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Dining tips for Pittsburgh

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hi all:

i'm a NYC hound who's coming to Pittsburgh this weekend to check out the city and i have a major job interview on Monday, so i'm obviously considering a move to PGH. i'm not expecting the dining to the the same as NYC, but am hoping that i can find a few good restaurants, some of which i hope to sample this weekend.

specifically:

life will be empty without Vietnamese -- any Vietnamese that's good?

i'm a total sushi-snob, should i even bother? need impeccibly fresh fish. traditional or fusion is OK. need to have excellent uni. a good fatty tuna, hamachi, etc. preferred. occaisional esoteric optics always appreciated. is there any place that does omakase?

is there authentic Chinese food in Pittsburgh? i don't like americanized Chinese, but love authentic in a variety of styles/provinces: Cantonese, esp. Hong-Kong style, Shanghaiese, real Sichuan, and can't miss Peking Duck.

other seafood?

other Asian?

Mexican? Italian? Turkish? Greek? Middle-Eastern?

any regional or local specialties?

am looking for stuff in all price ranges as general information ... for trying over the weekend, i'll probably only go for the cheap stuff.

thanks,
alekz

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  1. for Viet can't beat "Trams" which is on Penn Ave east of Downtown on the border of Lawrenceville & Bloomfield.

    for good old red sauce Italian try "Dels" in Bloomfield

    in Squirell Hill tons of restaurants including Alladin (sp) for middle eastern/greek cuisine. Also Ali Baba in Oakland on Craig St, Oakland home of hospitals and Pitt.

    Be sure to grab a "City Paper" or "Pittsburgh" magazine

    Koran cuisine with sushi is on Penn ave b/w Strip District and Downtown called Sushi Kim.

    Southside, also lots of bars/clubs and restaurants the is mid east "Kessaab" (sp) on Carson St

    for great asian takeout in Sq Hill try "Zaws", Sq Hill Pizza Mineo.

    great Thai in Regent Square called Green Mango Noodle Hut, outrageous. good bar across the street for beer selection.

    for interesting, tourist attraction with decent food, not cheap, you could check out Grand Concourse at station square across Smithfield Street bridge, also convenient to incline.

    don't miss top of Mt Washingon there is great seafood restaurant Monterrey Bay

    in Shadyside excellent gelato called Mulberry Street, on Copeland restaurant below them is Giresole on-red sauce Italian

    Cafe Point Brugge has a Belgian flair including beer selection.

    gee, I guess Pgh has some places to eat!

    enjoy, it's a great city with an inferiority complex,

    also

    1. I hate to say it, but coming from New York to Pittsburgh, I don't think there will be a whole lot of extremely authentic asian food. I haven't been, but it seems that the only great sushi place in Pgh is Umi, check www.bigburritogroup.com I haven't personally been there. When I had sushi from a vendor in Chelsea Market in NYC (The Lobster Place?), it was better than anything I've had in Pgh, so use that as a gauge.

      For Vietnamese my favorite in Pgh is Me Lyng in Homestead on Eighth Ave. Sesame Inn on Washington Rd. in Mt. Lebanon has good chinese, but I'm not certain it'll be exactly what you're looking for.

      We have PLENTY of Italian in Pittsburgh, my favorite far and away is Alla Famiglia in Allentown. 804 E. Warrington Ave, ZIP: 15210 The menu is just fine, be Johnathan excels at his fresh fish dishes.

      Mexican, all of the good authentic places seem to close up real quick. Mandosa Express in Crafton/Greentree is the best "authentic" place we have now. I love Mexican and it's frustrating to find what I'm looking for in Pittsburgh.

      We have a handful of Indian Restaurants, my favorite being Maharaja, a dive buffet located in Holiday Inn in Dormont.

      One thing that is great about Pittsburgh is the prices of restaurants. My wife and I always have a real hard time spending more than $100 on dinner. It's usually $50 or less for dinner for two. Note we are not big drinkers.

      While you're here, definitely check out the Strip District and be sure not to miss Cafe Richar, Enrico Biscotti, and if you need breakfast, try Pamela's (get the pancakes).

