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Cool, foodie spots near CMU in Pittsburgh

My foodie son and I will be touring CMU and want to know where the cool, unique spots are. We're hoping to find a Kelley & Ping (NYC) or Two Amy's (DC) type spot. Something special and foodie. We'll have a car. Any suggestions?

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  1. First of all, to eat well in the Burgh, you must accept that there is no such thing as "cool" in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is, by definition, uncool. You can find excellent Taiwanese food here, but it will be served on paper plates in a strip mall joint or a semi-ghetto row house; it will not be in the university district. It will be unique but it will not be"up to" NYC-foodie standards, nor DC-foodie standards. The menus will be misspelled and the punctuation even worse than "Two Amy's;" the servers will be slow and somewhat incompetent but always friendly and generous. Restaurants here do not use ampersands in their names.

    If you are willing to abandon yourself to the Mysteries of Pittsburgh food, you can eat well and learn something about our fair city at the same time. I would recommend (and one of the great things about Pittsburgh restaurants is that you never need to change out of your comfy blue jeans):

    Rose Tea Cafe in Squirrel Hill for the aforementioned Taiwanese
    Tram's in Lawrenceville/Friendship for Vietnamese
    The Bloomfield Bridge Tavern for the Polish Platter (pierogi, halushki, kluski, galumpki)
    Cafe Roma for Pittsburgh Italian
    The Original Hot Dog Shop (aka the "Dirty O") in Oakland. If your kid ends up at CMU, this may be his first trip to the O, but it won't be his last.
    Primanti's in the Strip for the classic Pittsburgh sandwich

    1 Reply
    1. re: Greyhoundgrrl

      Great list. I'd add Pamela's in there- I dream about those pancakes...!

    2. I forgot to mention Mineo's in Squirrel Hill for pizza (the super-cheesy kind, not the "artisan" kind; for the woodfired stuff go to Il Pizzialio in Mt. Lebanon or Piccolo Forno down in Lawrenceville).

      Knishes and matzo ball soup are to be found at Kazansky's Deli, also in Squirrel Hill.

      For an unforgettable dinner go to Josza in Hazelwood for a Hungarian feast. You must call at least 24 hours ahead, you will have to walk through the kitchen to get to the dining room, and you will eat whatever Alex the owner (who escaped from Communist Hungary on foot when he was 13 years old) decides to cook that night, but you will have a true Pittsburgh "foodie" experience. Oh, and it is BYOB, and bring an extra bottle, because Alex will help himself.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Greyhoundgrrl

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply. My kid is still chuckling about Pgh is by definition uncool...

        1. re: Greyhoundgrrl

          This sure brings back memories of my student days at CMU, although it was over twenty years ago. I still remember fondly the Dirty O, Primanti's in the Strip District, Kazansky's Deli, and Mineo's Pizza. I've been living in Michigan since graduation, but those four places and their great food I'll never forget. Highly recommended. I'm glad they're still around.

          1. re: Greyhoundgrrl

            the matzo ball soup is WAY better at the Pittsburgh Deli in shadyside.

          2. Nice list. I have heard of Josza in Hazelwood. Is the food good, what type of food can be found there?

            I went to Piccolo Forno last week for pizza. I was really surprised to see that all top notch ingredients produced a bland and tasteless pizza.

            2 Replies
            1. re: grapevine

              Josza is Hungarian food. It's an experience to go there! I highly recommend it, for the bread if nothing else.

              Piccolo Forno is not my favorite. I thought Roberto's in Bellevue did the same kind of pizza only actually good, but they closed and he moved to NJ.

              I also forgot to mention Pierogies Plus in McKees Rocks, where you can eat little doughy pillows of goodness outside of an old gas station. Yum!

              Pamela's is a great suggestion, and there is one in Oakland not far from CMU on Forbes Ave.

              If you are here during Lent, hit up one of the Croation or Byzantine churches for the fish fry on Friday night. For some reason they are always better than the Catholic ones.

              1. re: Greyhoundgrrl

                Presentation of the Blessed Virgin's perogie's are so very good, right on Beechwood Blvd before the Parkway entrance.

            2. Regarding Picollo Forno, my wife and I used to really like the place. Then we went one evening and EVERYTHING, even the bread, was bland. Everything needed salt and just more flavor. We haven't been back since. Ashame because it used to be so very good!

              1. there is new international, vegetarian restaurant named Orchid(s) on Centre Ave in north Oakland in a former Indian restaurant location - near the Chief Bar. Haven't been there yet but read a review indicating it was very good!

                1. Trams in Lawerenceville is great
                  Tessaros in Bloomfeild for burgers...best in town

                  1. Try Spice Island Tea House on Atwood Street in Oakland. South-East Asian cuisine. Very casual but hip. Definitely off the beaten path. Owner is a CMU grad.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: johnnyyang

                      Is Spice Island still open?
                      I used to live right across the street, and when I last drove by it didn't look open anymore.

                      For late night food, Mad Mex and Fuel and Fuddle will fill you up at 1/2 the price.

