Here are a dozen places to visit in Downtown/Strip District, East End, South Side and South Hills for the best tacos in Pittsburgh.
Restaurants these days promise plenty of things. They promise to be sustainable, to deliver your pizza in nanoseconds. They promise that their entrees are gluten- or meat-free. But no restaurant promises quite what Kavsar -- possibly the city's first Uzbek restaurant -- does.
"Kavsar is a paradise river where the water is crystal-clear. Moreover, it is whiter than milk and colder than ice ... Everybody who plunges into this river will never be thirsty and will always be healthy," reads the website. "We try to save this magic and relaxed atmosphere in our restaurant ..."
First of all, if the Uzbeks think bathing in sub-freezing water is relaxing, they're some tough people. And second, if you're fearful that a trip to the restaurant will be like plunging into a body of water "colder than ice," fear not. The dining room was perfectly pleasant.
If not a bath in an icy river, what does Kavsar offer? Well, for one, probably your first taste of Uzbek food, a cuisine with undercurrents of Russian influence, not surprising given Uzbekistan was formerly part of the U.S.S.R. (Borscht is an offering on the menu.)
My Mount Washingtonian friend Amanda accompanied me on a trip to the restaurant, a few hair-raising hairpin turns off East Sycamore Street on Southern Avenue. Once you get there, you'll climb even higher to its second-story dining room, a brightly lit space with chair covers reminiscent of a hotel ballroom.
A television played popular dance-y Uzbek music videos. A keyboard, guitar and microphone were set up in one corner, where a man briefly strummed some tunes and sang along to background music, serenading his sole pair of customers. It was strange, yes, but also endearing.
The service was not exactly swift, but our waiter was sweet and smile-y. She recommended starting with the Kavsar salad ($8.99), a mix of shredded chicken, boiled eggs, "canned sweet corn" and small sliced pickles. The mixture was tossed together and bathed in mayonnaise. If you're a mayo-phobe, this dish is probably not for you. And the milky appearance of the dish even caused me to cringe a bit. But it was oddly delicious and decently balanced with the pickles. (The white vinegar on the table lent more tartness to break up the mayo-heavy creaminess).
My favorite dish was among the starters -- the Julien in pancake bags ($5.99). "Pancake bags" is a less-than-flattering name for what ended up being a fairly elegant presentation of blintz-like crepes stuffed with a mixture of sliced beef and mushrooms in a cream sauce. They were twisted at the top dumpling-like and sprinkled with fresh dill.
Dill made another appearance in the Okroshka ($6.99), a cold soup made of a tart, milky-white broth (perhaps inspired by that Kavsar River) with cucumbers, boiled eggs and sliced beef. Once I got past the intense layer of sliced scallions -- which covered the dish -- it was quite good.
The entrees impressed less. My Uzbek Palov ($7.99) was a dish of nicely spiced rice and delicious roasted carrots with dry slices of beef on top. Amanda complained of the same with the Nuhot Shurak ($7.49), which appeared to be roughly the same preparation of beef but with chickpeas.
Dessert, though, was redemption. The homemade honey cake ($4.50), a special that day, was a heavenly preparation of a dense but flaky pastry layered with cream and honey.
If you're searching for the feeling you get plunging in to an ice-cold river, the Allegheny in December might be a better option. But Kavsar does deliver on its promise of "reasonable prices, rich assortment of dishes, cozy atmosphere," as its website claims. There are few dishes that cost more than $10, and it's an awesome opportunity to sample a little-exposed cuisine.
Kavsar is at 16 Southern Ave., Mount Washington; 412-488-8709 and www.kavsar.us.
Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org. Munch: email@example.com or on Twitter @PGMunch. Become a Facebook Friend of Munch at www.facebook.com/munchPG.