      1. I recently ate at Tram's it found it to be fine, but prefer Me Lyng much more. Del's in Bloomfield I'd personally stay away from.

        1. hey Rick!

          does Me Lyng have many veggie options? we're from Butler and haven't been there yet. It's interesting to read what you like and how that's impacted geographically. I've been curious about Maharaja but Butler to Dormont??? It's that whole crossing rivers thing (LOL) Have you tried much South Indian? Monroeville has Udipi Cafe. excellent and interesting. all vegetarian, non-smoking. we'll have to venture out to that mexican place too. good thinking on big burrito too!

          1. Wish I would have seen your post before I left. I just got back from eating at Me Lyng and I knew exactly what I wanted (Pho Bo) so I didn't even look at the menu. I only order off of the Vietnamese section there, they also have a Chinese section but that's not what you go there for. I recall they had some vietnamase pancakes and I THINK they were vegetarian, and my wife loved them.

            Keep in mind that Maharaja is a dive in the biggest sense but we love it. It's non smoking, the nan when hot and fresh is awesome, but sometimes you hit it on slow period and the nan doesn't turn over quick enough and it sucks. The buffet also includes Mango Lassi and Chai Tea. We've been to many places in in Pittsburgh, Indica Cafe, Taj Mahal, India Garden, but we keep going back to Maharaja. Also, I highly recommend not ordering off the menu as I've seen take out orders go directly from the buffet tray into the take out container. My wife and I go here enough to be able to tell when someone different is cooking in the kitchen. About eight months ago we had really bad dinners there twice in a row and gave up on the place. Then we went back for a last ditch effor and it was great again, and has been ever since. Try it!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Rick

              ok, i tried Tram's last night and thought it was pretty bad. my husband's pho was OK and pleasingly not too salty -- but not traditional and wasn't available to order with all the weird bits (tripe, tendons, omasa, etc.) that is traditional.

              i got the coconut vermicelli and found it both bland and too sweet.

              not sure if we'll try Me Lyng tonight or if we'll go for Indian or something else.

              thanks for your help.

            2. Charlie, I thought I posted my experience here about Tram's but now that I'm looking I don't see it. I went to Tram's a few weeks ago and I find it to be just OK. I also ordered the Pho Bo and felt that it lacked enough flavor. The spring rolls which were supposed to be so great left me wishing they had more cilantro and a little more snap to them. I've been much happier with Me Lyng. My two favorites there are the Pho Bo and the Ginger Chicken. I always get ginger chicken during lunch but I think they have it for dinner also.

              If you plan to go to Me Lyng call ahead because they may be closed on Sunday.

              1. I'm a totally dis-interested observer on this, having never eaten Vietnamese. But maybe this article has some value.

                Dining Review: Quest for Vietnamese Noodle Soup That's Pho-nomenal!

                http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06166/...

                Hope things work out well for you in Pittsburgh.

                1. As a transplanted Pittsburgher who lives in NYC, you'll be disappointed in comparing the two - each city has its pluses and minuses. A big plus that Pittsburgh has over NYC is Cambodian food - I can't make any recs for which one, but there are no longer any Cambodian restaurants in NYC (Cambodian Cuisine in Fort Greene closed). Spice Islands Tea House does nice takes on pan-Asian cuisines such as Thai, Burmese, Laotian, etc.

                  It is a necessity to have a burger at Tessaro's in Bloomfield - likely the best burger around. (It comes just under Peter Luger's burger as the best I've ever had.)

                  You must go to Primanti Brothers in the Strip for a sandwich. Are they good - I'm not sure - but they are an institution. I like the hot cappy one.

                  Try Lidia Bastianich's food without shelling out what you would at Felidia at Lidia's Pittsburgh in the Strip.

                  Go to Pierogies Plus (or can any other hounds recommend a good place for pierogies) for Pittsburgh's favorite "pasta dish". If you can find a church selling them on Fridays, try them. Failing all of these, go to Bloomfield Bridge Tavern in Bloomfield for all the standards, including duck blood soup.

                  Feeling like brunch - Coca Cafe in Lawrenceville has the best brunch in town - the creme brulee French toast was outstanding - made on challah and served without syrup (you won't need it).

