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Visit to Pittsburgh - how's this list?

A lot to say here...I'm in NYC and headed to Pittsburgh at the end of Sept for a long weekend (Fri - Tues). We're going to a Pirates game and checking out the Warhol museum but mostly hanging out, eating and drinking. Last year we decided that we'd visit a new US city each year so Pittsburgh is the choice for '07. We're staying at the Westin and right now don't have plans to rent a car but if it's necessary from a chow-perspective, let me know. Being from NYC we have a tendency to assume the ability to get around by foot, taxi or bus in places better traveled by car. Case in point - last year in Kansas City we were the only ones on the bus or on the street.

After doing some searching on the board, I've come up with the following (in no particular order):

Girasole
Six Penn (this looked really fantastic)
Pamela's
Legume
DeLuca's
Wholey's
Red Room Cafe
Bigelow Grille
Nine on Nine (want one special dinner, is this the place?)
Harry's Pizza (I'm a CT transplant and love the one in West Hartford)

In general, looking for places where 2 can have breakfast/lunch for about $30 or less and most dinners in the $75-100 range (all in) and one splurge dinner ($150-175).

I saw all the Big Burrito restaurants but honestly wasn't sure of how good they would be. Am I judging too early? Also their prices look pretty high, even though I've been brainwashed by NYC prices.

We also plan to take full advantage of what appears to be a great selection of beer bars - Fat Head's, Church Brew Works and Sharper Edge. And will make sure to spend time in the Strip District walking around and checking out the shops. Also will the North Six Farmer's Market be open at end of Sept?

Welcome any other recs - only types of food we wouldn't want to have is Indian and Asian (not that we don't like it, it's just we live very close to Jackson Heights and Flushing in Queens so we are all set here) and not sure we need to do the Primanti's sandwich thing!

Thanks!

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  1. Tis a long time to be here with no car, but that's more how I think as a native, not as a visitor who could end up visiting a narrow area that might be covered okay by bus. Cab is fine when you walk out of the hotel where cabs are waiting, but you'll never get *back* that way. Well, not never, but you'll have difficulty I would think, without calling for one by phone.

    With 3 full days (plus whatever bits of Friday and Tuesday), you may or may not run out of things to do without driving. I guess you wouldn't "run out" per se, it just depends upon what you like and what you might want to see while you're in the wider area. The game and Warhol will only take up one day at most. You might want to put this on your list, which at least for now you have to schedule in advance: http://www.phipps.conservatory.org/ch... I think it might be nice to get a few places in your own car, but of course staying in the downtown hotel complicates matters because the car will cost twice as much if you pay to park it there.

    You might want a Mt Washington restaurant on your list, or, because the food doesn't really live up to the view in most of them, maybe just go up and see the view and eat somewhere else. I'm kinda ambivalent on this. Best bet would be Monterey Bay I suppose, based on others' reports, but I can't personally vouch for it. Isabela seems to get middling remarks. Everything else up there is not worth mentioning far as I know. It's a fantastic view to get with your dinner, which does add to the experience.

    Big Burrito restaurants: I really think Kaya is worth it, and you can walk there from the Westin. Of course, since I haven't been to all of the others on that list, I can't compare them all and suggest you should go to one vs another. I'm not as in love with Six Penn as some others, but you may like it. I'm thinking of going back for dinner; I've only been for lunch. I still think Kaya holds its own, even if it's part of a company that owns several places. Six Penn, after all, has Eat 'n Park for a parent company! http://www.eatnpark.com/

    For the best Strip experience, Saturday morning is the day to wander around there, but of course that makes it crowded for everything. If you go earlier to DeLuca's or Pamela's that day you'll beat some of the crowd. BTW, for breakfast you'll likely be closer to $20 I would think, so maybe you can put some of that "savings" towards other meals.

    I should probably stop because I tend to ramble on and not always sure its helpful. There are definitely some others who will chime in with stuff I'm sure.

    3 Replies
    1. re: CrazyOne

      There are plenty of things to do in Pittsburgh, but you really do need a car to get around the city (which is pretty confusing because of the rivers and hills). I would add Dish to your restaurant list. Fabulous really authentic Sicilian. And you should do the Primanti's sandwich thing. It's a hoot.

