Smoked fried chicken with mashed potatoes, ham hock collard greens and a buttermilk biscuit served with a black pepper gravy on Friday, Dec. 8th, 2023 at Cafe Momentum on Forbes Ave. Downtown. (Tim Robbibaro/For the Post-Gazette)

Café Momentum came to Pittsburgh in March with a laudable mission. The restaurant’s front- and back-of-house staff consists of justice-involved and at-risk youths working a paid 12-month internship developed to guide them through the full spectrum of hospitality industry skills. They are offered classes and mentorship, and they’re paired with case managers to assist them with urgent needs and life readiness for work after their time at the restaurant.

Regardless of its exceptional mission, the Downtown restaurant would have made this list on its culinary merits alone. The full-service establishment features a delightful menu of composed salads, shareables and large-format plates. The meals, prepared under the eye of chef de cuisine Peter Henry, are all scratch-made, with an emphasis on local sourcing and culinary technique.

Go for dishes such as a “jerky” porkchop that comes to the table as a juicy, thick, bone-in chop cooked to temperature and seasoned with a peppy Hatch chile jerk sauce. It’s served with tender-sweet greens and aromatic popcorn grits.

Café Mometum’s signature dish – smoked and fried chicken with ham hock collard greens, mashed potatoes and buttermilk biscuits — offers some advanced-level comfort food as a main course. The restaurant’s salads move with the seasons; in late autumn, that meant a gorgeously balanced chef’s salad with chicory, kale, blue cheese, vanilla apple, pickled fennel, duck, almond and berry vinaigrette.

Service at Café Momentum is equally attentive to detail. One of the things I noted when I visited shortly after the restaurant’s opening was how refreshing it felt to be in a new restaurant with front-of-house staff that takes service seriously while maintaining a vibrant energy and distinct personality.