                  Like beer? Try Church Brew Works or Penn Brewing Company (the former has eclectic American fare that's been slipping, the latter a Teutonic overload, but it's pretty tasty.)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: lambretta76

                    I like to say that Fat Heads on the south side is the new Primanti's. Humongous and creative sandwiches.

                  2. Best Italian: Girasole in Shadyside.

                    1. I was in Pittsburgh last month and sat at the sushi bar at Nakama on the South Side. This place was packed EVERY time we walked by, day or night, but we were able to get a seat right away. I had the salmon, tuna, and yellowtail nigiri combo and it was amazing. Melted in my mouth like butter. We also split some rolls, which were pretty decent.

                      1. I am also a NYC hound driving through Pgh this weekend.
                        I was doing some research, and came across this Vietnamese place called Pho Minh on Penn Ave. It's got pretty good ratings on Citysearch. Can anyone tell me if this is any good? Thanks!

                        1. Have not tried it myself but this might be helpful:

                          http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06166/...

                          1. We went to Me Lyng tonight and have to disagree with Rick; the pho there is horrible. The broth is simultaneously bland, salty, and greasy. It has no flavors of star anise or cinnamon or ginger, or even tastes home made at all. The beef is tough, gristly, gray, and over-cooked. The soup isn't served with fresh basil or lime wedges, but it does have huge slices of raw onion stirred into it, something I have never seen in pho. There is no fresh cilantro in anything--not the spring rolls, not the summer rolls, not the vermicelli dish my son got, and not the pho.

                            We have eaten at Pho Minh many times, and the pho there is inconsistent; sometimes good, and sometimes not as good. The pho at Tram's is always good, especially the broth. And the crowd bears that out. Me Lyng was deserted, and with good reason.

                            For more Pittsburgh restaurant reviews, check out my blog at http://www.technically.us/eat

                            1. Sorry you had a bad experience there. I've tried many of the recommended Vietnamese places and I keep coming back to this one. Guess we all have different tastes. I went back to Tram's for a second time today and I still like Me Lyng better. I actually have half of my Shanghai Soup in the fridge becuase I didn't really like it enough to finish it. The pork in this seemed to be low quality and there was no shrimp to be seen as the menu described. Last time there I had the pho and I tasted no cilantro in their pho either.

                              1. I wonder why you would save the soup if you didn't like it. I only mentioned cilantro because you complained that Tram's spring rolls didn't have enough cilantro in them. We tried both the spring and summer rolls at Me Lyng and there wasn't any cilantro at all in either. The summer rolls at the Noodle Hut in Regent Square are the best I've ever tasted--loaded with cilantro. I've actually never ordered them at Tram's so can't comment. What I really didn't like about the Me Lyng pho was the horrible greasiness of the broth, along with the big hunks of raw onion floating around in it. We had to load it up with red chili sauce to give it any flavor at all, which isn't necessary with Tram's delicious broth.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: beckyleeprice

                                  My wife wanted to try the soup and I'm just too cheap to throw it away! I'll have to try Noodle Hut (same as Green Mango???) again and get the summer rolls. I love cilantro! I reall hope you hit Me Lyng on a bad night as the last several times I've had the pho it wasn't greasy. But, it's been a few months since I've had pho there last so I hope nothing changed.

                                2. I went to school in Pittsburgh, and the Asian food there is terrible especially coming from NYC. Just forget the Asian and go for the good greasy American food! :D

                                  1. If you think the asian in Pgh is bad, you need to try it in Lancaster! I go there often for work and now I just stick to a local diner close to the hotel. I think Pgh does pretty decent in Ethnic food considering our size.

                                    1. Yes, the Noodle Hut is the same as the Green Mango; I have an extensive review of it on my blog at http://www.technically.us/eat I disagree with Teresa, though, and think the Noodle Hut is terrific, also the Rose Tea Cafe in Squirrel Hill; they serve Taiwanese food which you don't find too many places. Just look at the clientele when you walk in, it's almost exclusively Asian
                                      If you like cilantro, Rick, I know someone else on here mentioned the Udipi Cafe, it's on Old William Penn Highway in Monroeville, serves some unusual south Indian vegetarian food and they have a divine cilantro sauce they serve as a condiment.
                                      I don't doubt the Asian food in Lancaster is lousy, and naturally if you are coming to Pittsburgh from New York you have to lower your expectations and look a little harder, but good Asian food can still be found if you try.