      1. re: profjmm

        For a New Yorker you'll find "Downtown" Pittsburgh to be quaint. That is by no means a slight - Pittsburgh is a great city!!! You'll for sure want to explore the
        Southside which has Carson St. as it's spine. It is a long street with many interesting stores, restaurants and bars. Take a look at Cafe Du Jour. As well you may enjoy these neighborhoods: Squirrel Hill (Forbes & Murray Avenues), Shadyside (home of Girasole). Grab a Pittsburgh Magazine and a City Paper upon arrival. The Strip on Saturday AM is a must. For caffeine fix La Prima Espresso, great atmosphere. DeLucca's or Pamela's are good options. While in Sq Hill grab a slice at Mineo's. It may not be your favorite, for whatever reason, but it is a steady, long-time favorite! Close by is good take-out Asian at Zaw's.
        Take the incline to Mt Washington even if just for a drink but you should enjoy Monterrey Bay. I haven't been but people seem to like Sonoma on Penn easy access from Westin prior to Pirate Game. My feeling is the Primanti thing is a unique Pgh thing but it's just italian bread with meat and cheese made sloppy and unhealthy with smashed cole slaw and fries!!! Enjoy PNC Park it's as amazing a park as Bucs suck as a team... Check out all public transit options before renting a car and know that there are finally the zip car types in the Burgh. For sure there is one near the parking garage at Ninth and Penn!!!

        1. re: profjmm

          I lived in Pittsburgh for 4 years (college) without a car and I never had any troubles getting around. And yes, this was recently ('03 grad).
          It's very possible to get around - just try to keep schedules with you so you dont end up waiting for buses when you could be doing something else.

      2. Is the Harry's Pizza here in the Pittsburgh area at all related to the one in Hartford? I can't seem to find anything to suggest that on the website, but I'm hoping there *is* a link (& some good pizza).

        1 Reply
        1. re: cewe424

          For Beer also check out Dee's Six Pack, they have a huge bottle selection.

          Wholey's isn't all that great IMO. If you're after fried seafood Benkovitz (also in the Strip District) does a much better job.

          Big Burrito is good, but I wouldn't say they're an absolute must try. If I were to recommend one Big Burrito restaurant it'd be Kaya in the Strip District. We personally go to Mad Mex a lot, but it's certainly not a place you must try.

          For you splurge dinner try Alla Famiglia in the Allentown section of Pittsburgh. The neighborhood is a bit sketchy, but don't fret, the place is great inside and the food is even better.

          Harry's Pizza is our favorite pizza in the area. You'll absolutely need a car for Harry's pizza though, can't imagine how expensive a cab would be.

          Really, Pittsburgh is more of a car city than it is a public transport/taxi city. Outside of a downtown hotel, you're best shot at getting a cab is to call for one.

          42duffy brought up a new option I forgot about, FlexCar. Look into that, it may prove your best option.
          http://www.flexcar.com/Default.aspx?t...

        2. First things first since we speak the same language (grew up at the Colony, drove often to Wooster St.) - Harry's is related to the West Hartford location, but more tangentially than directly. The crust is there and they're using fresh ingredients. White clam, however, does not translate, so don't think about ordering that one. The location is in Waterdam Plaza, probably a good 20 minutes south of the Liberty Tubes on Rte. 19 (straight shot from Liberty Bridge).

          Agree with the comments on going up the incline for a drink on Mt. Washington. Georgetown Saloon would be a good call. Monterrey Bay Grotto is actually pretty decent for fish, so that might be one of your dinners.

          Strip District.... treat yourself to some cheese at PennMac. It's probably the largest cheesemonger between NY and Chicago. Then get some salumi at Parma Sausage. Great Genoa and Coppa Seca, but the amazing treat is the Pancetta (lots of nutmeg eaten 'cold' that disappears when fried up), which is cured long enough that you don't need to cook it. You can snack salumi and cheese all week - and while the depth of choices isn't what you'd find in NY, both PennMac and Parma deliver the goods. If you're lucky you might see some local color, the old guy in the black string bikini and silver platform shoes comes to mind... and although you're not big on Asian, there is a cart with pretty good $2 pad thai right there.