                    2. Visit Dave and Andy's on Atwood. Best ice cream ever.

                      I now live in DC and it is in my opinion that the quality of restaurant food in Pittsburgh is way better and less pretentious. Nothing in Pittsburgh is "hip", that's part of it's charm. Comfortable more than hip. If you want hip, Kaya and Casbah are OK. For a nice lunch, you might enjoy Cafe Zinho (though it's cash only) as a more hip-friendly type of place.

                      1. I grew up in Pittsburgh but have now relocated to Boston. Although I agree that the restaurant scene is the Burgh is certainly not "hip", it is one of the things I miss about it!

                        I would be very saddened if Spice Island is closed, as that is one of my all-time favorite restaurants...the samosas are a perfect starter, and the chicken satay is a meal I dream about.

                        My parents still live in Pittsburgh and have been raving about Ma Provence in Sq Hill (can't recall if it's on Forbes or Murray) and they also like the Phillipino place in the same area.

                        If you want something a bit higher end, I love the sushi at Umi on Ellsworth, and Soba (downstairs from Umi) is a fun place for a cocktail.

                        I also enjoy Cafe Zinho, which was mentioned earlier. It's BYOB though, so make sure you plan ahead.

                        1. Spice Islands is definately still open. They recently added more wines to the list - food is a bit more pricey now but still quite good. Another fun thing to try with your foodie son might be a trip to the Strip district on a Saturday. You can get some decent street vendor food and your son can see what shopping options might be available to him should he choose (or if he has chosen) CMU. Lots of Asian stores (Lotus foods near Wholey's is my favorite) Italian, Greek, interesting breads etc. You can stop in at Kaya one of the big burrito group(mentioned above) to check the place out while you are there.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: AimeeP

                            hm, maybe it was just in "dark" mode when I went by it last time.

                            I used to live right across the street, so Spice Island is a favorite!

                            STREET VENDORS!!
                            The tofu and string beans from the street vendor that USED to be across from Hillman (though, they've moved) was the best, and the lady that cooked was so sweet.

                          2. Dave and Andy's is without a doubt the greatest ice cream I've ever eaten. I also have to second the pancakes at Pamela's...I too have dreams about them. There is also a great little crepe place in Shadyside off of Walnut (the main street) but apparently they've opened a second location on Craig St. right near CMU. I've also had good meals at Bangkok Balcony in Squirrel Hill as well as India Garden in Oakland. Oh how I miss Pittsburgh!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: khainajr

                              Dave and Andys is the best!

                              I miss Pittsburgh, too. Good food, easy on your finances, easy to get around, laid back service. Who wouldn't love the burgh!

                            2. Ibiza on the south side is pretty good tapas. My wife and I like to sit upstairs with friends it's much quieter but the downstairs is fun on a busy night.

                              1. Actually, I think the "uncoolness" of Pittsburgh is what makes it great. There is plenty of art, food, music to be had, but you may have to put a bit more effort in to find it. Just moved from Pittsburgh to San Francisco about 8 months ago -- The plethora of excellent dining in SF is great, but sometimes overwhelming! Also, the "hip" places are always too crowded and you need to plan weeks in advance to get weekend reservations. We actually miss some of our regular spots in Pittsburgh -- and are probably moving back in a little over a year. Seems like lots of the responders to this post are ex-pittsburghers with nostalgia. Anyway, to respond to the question at hand -- one of the cooler spots for dinner and/or drinks (in my opinion) is Red Room on the corner of South Highland and Center. Always has been non-smoking, has nice lounge area and bar, and really good food. Ate there on a visit in December and the food was as good as anything I have had in SF. Prices are high for Pittsburgh, but on par with DC/NYC. Other places we always like are Cafe Du Jour on the South Side (better in warm weather on the patio) for more casual and BYOB, La Filipiano in Laweranceville for Filipino or Thai and the nicest servers ever, Point Brugge in Point Breeze for mussels and belgian beer. Many more too -- just off the top of my head.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: sdemarco7

                                  Those are excellent options, particularly Point Brugge or La Filipiano if the weather is just right. One of the most fabulous and intimate restaurants we have in Pittsburgh right now is Bonna Terra in Sharpsburg (I wish I were so lucky as to have the freedom/money to go again). & Your son should know, that what makes something cool is when it is understated... in its purest form (even the smoke of a wood fire contains purity). So, should you want the freshest sushi and the most authentic Japanese food between New York and L.A., then wait in line at the Chaya Japanese restaurant on Murray. It might take you just as long to drive the same distance somewhere else, but if you truly are a "foodie" than you most likely appreciate the tastes of homemade dashi and fresh wasabi and will "stand" the wait. Most importantly, enjoy each others' company.

                                  1. re: A.E.

                                    Dish Osteria
                                    Cafe Zinho
                                    Spice Island
                                    Dish Osteria
                                    Dave and Andy's
                                    Church Brew Works
                                    Have a great time exploring!

                                2. Dish is as good as it gets here. I'm a big fan. And trust me I LOVE good food, I lived in NYC for 10 years and am spoiled!