When Kaya opened in the Strip District in 1996, one very large question loomed over its exciting introduction of bold, Caribbean-inspired flavors and small plate options set in a fun, vibrant, and colorful atmosphere: would Pittsburgh’s dining public turn out for this departure from the norm?
More than two decades later, an achievement in the notoriously difficult restaurant business, Kaya remains a thriving dining and drinking destination. Its combination of traditional island dishes and rethought American classics, under the direction of Executive Chef Ben Sloan, persists with its Caribbean, South American, and Mexican accented offerings.
Tropical Paella, Fritters, and Jerked Half Chicken happily coexist with the famed Kaya Burger (complete with Sunny Side Up Egg), spiced up Fried Chicken Sandwich, and its monthly vegetarian tasting menu. The lively mosaic-tile-covered bar boasts more than two dozen tequilas, a host of local beers, and expertly mixed Pisco Sours, Tropic Thunders, and Mojitos.
As the local dining mavens of Discover the Burgh recently stated: “If you’ve never been to Kaya then stop reading this and get yourself there immediately. You know what you’re going to get: inspired flavor combinations, the most amazing burger ever, creative cocktails with a stellar happy hour, solid service, and a whole lot of happy.”
You’re also going to get a restaurant committed to a wide array of sustainable practices—running the gamut from intensive community commitment, local sourcing, and employee treatment. Kaya was among the first participating restaurants in the Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant program earning a Gold designation in October 2015.
Much like its sister big Burrito Restaurant Group establishments (Mad Mex, Casbah, Eleven, Soba, and Umi), community commitment is a cornerstone of its ethos. It holds a monthly benefit dinner for an individual nonprofit that raises $5000 for each one. Among the many past recipients are Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Grow Pittsburgh, and the Dilworth Elementary School PTA. The restaurant also works closely with Catholic Charities and East End Cooperative Ministry to employ vulnerable populations. Kaya is also a champion of its staff. The majority of the chefs, kitchen managers, and general managers are promoted in-house. They also provide paid sick leave and vacation time for employees.
When it comes to sourcing, the focus is on regional, local and frequently hyperlocal ingredients. More than 80% of its in season produce comes from these sources. In addition to co-founding the Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, they also work with One Woman Farm, Who Cooks For You Farm, Garfield Community Farm, Elysian Fields, Miller Poultry, Clarion River Organics, Grow Pittsburgh, and Paragon Foods. When it comes to seafood, their suppliers are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and they sustainably source Alaskan Halibut (in season only) and purchase responsibly-sourced swordfish. For more information about Kaya’s sustainable efforts you can visit their profile and view their complete designation report.
If you want to experience what two decades of sustainable success looks (and tastes) like, visit Kaya at 2000 Smallman Street. Open Monday to Wednesday from 11:30am to 10pm, Thursday to Saturday from 11:30am to 11pm, and Sundays from 11am to 9pm with a special brunch menu available from 11am to 4pm.