the "most awesome burger" are draws (214 N. Craig St., 412-621-2700).

9) Pamela's P&G Diner in the Strip is preposterously crowded -- Saturdays especially -- as shoppers wait in line for an hour for President Barack Obama's favorite pancakes. Bring a newspaper, a friend or a flask to pass time during the wait, as there's no bar nor brunch drinks at this institution (60 21st St., 412-281-6366).

8) How Lee, a Squirrel Hill Chinese restaurant with a respectable Sichuan menu, has a wait most nights between 5:30 and 9:30, the result of solid cooking and plenty of dishes laden with numbing peppercorns and a plethora of hot chilis. If you're stuck at the door holding a number, not to worry. Seats free up quickly and the wait is tolerable (5888 Forbes Ave., 412-422-1888).

7) Saturday nights are much busier than brunch at E2 in Highland Park. "There are sometimes 30 to 40 people waiting for a table," said manager Jason Thomas. "And I have to break the hearts of 20 of them." The BYOB restaurant has 11 tables, none of which is better than another. "They're all great." (5904 Bryant St., 412-441-1200).

6) Table 35, a four-top next to the fireplace by the windows and away from the bar, at Meat and Potatoes garners the longest wait, said Katelyn Roney, marketing and events manager for the restaurant and for Butcher and the Rye, both Downtown. This table as well as any other on a Saturday night requires reservations at least two to three weeks in advance.

At Butcher and the Rye, diners ask for tables for two upstairs in the rye bar and in the library, especially for table 40, next to the taxidermy bear. Weekend reservations are booked several weeks ahead (Meat & Potatoes, 649 Penn Ave., 412-325-7007; Butcher and the Rye, 212 Sixth St., 412-391-2752).

5) At Grit & Grace, Downtown, "People enjoy communal tables because they're the center of the action," said chef-owner Brian Pekarcik. At first, they were going to be first-come, first-serve, but demand calls for reservations. Currently, they're booked seven days out (Spoon, 134 S. Highland Ave., 412-362-6001; Grit & Grace, 525 Liberty Ave., 412-281-4748).

4) At Eleven weekend reservations book up a week or two out, especially in spring closer to holidays and graduation. For coveted tables, the wait is longer. Next time you're at the bar at Eleven, look up to find table 201, the dramatic location for the restaurant's best table that seats two or four people. Forgo the view of the dining room and pull the curtain for privacy. Diners have to book a reservation a month in advance for the table (1150 Smallman St., 412-201-5656).

3) Point Brugge in Point Breeze on Saturday night warrants two-hour waits for good mussels, delicious fries, an interesting beer list and casual hospitality. A cozy space in a neighborhood with a dearth of restaurants also ensures that a seat here comes with luck (401 Hastings St., 412-441-3334).

2) With a mere seven tables, the seasonal American spot, Wild Rosemary Bistro in Upper St. Clair, might have the longest wait. "We're booked every Saturday through December 2014," said co-owner Cathleen Enders. "And we're booked through July for tables for two." In the sixth year the restaurant has been open, the demand has only increased. "It's one of those things you don't want to talk about," she said. "We don't want to jinx it." (1469 Bower Hill Road, 412-221-1232).

1) The counter seats that overlook the kitchen at Cure in Lawrenceville are the most-sought after seats in the house at Justin Severino's restaurant, partly because he was nominated as a semifinalist for the "Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic" for this year's James Beard awards. Although they're not the most comfortable seats, they're the best view of the kitchen. Seats are reserved two weeks in advance (5336 Butler St., 412-252-2595).

Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.


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