                                      1. Thanks Becky, I never heard of Udipi Cafe before, we'll be giving that a try sometime soon.

                                        1. Thanks for the rec Becky, we tried Udipi and it was good. Not what I usually want when I crave Indian, but it was something new for us and we'll definitely be back. The place was packed and for good reason.

                                          1. Orient Kitchen on Baum Blvd. is probably the most authentic Chinese in Pittsburgh. Most of the clientele on my visits have been oriental and the reviews of Chinese American friends have been superlative. The specials are hard to decipher at times, our Crispy Milk with spicy basil chicken was fried dough with a pocket of sweet custard filling served around the excellent chicken. It was a hit at our table. Unusual ingredients like fish maw, jellyfish, cuttlefish and some veggies found no where else. Shrimp with mayonnaise sounds strange but it's wonderful. A lemon scented creamy sauce over a crunchy coating with a candied walnut in the middle. Before decrying Pgh. lack of authentic Asian try Orient Kitchen.

                                            1. agreed, orient kitchen is definately the most authentic in pittsburgh. good salt and pepper squid. I also love lulu's/yum wok...definately a staple through college.

                                              i'd give up on sushi...chaya is closest, but i've still had better.

                                              Indica, now tamarind on n. craig is my favorite indian restaurant.

                                              1. I am very surprised that Chinatown Inn has not been mentioned with regard to Chinese restaurants. It is located where Chinatown used to exist on 3rd Avenue. My wife and I have tried plenty of Chinese restaurants all over the country and we have yet to find anything that matches their eggrolls with homemade duck sauce. Both Wonton and Hot and Sour soups are exceptional as well, while their entrees are above average.

                                                1. I'm chinese. a little more american, but i like the "quality" of their meat...i think sesame inn is pretty good. When I got married we had our rehearsal dinner at Jimmy Tsangs (full chinese banquet menu). Chinatown inn is okay. oh and I still LOVE lulu's

                                                  1. For authentic chinese food there are several in the Sq Hill/Shadyside/Oakland area that are authentic:

                                                    Taiwanese
                                                    Rose Tea Cafe - Forbes Ave.

                                                    Cantonese
                                                    Orient Kitchen - Baum Blvd.
                                                    Ka Mei - Murray Ave.

                                                    Vietnamese
                                                    I haven't had good Vietnamese food yet, I've tried Me Lyng, Pho Minh and Tram's and they're horrible IMHO.

                                                    For Authentic Japanese
                                                    Umi is ok, a bit too pricey for what you get. Its alot of presentation and some food on the side.

                                                    Chaya - Murray Ave. - the owner/chef is Yasu-san, he has omakase, but make sure to talk to Yasu-san before you order it to get the good stuff. He has great Toro, Hamachi, Kampachi, Uni. My wife and I have grown to know Yasu-san well and he has many specials based on what he could get his hands on. We know he makes daily trips to the airport to get his fish fresh too.

                                                    We also buy fresh fish and make our own sushi/sashimi. Benkovitz - Smallman St. is a great place for fish, its good to ask for the sushi grade.

                                                    The Tokyo Grocery - Ellsworth Ave. has Bento box lunch and fresh sushi too.

                                                    1. Oishii Bento in Oakland is good and cheap for bento box lunch. I like Spice Island Tea House for lunch too.

                                                      1. I think these are some of the few Pgh restaurants that could hold their own in NYC -

                                                        Cucina Flegrea in Squirrel Hill - Best Italian

                                                        Bona Terra - High end creative Euro-American. Possibly the best restaurant in Pgh, period. Would easily shine in NYC.