          Far as beer goes, I'm partial to Sharp Edge (we go to the one in Crafton) because they've got the appropriate glassware and will allow for tastings of if you show them you understand how to taste. Don't expect to find many lagers and virtually no pils.

          Kaya is OK, but it wouldn't be more than a neighborhood Caribbean joint in Metro NY, not the destination place it is here. You're right near Eleven, which is a better choice in the Big Burrito empire, but a bit more upscale than Kaya.

          I don't know if I'd do the splurge dinner on anything Italian in Pittsburgh. But if I did, it would be Vivo, although while they've got Italian roots, they are usually more eclectic. It's BYO but the owner is a terrific host and generally talks to everyone at some point during the evening.

          If I was going to do Italian, I'd probably opt for the Enotera wine bar behind Il Pizzaiolo in Mt. Lebanon, or have dinner in their courtyard. It's simple, but good and I think the best value of the better Italian places in town. Plus the Enotera list is almost all So. Italy, so it's unique to the area.

          Primantis.... gotta do it once, just like NY tourists have to visit McSorleys for a couple of darks and a cheese plate. But if you go, then go all the way - the kielbasa with the fried egg.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Panini Guy

            Yes yes, I forget in terms of NY nothing in the restaurant world measures up. So skip Kaya. In fact, just don't eat at all when you're here. You'll be happier. ;-) Seriously, is there anything that would be a destination place here compared to NY? I doubt it. So why term it this way?

            BTW, I think you mean Grandview Saloon? Georgetowne Inn is one of those unmentionable restaurants on Mt Washington. (Unfortunately, it's the only one I've been to over my years here, twice! Heh. But it was my boss inviting and paying, whaddya gonna do? ;-) Grandview Saloon in fact is refashioning itself thus http://www.coalhillsteakhouse.com/ but I imagine you can still go in and have a drink. Or, don't even bother having a drink and just go up and see the view. Ride up one incline, walk over, then down the other, perhaps.

            1. re: CrazyOne

              Yep, second the idea of going to Mt.Washington on the incline, up one side and down the other. The view of the city from there really shouldn't be missed.
              If you want to stop, make it for a "pop", beer or other alcoholic bev, but don't think you'll be happy if you spend the money at Monterey Bay. Lived on the Mountain, back to visit all the time, but that's just not the place for a great meal, IMO.

              1. re: CrazyOne

                IMO, three or four places on the OPs original list would be just as packed in NY as they are here. Other than pizza and Chinese, I think Pittsburgh can hold its own with most small cities foodwise and does now finally has the depth and breadth that should qualify it for Zagats consideration and more exposure in food mags. My comment on Kaya is simply because while it's unique here, there is a ton of Caribbean in the NYC area, so it's not particularly unique or special coming from that perspective. I actually thought Paradise in Castle Shannon was a better example of the genre, but that closed, so maybe I'm the one out of sync. A Dish or Vivo on the other hand, would still be special, even to a jaded NYer.

                Regarding the Georgetowne Inn, I was only suggesting drinks, not food.

                1. re: Panini Guy

                  Interesting. I didn't think even places like Dish and Vivo would hold up. But I don't really know as I don't, indeed can't, compare them like that. But I will keep that in mind as it would be interesting to try them some day (and/or impress the GF's sister+husband who live in NY should they ever deign to visit, hehe).

                  I do understand you meant only drinks on Mt Washington. I was trying to ferret out which place you meant, because you wrote "Georgetown Saloon" which was an amalgamation of the two places' names. ;-) It's been long enough that I was in the Georgetowne that I don't remember if it even had a bar to only get drinks. I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that you had meant the Grandview Saloon. Either way, very few if any would recommend you eat in either of these places. ;-)

            2. I live right down the street from the Westin so let's see if I can help here...

              Are you into tapas? Seviche is a new South Beach-inspired tapas bar. It's right by the Westin so you wouldn't have to go far. They're known for their mojitos. Across the street is Sonoma Grille. Great wine selection and good food. I've never eaten at Nine on Nine. I heard the food is good but not really worth the price.

              Pamela's is the place to go for breakfast, located in the Strip. If you like a greasy spoon, I would recommend Cherries just off of Market Square. The food is good, the service is quick (although not overly friendly), and my fiance and I usually get out of there with stuffed bellies and a $14 bill.

