by Rodzilla on March 17, 2011 · 7 comments

Kaya is located in the heart of Pittsburgh’s renowned strip district. The strip is packed with well known eateries, its home to some of Pittsburgh’s most famous spots. So why did I choose Kaya?
1. I’ve heard nearly all positive feedback
2. Executive Chef Sean Ehland was recently nominated for James Beard Rising Star Chef
3. Big Burrito Restaurant Group James Beard Nomination (and past pleasant experiences with them)
4. The Kaya Burger

My favorite date Emily joined me for the meal.  Emily is a favorite for several reasons, but most notably she’s an amateur gourmand, makes me look like a hot shot, samples and splits everything (in my favor) and even tries to pay. You read that right fellas, she tries to pay..and I’ll sheepishly admit that on occasions I’ve allowed it to happen.

Kaya’s cuisine is what I would call Island/fusion, the site notes that they draw inspiration from, “Caribbean Islands, South America, the Pacific and beyond”. When Emily and I arrived for our reservations at 6:00 the place was packed. We were greeted by a very friendly hostess with an Island accent. She like décor was an obvious attempt from the restaurant to provide an island feel.

There was a bit of mix up with reservation times initially, but the team did everything they could to accommodate. The same quality of service was consistent throughout the night. We had a knowledgeable and polite young waiter, who made some great recommendations.

Rum runner -Coconut rum, silver rum, blackberry brandy, banana liqueur, pineapple, OJ & grenadin

Em decided to test their impressive drinks and draft menu with a Rum Runner. I’m not much of one for mixed drinks, but I liked this. It was pleasantly sweet and hid the alcohol well, I mostly got
pineapple juice from it – but could identify the other flavors.

Tuna Tartare poblano, scallion, avocado, lime, guajillo oil, créme fraîche, cilantro, radish

The Tuna tartare was sizable. Definitely an item to be shared. Served with lightly fried plantain chips, the chips were bland on their own, but a great texture and appropriate vehicle for the tartare. The tuna itself was obviously fresh and all of the components did well to complement but not overwhelm the flavor of the fish . I particularly liked sweet flavor and texture of the inter worked bits of corn.

Calamari – coconut, apple, jicama, cabbage slaw – peanuts, sesame banana alioli

The calamari had a light crispy batter that allowed the squid to still play an equal part. The highlight for me was the sesame/banana saucing mixed with the peanut, jicama, apple, coconut and cabbage slaw. That’s a lot of flavors to throw together, and they all worked.  I particularly liked the creative way to pair banana and peanut.

Crispy Fish Tacos: cabbage slaw, avocado, spicy
crème fraîche, cilantro, Reyna’s tortilla

The fish came very lightly fried – almost resembling grilled. The tilapia itself had a well seasoned crispy exterior, but had become a bit tough. I enjoyed the texture from the slaw, and the flavors from the spicy crème fraiche and generous base layer of fresh avocado. The tortillas came locally from Reynas which is always appreciated. Overall a pleasant dish but I wouldn’t travel for it.

The Kaya Burger -pickles, avocado, bacon, tomato, Chihuahua cheese, sunny-side egg, secret Kaya sauce, Kaya chips.
The Kaya burger – the reason I came. The burger came towering with a steak knife in the center to hold all of the accouterments in place. It was stacked much too high from a clean “full bite”, and became an absolute mess upon the attempt. That slight nitpick was forgiven as soon as I tasted it.  The Angus beef came a cooked to order medium, with a finer grind encompassed in a well seasoned and nicely seared patty. I could taste each one of the many components. The fried egg, chihuahua  cheese, avocado, tomato, bacon, even the pickles came through. All of these were topped with “Secret Kaya Sauce” which is similar to a 1000 island/Big Mac Sauce – just better. The bun itself was another highlight for me, lightly sweet, and dense enough to hold up to the weight of the toppings. Fear not if your burger becomes deconstructed (it likely will), mopping the sauce drippings with the wonderful bun was a fine way to finish this beast.
I’m not sure that the dishes we shared best displayed why Chef Ehland’s has been nominated for a James Beard, but they were enough to make sure I’ll return to find out. The flavorful, unique, and fun food, paired with a lively atmosphere and great service made for an excellent time at Kaya. I definitely recommend a visit if you find yourself in the Strip District, or it may be worth lengthier travels if you want a really fantastic burger.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jess

That is a hell of a burger. Man, that looks good. The avocado and Chihuahua cheese reminded me of the classic cemita sandwich. Do you have any around?

2 Kim Valentine

Your description of the dishes are great. The dishes look tasty aswell.

3 Kevin

Wow, bacon, avocado, egg, and cheese all on one burger is truly epic, but it sounds like it verges on almost being too busy. But if you say that you could still taste all of the individual components, than I guess it works. Everything else looks really good, too; those are all foods that I wouldn't mind ordering myself.

4 Rodzilla

Jess – I can't think of any Cuban places nearby that offer the Sandwich. I'll be on the lookout though.

Kim – Thank you much. It was all pretty tasty.

Kevin – It's definitely right on the line, but most of those flavors are rather strong on their own as to not get lost. I wish it were less of a mess, but the flavor is worth the cleanup.

5 Traci Alexandra

The Kaya burger is actually the creation of Chef Brandy Stewart during the period of time when Sean was still a sous chef. Brandy was extremely pregnant when she created this burger, which I find to make much sense of the combination of ingredients. One of the best burgers I have ever eaten. If you want to try the food that explains Sean Ehland’s James Beard nomination, you should try the dishes that include the local/seasonal ingredients. The man makes magic. And if you go for brunch on Sundays, it is also quite clear.

6 Chuck

Wow– yup

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