The New York import lasted just under a year in Pittsburgh’s North Side.
Just about 3½ years ago in this space, note was made of the excellently cheeky local blog by Mike Neilson called “Used to be a Pizza Hut,” which tracks the repurposed spaces of the ubiquitous chain with the iconic red roofs around the world that have become laundromats, insurance agencies, churches and strip clubs (really) among other things.
It was germane to this column during an April 2014 examination of a Carnegie bottleshop because that thriving business (99 Bottles), in fact, used to be a Pizza Hut. But if Mr. Neilson was looking to update his quirky gift to the interwebs, he could add a subcategory: Used to be a Qdoba (a.k.a. the place that isn’t Chipotle but is still better than Moe’s).
Because apparently that is the building history at 4860 McKnight Road, where a Qdoba briefly gave way to the local franchise of some national outfit called Burger 21 that folded, which frankly is hard to believe because, man, it’s really difficult to find a decent hamburger in this day and age.
So now, striking one for the little guys, the independently owned McKnight Kitchen occupies that space. Opened in April by Nadia Yaibua and her husband, Ken Suksawatnamchok, it is a sibling-establishment to their Thai Tamarind in Bellevue.
Like their flagship, it’s also a BYOB spot and a relaxing, quiet space and, despite its rather nondescript name, they serve up some solid southeast Asian fare with quality ingredients on a large menu of favorites — curries, pad thai, noodle bowls, a slate of chef’s creations and sushi.
A bowl of the Tom Yum, or lemongrass soup ($5), had that signature funky sour flavor along with a nice helping of crispy vegetables.
One of my favorite dishes at this or any Thai place is the spicy Prig Khing ($13), with bright, crispy green beans and bell peppers sauteed in a chili paste. Despite being an avowed carnivore, I opted for extra veg rather than a protein as the spices are so warming and flavorful, the meat almost seems extraneous.
My wife’s crispy duck noodle soup ($13) had thin egg noodles with lightly fried duck, and steamed bok choy in a broth and is topped with crispy shallot. She reports that the broth was pleasing, the duck was tasty and not fatty as it so often can be, and the noodles were of a nice texture.
We split the Spider Fried Rice ($16), a plate of hot basil fried rice — stir-fried with egg, bell pepper, onion, basil leaves and chili paste — and topped with soft-shell crab tempura and crispy basil leaves. The fluffy rice and crispy crab were a nice contrast and the spice provided a slowly creeping heat.
Our lone foray into the sushi menu was the excellent McKnight Roll, which is not a description of the drone of traffic moving past outside, but rather a nicely made roll with tuna, octopus, yellow tail and asparagus, topped with a spicy mayonnaise and salmon and white tuna ($15).
The meals were across the board solid — the quality of ingredients was apparent — but for a diner that likes to chase the spice dragon, even the top level 5 heat was a little too mild. I like to feel like the guy in the chair in the old Memorex ads when I’m eating spicy food, hair blown back, holding on for dear life. Nonetheless, this is a nice option for tasty fresh food along the strip mall prison of McKnight Road, and far better than a Qdoba or a generic burger joint.
McKnight Kitchen: 4860 McKnight Rd., Ross; 412-548-3423; www.mcknightkitchen.com/
Dan Gigler: email@example.com; Twitter @gigs412