Places to Eat—Two with Two Reasons to Go
Dine and support the depressed neighborhood of Braddock @ Superior Motors, Kevin Sousa’s nationally-recognized destination restaurant. A Food & Wine Restaurant of 2018, Superior Motors hires from the local community and provides discounts to dining guests from the surrounding Braddock community once famous for its high murder rate, tattooed mayor (now Lt. Governor), and talented first-lady who founded the almost equally famous Free Store. But for Superior Motors, it is now the food that attracts national press. The food is delicious and beautiful—from appetizer, through entrée, to dessert, with a wine and cocktail list as distinctive and the food menu. Reservations are necessary and ride share the best mode of transport.
Dine and support oppressed writers and artists @ Brugge on North, part of Alphabet City City of Asylum, which provides a vibrant community for exiled writers in-residence . While there, browse in the Bookstore specializing in works in translation and world literature. Also check out the calendar of free events, including jazz and poetry and prose readings. The bookstore and bar are open during events. At the restaurant, the moules frites, Flemish four onion soup, charcuterie, and chicken Milanese are favorites.
Two Places to Eat with a Bioethics Connection
Chef Curtis Gamble, at Station, offers a prix fixe menu of favorite dishes, as well as the option of ordering à la carte. Either way, begin with a traditional or unique recipe cocktail and conclude with either popcorn panna cotta or lavender pound cake. The bioethics connection? At the end of the day, Chef Gamble returns home to his wife, Valarie Blake, Associate Professor of Law at West Virginia University and an affiliated faculty member of Pitt’s Center for Bioethics & Health Law.
For creative cocktails and a “no tipping, we pay a living wage approach,” visit Mixtape, a bar by night and coffee bar by day, co-owned (with Elaina Holko) by Katie Molchan, PhD, a faculty member in the Center’s Consortium Ethics Program that provides continuing ethics education to clinicians in hospitals throughout the Western PA region.
Vegan Places to Eat (where those who aren’t vegan won’t miss the meat)
For parties of 6 or more, Apteka will take reservations. The cuisine is Eastern European, vegan, and delicious. (Gluten free options or adjustments are available.) The cocktails are creative and excellent. The beer can be great, too; ask for a sample. There is a more limited late night menu that still includes the very best items, including pierogies, spreads on excellent bread, and vegetable paté.. (If you head to Apteka, be sure to notice nearby Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, named one of the most beautiful hospitals in the US and the site of the Pennsylvania Medical Humanities Consortium’s 2012 meeting.)
B52 is a 35-seat vegetarian and vegan café at the corner of Butler and 52nd Streets in the popular dining neighborhood of Lawrenceville. Gluten free options are available, but alcohol is not.
Smoke BBQ Taqueria has a great menu of delicious and distinctive tacos, both vegetarian and with smoked meat. Note that Smoke only accepts cash.
Places to Eat—Downtown or within a Short Walk
Housed in the old Alcoa headquarters building, Talia offers Italian cuisine—including pasta, pizza, and traditional entrées, as well as a nice bar with the region’s largest collection of amaro, including vintage bottles.
Vallozzi’s has an extensive Italian menu at lunch and dinner, and an equally extensive wine list that won a 2019 Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence.
Eleven is the swankiest of the Big Burrito Group restaurants and the one within walking distance of the convention center. Cheese course, oysters, or salads, in addition to the warm house-baked bread, to open, followed by entrées worth the ~$30, and a good wine list. The “tavern menu” and slightly more extensive lunch menu—both with a very good $16 burger and similarly priced option—provide an option to enjoy the atmosphere and strong kitchen of this renovated warehouse somewhat more economically.
For more than 10 years, Derek Stevens was Executive Chef at Eleven (after 15 years in West coast wine country and at some of Pittsburgh’s other well-established restaurants); then he opened Union Standard in the beautiful Union Trust building. It is known for its raw bar and fish, as well as a good burger at the bar and, generally, excellent and creative cuisine.
Meat & Potatoes and Butcher and the Rye are two of the original offerings from restaurateur Richard DeShantz. The latter is known for its extensive whiskey collection (with two bars), as well as creative cuisine (though small plates begin at $12); twice it was a James Beard Semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program. Meat & Potatoes offers flatbreads, two burgers, and some small plates and salads, as well as full entrées, good wines by the glass and prohibition era cocktails.
Another DeShantz offering, Tako is tiny and thus hard to get into. Better and more creative tacos are to be had at Smoke in Lawrenceville anyway. And, DeShantz’s Pork & Beans has the primary virtues of being downtown and open for a $12 lunch entrée (also open at dinner), if you don’t mind a motto of “let’s pig out.”
Pizzaiolo Primo has Neapolitan cuisine, including salads, pizza, pasta, and meat entrée—all excellent. None of the dishes is inexpensive, but some sharing of pizzas or even pasta and salad is quite possible.