              I highly recommend La Tavola on Mt. Washington for some fine, authentic Italian food. I'm a bit biased because my friend is the chef but I can safely say this is some of the best Italian food I've ever had. You must get the limoncello tiramisu if it's on the menu that night. The restaurant is not on Grandview but you can head to Mt. Washington, take in the sites, and then enjoy a great meal all the same.

              Big Burrito restaurants are good. Kaya is one of the best. Umi is also a nice place to go. You can comfortably sit on the floor and get some darn good sushi from people who really know the menu.

              Doublewide on the Southside is an interesting establishment. They're set up in an old service station and serve what I would call high-end American cuisine. Burgers (with your choice of beef, lentil, portabello, or chicken patties), ribs, vegetarian chili, wings (vegetarian and meat), cornbread, and on and on... My friend just got the Section 8 entree on Sunday and he was quite pleased.

              If I can recommend one thing it's that you do not eat at Primanti's. Especially if you've already indicated that it's not a must-do for you, I would just avoid it all together. I've had it once and I was not impressed.

              If you want to see more about how to get around, what to eat, and what to do Downtown, visit www.downtownpittsburgh.com.

              1. Wow, thanks everyone. All this info is really helpful and very detailed - need to read through it a few times to digest it properly - no pun intended. I really think we'll have more a problem of having to choose only a few restaurants (since we're only there for a few days) rather than running out of choices which is a great dilemma to have. And even for a NYer, I've had great meals in my city and some pretty bad ones. I'm excited to have the best of what Pittsburgh has to offer even if the cuisine or style can easily be found here.

                And appreciate that having a car is probably a smart idea. As I was reading through these posts I was reminded (how could I have forgotten) that when we were in KC we went to a Chiefs game and arrived in a taxi!! Needless to say we were heckled like crazy - everyone tailgating thought it was the funniest thing they had ever seen.

                One other question - I noticed quite a few places are BYO but I also read some stuff on the liquor laws - wine only from state run places? Is that right?

                Panini Guy - you suggested not splurging on Italian; what would you suggest instead?

                4 Replies
                1. re: pellegrino31

                  Yes, you can only buy wine from a PA State Liquor Store. Beer is only available from beer distributors, not in the grocery stores.

                  1. re: Rick

                    Bring your own wine from NY, packed carefully in checked luggage. ;-) Okay, this might be more hassle than it's worth, but clearly the selection is lame compared to what you're used to. Plus, I suppose technically state law frowns upon this, but a bottle or two for personal consumption isn't going to arouse any attention. If you get wine here, the best stocked state store convenient for you is at One Oxford Center, downtown. Just several blocks from your hotel, 320 Smithfield St. (This is in the rear of One Oxford Centre, so ask for the state store if you need directions not the building which fronts on Grant. And don't let them send you to the one on Liberty Ave, not worth it.)

                    Beer for off-premises consumption is also available by the 6-pack at most bars at fairly rip-off prices. (Many pizza places double as bars too and can sell beer, though not usually much variety.) If you go to the beer distributor, you have to buy a whole case! There are also a few "bottle shops" which operate on a modified tavern license. They line the beer up on shelves. You still have to buy a whole 6-pack, but you can mix and match and they pride on having a wide selection. Someone mentioned D's Six Packs and Dogz above which is an example of the bottle shop format. None of these are really close to downtown, though, unfortunately. (Seems like that's ripe to change, but the way people get liquor licenses here is just as crazy as all these restrictions on what is sold when, where and in what quantities. Ugh.)

                    1. re: CrazyOne

                      If you are consdering out as far as Shadyside (Umi, Red Room Cafe, Girasole) then on the other side of the river (Allegheny) and aboiut the same distance from "dahntawn" is Bona Terra. Small, BYOB and very well prepared menu which changes based on local availability.

                      -----
                      Bona Terra Restaurant
                      908 Main St, Pittsburgh, PA 15215

                      1. re: CrazyOne

                        Thanks for the advice! I thought NY state laws were strict - stores can't sell beer and wine in the same place but seems like not that big of a deal in comparison. At any rate I know we'll have a great visit next month.