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Please help with Pittsburgh recommendations

  • k

My boyfriend and I are visiting Pittsburgh for the first time next weekend and are sort of "interviewing" the city to see if we want to move there for grad school (from Boston). We're very excited as we keep hearing great things about the city. I'm hoping you all can recommend some places to eat, as good food and coffee are very important to us!

I see Espresso a Mano, Salt of the Earth, Tamari, and Yo Rita's popping up all over the place, so we know those are highly recommended. I would appreciate hearing where else you think it's worth trying. We are staying near CMU, but really want to get out and see other neighborhoods (Lawrenceville, Shadyside, South Side, Bloomfield...), so we're pretty open in terms of location, and we will have a car. The only real sticking point is that I am a seafood eating vegetarian and am gluten-free. I think the gluten-free bit may be what makes things more difficult, since it looks like a lot of the restaurants that everyone recommends are Italian.

Thanks a lot for your help!

Yo Rita
1120 E Carson St, Pittsburgh, PA 15203

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  1. This particular board is great for rec's... I am not one of the experts but here are my suggestions. ( glutenfree and vegitarian is not common specialty for me so sorry if this is helples)
    Thai me up in sside is pretty good! (being from boston eithnic foods in PGH might not fair well )
    Monterey Bay in Mt Washington
    Penn Avenue Fish Market's-downtownish...
    Eleven in the strip is just great!
    The BeeHive in South Side is a really COOL coffee shop-- not for everyone, but being grad students probally wont mind it.
    These are all the uper crust standards, I can gaurntee people will know more than me. Pittsburgh seems to be going through somewhat of a food and culture upgrade over the last couple years.. Hope you enjoy your visit, being from Boston, the cold won't turn you off too much.

    1. gluten-free + veggie/seafood makes it tough, but you should still be able to eat pretty well, especially in the East End area. Here are a few things that come to mind. These are generally all best or near-best of class for Pittsburgh, a mix of cheap and not so cheap, and you shouldn't have any trouble finding things to eat at these places.

      Lawrenceville: Tamari, Round Corner Cantina
      Bloomfield/Friendship/Garfield: Thai Cuisine, Pho Minh, Salt of the Earth, People's Indian
      Shadyside: I prefer the Ellsworth vibe to Walnut St, so Harris Grill, Soba, Umi
      Strip District/Downtown: Kaya, Eleven, Six Penn, Penn Ave Fish

      In general, there are lots of cheap college eats in Oakland around Pitt, some better than others.

      That should give you plenty to pick from for a weekend.

      Have a great visit.

      Pho Minh
      4917 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

      Thai Cuisine Restaurant
      4627 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

      Umi Restaurant
      5847 Ellsworth Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15232

      Harris Grill
      5747 Ellsworth Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15232

      6 Replies
      1. re: skoledin

        Thanks Augie6 and skoledin - these are really helpful. I wonder if you have brunch recommendations. Do you think Coca Cafe is worth the wait that everyone mentions in their reviews? Another option is Quiet Storm for a veggie brunch. Thoughts on that?

        Also, any bakeries you'd recommend? This one's for the bf - I'm not expecting gluten-free recs on this one.

        Thanks again.

        The Quiet Storm
        5430 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

        1. re: kms41

          Hadn't really thought about brunch, but Coca is a great delicious choice if you don't mind the wait.

          For bakery, I can only recommend one, although with you being gluten-free it would be such tease... Jean Marc Chatelier in Millvale - http://www.jeanmarcchatellier.com/ - right across the river from Lawrenceville (Coca). You could always get some chocolate truffles for yourself... Millvale is an old town that isn't all bright and shiny and hipster, but it will definitely give you a taste of old-school Pittsburgh and how cheap, gritty, fun, and quirky living here can be. There's also a Pamela's (std. breakfast joint) in the old pharmacy across the street.

          If the weather's nice, you could take your pastries and walk along the river a bit: http://www.millvalepa.com/riverfront....

          For all-veggie, all-the-time, Quiet Storm is your place and will probably give you a little bit of a feel for the "veggie culture" here. In terms of food, not quite as tasty as Coca, but it's a different sort of thing anyway.

          I'll second the Oishii Bento rec, great stuff.

          Augie6 is right about asking what you're into. Pittsburgh is a bunch of completely unique neighborhoods sandwiched in fairly close proximity. For example, I can be in 5 different neighborhoods, just a couple blocks out my front door. Some places and areas are more bar&music oriented, while others are quieter and focused on dining and such. Just something to keep in mind as you're cruising around.

          The Quiet Storm
          5430 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

          Oishii Bento
          119 Oakland Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

          1. re: skoledin

            Hi everyone -

            Thank you so much for these great recommendations! We are definitely going to try Salt of the Earth one night, so we are looking for something totally different, and more low key, the second night. We're thinking Round Corner Cantina or Umi at this point. For brunch/lunch, I think we'll do Quiet Storm one day and Coca the other. Plus plenty of coffee and treats in between (I am so excited there's a gluten-free bakery to try!). We will definitely not leave Pittsburgh hungry!