Sienna Mercato offers three dining options on three floors: a rooftop beer garden, a “meatball joint” on the first floor, and on the middle floor wood-fired pizzas, pasta, charcuterie, cheese plates, and wine.
Some less expensive, but still interesting options? Walk 20 minutes to the Smallman Galley (in the Strip District), Pittsburgh’s firsts accelerator for restaurants. Four pop-up restaurants and food trucks are given bricks and mortar space to experiment before launching off into their own spaces. Thus, the specific establishments change periodically, and it is always busy and always good. Wine, beer, cocktails, and long tables make for a convivial, fairly loud, scene. A second food hall accelerator, Federal Galley, on the Northside, offers four more restaurants and another 200 seats.
The Pennsylvania Market, in the Strip, has a food market with five kitchen stations and a courtyard with food venders, including Romulus Pizza al Taglio, sandwiches at Bistro 108 and Edgar’s Tacos, plus East End Brewery, wine, and full bar.
Ten Penny, with its salads and sandwiches, has some less expensive options, and is very popular.
Bakersfield: tacos, tequila, and whiskey. Other than prices posted on its on-line menu, what more could one want? Still, this very popular small chain should have less expensive dining options (including “sharable salads”), as well as five different margaritas on their “large format cocktail” list.
Condado: tacos, tequila, and margaritas, in contrast, does list its prices, which are $3.50-$4.50 for each build-you-own taco, which are their signature item. Though with margaritas for only $7, their drink menu items could quickly undermine one’s penmanship (especially as they also offer whiskey and craft beer).
Christo’s —Lisa refuses to call it Christo’s Mediterranean Grill because back when she was a grad student, it was Suzie’s, the Greek restaurant, where students would go after a symphony concert. The menu hasn’t changed since Christo, always the chef, bought the place. All of the dishes are reasonably priced and good—and the avgolemono (Greek egg, lemon, chicken soup) is superb. Only the Onassis Dessert may slightly disappoint, but once Christo has explained that he used to make it for Jackie Onassis on her yacht, how can you resist?
Across the street, Salonika’s Bar & Grill on 6th Street is good for a gyro, slice of moussaka, or other simple Greek fare.
Sree’s (at 7th Avenue & Smithfield) has authentic Indian food and provides a quick lunch. Indian Spices (on 6th Street) is another option. Neither is the best Indian food in town, but both have vegetarian options, are inexpensive, and are downtown.
Places to Eat--A Car Ride Away (or a nearly half hour walk)
DiAnoia’s Eatery offers distinctive Italian cuisine. In addition to the delicious dinner menu items, there are unique features like breakfast and breakfast cocktails, a noteworthy collection of amaros and excellent bartender, and a pizza window out back with picnic tables because, well, the public was demanding more pizza. The dining room is loud, but the food is excellent and even the pastas are far from the typical Italian fare. Reservations, preferably a month or more in advance, are necessary for dinner. DiAnoia’s is a half hour walk from the convention center straight down Penn Avenue at the corner of 26th Street.
Chef Richard DeShantz’s best food and most attractive dining room is in the Lawrenceville neighborhood at Poulet Bleu, the only French food on this list. The bistro is noisy, but everything on the relatively small menu is delicious—paté, foie gras with tart cherries and apple compote, escargot, mussels, bistro burger and pommes frites, beef bourguignon, trout almondine—and the steaks look lovely. The vegetable side dishes are delicious, too. Wines by the bottle or glass are well-selected with some relatively reasonably priced (given restaurant pricing). Reservations should be made as soon as possible.
Also in Lawrenceville, Morcilla is an excellent Spanish restaurant. With the possibility of ordering only tapas and small plates, dinner is still pricey, but memorable.
Bar Marco, a 22 minute walk down Penn Avenue from the convention center, offers very nice dishes ($18-$26, more at the less expensive end)—including some that are vegetarian—in a small bar with a small wine list and good cocktails, including the “bartender’s choice” that you guide with spirit and flavor preferences.
In Oakland, near Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, are two restaurants: Legume Bistro, perhaps Pittsburgh’s original farm-to-table restaurant, and Butterjoint that has one of the city’s best burgers, excellent frites, and a great bar. The tempeh burger is terrific, and the pierogies—vegetarian or not—are great as well. Legume’s small menu changes frequently, and some diners prefer to order a couple of the small plates.
The Big Burrito Restaurant Group launched Pittsburgh as a food-focused city. Casbah was its first fine dining restaurant, and it remains a favorite with Mediterranean cuisine, excellent fish, duck, and meat dishes, as well as pasta (short rib ravioli and orecchiette are favorites). Soba is the group’s Pan Asian offering. The seared tuna, miso black cod, and various small plates are favorites. Umi offers excellent sushi.
Overlooking the city on Mt. Washington, Altius and Monterey Bay Fish Grotto offer food at prices that match the height of the view, while the latter also has lofty goals of sustainability. Less expensive are The Grandview Saloon and Vue 412, which lists some vegan items on its menu. The view from the restaurants is spectacular at night.