                                                        Tamarind (South Indian) and Udupi (Monroeville, s.Indian/dosa place) are hands down the two best Indian around - every other Indian place here is pretty much junk (I'm Indian, so probably especially picky). Only the Greentree location of Tamarind is good -- try Sunday lunch buffet.

                                                        Le Pommier - occasionally off, but generally excellent and authentic French bistro food.

                                                        Sun Penang - Squirrel Hill, Malaysian. If you ask them to make dishes extra spicy they totally change the recipes and make them far better and more like real Malaysian. Nothing veg here to speak of, not even the vegetable dishes.

                                                        I don't know if it's OK to post other websites here, but I think you might enjoy the (highly opinionated) reviews written by the 3 foodies at Pittsburgh Restaurant Micro-Reviews.

                                                        Also, while here, why not try some Pgh ethnic like Pierogis Plus.

                                                        1. i'm pretty sure rose tea closed in squirrel hill.

                                                          1. I'm from Pittsburgh and now live in Washington DC. Here are the places I def. miss from Pittsburgh:
                                                            1. La Feria - Peruvian - Shadyside: By far the best peruvian food ever. I have yet to find a place in DC that compairs. It is a very casual place and a fairly small menu. I'd def. try the daily specials they have over what's on the menu.
                                                            2. Monteray Bay - Seafood - Mt. Washington: I have yet to find crab cakes (yes, even in Maryland) that is better than this place. This restaurant has turned me into a crab cake snob
                                                            3. Thai Place - Thai - Shadyside
                                                            4. Mallorca - Spanish - South Side: Great food...
                                                            5. Some very casual (more or a college crowd) are:
                                                            Mad mex (Oakland) - Best Wings and Margaritas
                                                            India Garden (Oakland) - Great indian food
                                                            Spice Island (Oakland) - Asian
                                                            There are alot more upscale restaurants on Mt. Washington that are also very good. There is also a good place in Station Square (Grand Concourse) that has very good brunch on Sunday.

                                                            The one other Pittsburgh must have is: Primanti Brothers Sandwiches.... Their version of ham and cheese is bread, ham, cheese, cole slaw, fries, bread...I know, sounds crazy, but its a Pgh tradition.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: pgwiz1

                                                              Does it make me a bad (former) Pittsburgher that I really don't like Primanti's? Except as post-bar food I find it extremely unappealing. Take the french fries off and they aren't bad, but with them it's just a huge mouthfull of potato with a hint of bread and meat and without it's just a so-so sandwich.

                                                              That being said I heartily second everything else you've recommended.

                                                              I've had good luck with sushi at one of the places on Murray who's name escapes me. Set back slightly from the street, next to the used music store halfway down the hill as Murray heads toward the parkway? Anybody else or was I just lucky? Def. non-traditional sushi, but good.

                                                              Also Cafe Zhino in shadyside is perhaps the one place I really miss. I think about it whenever I'm trying to plan a nice but not fussy dinner out. But sadly nobody ever wants to drive 4+ hours for dinner. ;)

                                                            2. I completely agree with ninm about Bona Terra, although I haven't been there for awhile, the last time I ate there I thought it was one of the best restaurants I had ever patronized.

                                                              Yammers, unless Rose Tea closed in the last couple of days they are still open; I just ate there last week. Love those spicy green beans with garlic sauce!

                                                              Don't forget about Lidia's when you're talking about restaurants that could hold their own in NYC; they are consistently terrific.

                                                              1. did they change their location??? weren't they right by rita's before?

                                                                1. Rose Tea Cafe is definitely still open. They're on Forbes Avenue just a few doors down from Rita's, if I remember correctly.

                                                                  1. I am originally from Pittsburgh but now relocated to Boston. I was not a sushi eater when I lived in Pittsburgh, but it is now a mainstay for me and I often seek it out when I'm back in the Burgh. I'd recommend these:

                                                                    1. Umi (on Ellworth) amazing presentation, but more costly
                                                                    2. Pacific Rim (on Murray, where Sechuan House used to be) - restaurant also has other Asian options
                                                                    3. Nakama (on the South Side) - fun atmosphere, Japanese steakhouse as well
                                                                    4. Chaya (on Murray near Mineo's) - good but nothing that wowed me