            I really appreciate the suggestions you all gave, and also that you took the time to wonder/ask about what scene we're into. We are really looking forward to wandering around the various neighborhoods and would certainly welcome any suggestions for places to visit. From what we have read, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, Shadyside, South Side, the Strip, and Squirrel Hill are all worth visiting for different reasons. In addition to getting a general sense of the city and trying great good, we would really like to get a feel for places we might like to live eventually. We want to be within walking distance of good food and coffee, plus the usual conveniences like grocery stores and public transport.

            Thanks again everyone - this is such a great community!

            Squirrel Hill Cafe
            5802 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217

            The Quiet Storm
            5430 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

            Umi Restaurant
            5847 Ellsworth Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15232

          2. re: kms41

            There's a solid bakery right where you're staying. It's called Prantl's, and sits on Walnut St. in Shadyside (and sorry, they're not gluten-free). It has been around at least since I was a little kid, so we're talking 30+ years, and I'm sure it's far longer than that. I stopped by there on a visit to Pittsburgh a couple years ago, and it still smelled the same inside, and all their stuff tasted the same as well.

          3. re: skoledin

            I like your list. Lots of the stuff I'd recommend.

            I'm glad that Round Corner Cantina is starting to get some love - they've got a good thing going on. Variably authentic but across-the-board delicious and crave-able Mexican food.

            Finally made it to Salt of the Earth last month - totally lived up to the hype. We sampled a lot of their menu. I don't think you can go expecting every single thing on the menu to be mindblowing - they're a little too experimental to hit a home run on every dish (also, I believe they change their menu often). But the best plates there were as good or better than any I've had in Pittsburgh, and the meal was surprisingly affordable for what it was.

            I also wanted to mention a couple other places that don't get as much buzz on chowhound.

            I really like Smiling Banana Leaf in Highland Park - a cozy, very affordable Thai restaurant whose kitchen just seems to get everything right.

            For a cheap college dive in Oakland, Oishii Bento serves shockingly good Korean/Japanese food for a place that's barely more than a take-out joint.

            I also recently started going to Chaya in squirrel hill again since they moved. I've always liked them, but I think they're even better now. The sushi was still fairly classic and well made, but the other menu items were better than I remember. They have a Kaiseki menu you have to call for in advance that I'm looking forward to trying.

            Oishii Bento
            119 Oakland Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

            1. re: skoledin

              downtown/strip-Six Penn, Penn ave Fish, Kaya, Eleven
              Southside - Cafe du Jour - BYOB
              Point Brugge
              Avenue B - BYOB
              YOu already have Salt of E, Tamari
              bloomfield - Tessaro for burgers.

              Point Brugge Cafe
              401 Hastings St, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

              Avenue B
              5501 Centre Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15232

            2. Can you eat sushi? If you can get to the Penn Avenue Fish Market during lunch on Wed, it's all you can eat for $22. And it's the best fish in town. http://www.pennavefishcompany.com/all.... Strip District location only.

              There's a gluten-free bakery in Squirrel Hill: http://www.gluuteny.com/

              1. Kms41, just wondering what are you and the b/f into scene wise? Even though Pittsburgh is pretty easy to jump from neighborhood to hood with a car, its nice to visit area more suitable to the type of scence you are into...

                Had some friends from out of town look at CMU for Grad but hated the area they got taken too. Sometimes help to know preferences , nightlife, daylife, interests.

                1. You have a lot of great recs. I would also add Paris 66 in the East End. They do fantastic buckwheat crepes that are gluten free and they have Sunday brunch.

                  1. Kate,

                    Salt is great. You opted for an option that is low key - Brgr bar in Shadyside or Yo Rita in South Side.
                    Brunch on Saturday - Cafe Raymond in the strip. Best breakfast in the city. Do not miss the scones. Let Ray know that you are gluten free. If you are in the strip for lunch, try Penn Fish.....soups and sushi are great.
                    Brunch on Sunday - Eleven
                    Best Bakery - Food Glorious Food open only on Saturday. Get there early....
                    Tessaro's and Kaya are not good options.

                    Food Glorious Food
                    5906 Bryant St, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

                    Yo Rita
                    1120 E Carson St, Pittsburgh, PA 15203

                    Cafe Raymond
                    2103 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

                    Tessaro's Restaurant
                    4601 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

                    1. Pittsburgh is a different dining scene than Boston - a lot less at the top end, but a lot more in the middle. There's no real top-end places New American/French-inspired like Clio or L'Espalier or No.9 Park, although Salt (decidedly more casual) will more than make up for that foodwise (and you'll be amazed what you get for the price!). Boston > Pittsburgh in Chinese (no Chinatown here and lame dim sum) and Mexican (how I miss the Forest Cafe). Pittsburgh may have the nod in Indian and especially Eastern European. About equal for Italian even taking Hanover St. into account (Dish is particularly good for seafood) and while Boston has more Japanese and Korean, the quality here compares favorably (Umi, Little Tokyo, Korean Garden, etc.)