Excellent Asian Cuisine
Less expensive offerings are available throughout the city; however, those that are true destinations are in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh’s traditionally Jewish neighborhood and its Little Asia.
Chengdu Gourmet serves authentic Szechuan cuisine. Be sure to order from the Chinese menu (translated and with photos), and ask about the current fresh vegetable.
Everyday Noodles is known for their soup dumplings, as well as the wonderful noodles you can watch being made.
Northeastern Kitchen serves food in the a culinary tradition called Dongbei, dishes from China’s most northeastern province, Heilongjiang, which shares borders with North Korea and Siberia. Tofu hot pot is served bubbling with kelp, soft tofu and cabbage. Corn, a crop uncommon in most Chinese cooking, is a significant part of the regional economy and plays a role on this menu.
At Sakura Teppanyaki & Sushi it is the Chinese menu that local diners love. Despite its name, the restaurant touts its traditional Northwest Chinese cuisine, including Xinjiang Style Chicken, Shredded Pancake Lamb Soup, BBQ pork sandwich and Lamb Minced Noodle Soup (though it does also serve sushi).
The menu at Taiwanese Bistro Café 33 describes the delicious dishes’ ingredients. Tan Lac Vien Bistro offers a variety of pho, bun (noodle bowls without broth), banh hoi (vermicelli lettuce wraps), salad, satay, and a few vegan dishes.
Took Took 98 Thai Street Food provides tasty Thai dishes.
All of these restaurants are BYOB, and there is a state liquor store in Squirrel Hill at 1824 Murray Avenue. The Independent Brewing Company, at 1704-1706 Shady Avenue (across from Tiawanese Bistro Café 33), has beer to take away, as well as 16 taps and a full food menu by Executive Chef Jamilka Borges, a 2019 James Beard Foundation nominee for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. Next door is Hidden Harbor, Pittsburgh’s Tiki bar that also serves Caribbean small bites.
Ki Ramen in Lawrenceville is a slightly more upscale option with a bar and truly excellent noodle dishes. It remains a less expensive restaurant with distinctive cuisine. Its nearby sister, Ki Pollo, has more limited hours, no bar, but good empanadas (some vegetarian) and fried chicken.
Tana Ethiopian Cuisine in the gentrifying neighborhood of East Liberty is another less expensive and delicious option.
Places to Drink—Beyond the Bars to Breweries and Distilleries
With 35 taps and over 200 bottled beers, Bistro 922 Penn is very close to the convention center and known for Belgian beer. A couple blocks further, with superior food (including excellent, distinctive pizzas), is Proper Brick Oven and Tap Room, which has 30 craft beers on tap, wine, and good cocktails. Next to Proper is Tony Tasset’s Magnolia’s for Pittsburgh, forever blooming, and across the street are a fountain and eyes benches designed by Louise Joséphine Bourgeois.
There is also a nice little Italian wine bar tucked away behind the Market St. Grocery, which is on Market Square. The wine room serves wine from Collefrisio Winery, and is open until 11pm (and 9pm Sundays). The entrance to the wine room (for after the market itself is closed) is on Graeme Street.
The Penn Brewery Taproom is open at 423 First Avenue downtown, but only until 9pm.
Pennsylvania Libations in the Strip District, within walking distance of the convention center, has a tasting room and features a wide range of the state’s small distilleries. Non-Pennsylvania spirits (and wine) can generally only be purchased in state liquor stores.
Then, there are brewing destinations (and one shop) worth the ride share.
Housed in the beautiful deconsecrated St. John’s the Baptist, whose cornerstone was laid in 1902, The Church Brew Works has perhaps the most distinctive and beautiful setting of any of Pittsburgh’s breweries and brew pubs. (Try out your Latin translation skills reading inscriptions on the wood beams above church pew seating.) It is in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, but on Penn Avenue rather than the main street of shops and restaurants, Butler Street. On Butler Street, about 7 short blocks apart, are Roundabout Brewery and Hop Farm Brewing Company.
Also in the Lawrenceville neighborhood on Butler Street is Bierport with over 950 beers and ciders in bottles and cans, and 19 on tap in their tap room. Given Pennsylvania’s cumbersome liquor control laws—you can generally only buy beer in a bar or by the case in a distributorship—Bierport is a welcome alternative.
Farther east is East End Brewing Co., which has an outdoor beer garden and delicious food, including smoked meats and vegetarian options.
Toward the north, across the Allegheny River are two noteworthy breweries. In Millvale, Grist House Craft Brewery has good beer, no food, but has a schedule of food trucks on its website. Nearby there is a charming Pittsburgh bar—with both a quirky mural reflecting the owner’s German heritage and superb pie (as well as other food, like prime rib and pork chops), Grant Bar—perfect for a bite on the way to the brewery.
Another brewery across the Allegheny to the north is Penn Brewery, with a full food menu and award-winning beer. From the convention center, it is only a half hour walk (to 800 Vinial Street), the brewery’s original and attractive location.