                      Where Boston has a ton of small ethnic places, Pittsburgh owns the sandwich. So it kinda sucks you can't eat bread because you'll be missing some of the best food Pittsburgh has to offer (Big Jim's, Fatheads, Lucy's banh mi, giant fish sandwiches all over).

                      If coffee is important (and we're talking Barismo/Simon's/Taste quality), you've got Espresso a Mano (L'ville), 21st Street (Strip), Voluto (Garfield/Friendship) and Enrico's Tazza d'Oro (Highland Park) with Commonplace (Sq. Hill) also getting a nod if Brad is on bar (but only then). There are others in the south 'burbs, but you probably don't want to live down there. If you care at all about coffee, skip Beehive. It's an interesting scene, but serves dreck.

                      For food shopping, the best place to be is around East Liberty (Shadyside-ish). You've got Whole Foods and Trader Joe's nearby, plus the East End Coop and probably the best liquor store in the city (and if you enjoy good wine or scotch, you're gonna hate living in PA).

                      FYI, YoRita might be a problem for you as I don't think they do corn tortillas anymore (everything is served in tacos, if you hadn't noticed). It's only been wheat the last few visits, but you can call them and they may stock some for you. The best Mexican is actually a taco stand outside Reyna's in the Strip. Everything else labeled "Mexican" is Americanized beyond recognition.

                      Enjoy your stay. Been here 9 years (moved from Quincy) and I've adapted nicely. Then again, I can eat sandwiches and pizza :-)

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Panini Guy

                        "Everything else labeled "Mexican" is Americanized beyond recognition."
                        Have you been to the Round Corner Cantina in the last year or so? Their stuff seems to vary from painstakingly authentic (their tamales) to completely Americanized (their brie quesadilla). Most of it's tasty and well made though, and AFAIK they use all corn tortillas.

                        Not that it will do the OP any good, but does anyone remember that little spot they used to have in Squirrel Hill on Murray? I think it was called Mi Mexico, but I could be wrong. They had the best damn torta's I'd ever eaten, and they were like $5. Pittsburgh needs a place like that again, maybe in a different location.

                        Squirrel Hill Cafe
                        5802 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          I haven't been there although it's on the "to try" list. As is the tienda/taco stand on Brookline that I've heard raves about (but even if it's wonderful, it's still just tacos). And therein lies my other issue with Mexican here. Ever been to one of Sandoval's restaurants in NYC? Or better yet, upscale "Mexican" in Mexico. It's not all enchiladas and tamales. There exists a whole other cuisine you don't eat with your fingers. Complex, wonderful. Why can't we have any of that here? A moderate place like Cambridge's Forest Cafe (which I referenced) would at least be a start toward something beyond combo plates/street food.

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            Was My Mexico a taqueria? If I have my facts right, the same people now own Cuzamil in the same location. http://www.cuzamilpgh.com/

                            Of course, I may be wrong.

                          2. re: Panini Guy

                            Everyone, thanks so much for the recommendations. Here's where we ended up going -

                            Salt of the Earth - I am still dreaming about the beet salad we had - it was amazing. The vegetarian main dish I had was good - not great - but my boyfriend's fish was delicious. All in all, a great experience though - really nice ambiance, funny waiter. Can't wait to go back.

                            Coca Cafe - Really cute place. I got a roasted veggie omelet, which again was good - not great. I'd definitely try a different omelet next time I go, because they had a lot of options. As is usually the case with brunch places like this, the coffee was only so-so. BF liked his egg and bacon sandwich. I miss out on all the fun.

                            Voluto coffee in the afternoon - nice place to hang out, coffee from the french press was decent, but not amazing. I wish they had let it sit longer so it was a bit stronger. Or maybe I should have tried an espresso.

                            Soba - We had a really fun time here. We ended up eating in the lounge near the fireplace, which was great. Vegetarian pad thai was delicious. Far from authentic - it had roasted turnips and brussel sprouts! - but it was great.

                            Paris 66 - We loved this place. It's adorable, we got a seat right away on the back patio (yay heat lamps!) and the food was delicious. I can't wait to go back for another egg and cheese crepes. I am so happy they are buckwheat and therefore gluten free.

                            Espresso a mano - We stopped here before heading to the airport. My cappuccino was delish.

                            Gluuteny bakery has amazing gluten free cookies, by the way.

                            Thanks again everyone for all the recommendations - there are some great finds in Pittsburgh!