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Jul 14, 2011 09:00 AM

Opinion Regarding My Food Plan

I'm going to Pittsburgh next weekend for my birthday. I will be staying at the SpringHill Suites by the airport and will have a car. After reviewing the boards here on Chowhound, here's my food plan for the weekend:

Friday (Dinner Only): Il Pizzaiolo (I will go to Dinette if the wait is shorter)
Saturday (Lunch): Vietnam Pho or Tram Kitchen
Saturday (Dinner): Salt of the Earth (I have already made reservations)
Sunday (Lunch): Point Brugge Cafe
Sunday (Dinner): Kaya
Monday (Lunch): Eleven or Penn Ave Fish Company

What do you think? I will also probably go for coffee at Espresso a Mano. Some of the other places that I have read about on here that sound good include Spoon, Yo Rita, Tamari, and Piccolo Forno, but I'm going to keep those places as standby.

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  1. Sounds like a great trip! It's a good thing I can't afford to eat like that all the time. That looks like a pretty decent tour of Pittsburgh dining options.

    Not to start a flame war here, but I would question your Sat lunch choice of Vietnam Pho or Trams. If you don't really have any expectations of Vietnamese food, you might be ok, but if you're familiar with the cuisine, I think Trams would be disappointing and you might find Vietnam Pho only acceptable. I typically choose to get my Vietnamese fix at Pho Minh (also on Penn), but that's a matter of long running Pittsburgh debate (at last Trams vs Pho Minh).

    If you were considering Vietnam Pho on a Saturday, that means you might already be planning on being in the Strip District (Penn Ave and Smallman Ave, 16th-24th St). Saturday is a big day there, and you may be best off just doing a little walking around, and eating street food (tacos! bahn mi!), shopping, and people watching. If you're still hungry and have to get your pho fix, then Vietnam's pho is right there too, but I suspect you'll find lots of other things to munch on.

    Pho Minh
    4917 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

    2 Replies
    1. re: skoledin


      Thanks for the response. According to other people on Chowhound, Vietnam Pho and Trams is better than Pho Minh. I was hoping to get a good bowl of Pho for lunch on Saturday so I debated which place was better as well.

      Have you been to Vietnam? Would you say the pho at Pho Minh is similar to pho in Vietnam? I have never been to Vietnam so I don't know how the food compares.

      Pho Minh
      4917 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

      1. re: manhong

        Unfortunately I haven't made it to Vietnam yet, but hope to soon. However, I've eaten through a large number of Vietnamese restaurants on both coasts, make some decent Vietnamese food myself, a large chunk of my immediate neighbors are Vietnamese, and I'm an all around SEAsia-phile. That said, different people like what they like, hence the difference of opinions on Pittsburgh Vietnamese restaurants, even among some of my close friends. Personally, in terms of just pho, I don't think any places here in Pittsburgh approach what I would consider a high standard (ex. Pho 75 in the Washington, DC metro area), but most of them also offer a menu that's more than just soup.

        I personally like pho and Vietnamese food in general to have a rich but fresh taste. For me, even strong flavors like fish sauce, paste, etc. should be bright and interesting. If I had to break down the differences in a std bowl of pho tai/nam from the various places:

        Trams for me just doesn't taste fresh or interesting at all, stale to some degree.
        Vietnam's Pho is a little sweet and cloying without much flavor complexity, but has a few decent notes and isn't that bad overall. Acceptable if you're in the vicinity and don't want head a couple miles up Penn Ave.
        Pho Minh tends to be a slightly lighter broth than something like Pho75, but has a nice fresh taste and good complexity which makes for a overall satisfying bowl.

        If you're coming in from an area of the country with a large Vietnamese population, with lots of competition for experienced pho fanatics, then you should probably just take a pass here in Pittsburgh, there are more interesting things that really are great. However, if you can't do without or don't get it very often, the bowls here in Pittsburgh are definitely acceptable or better. I don't think I'd be able to live without at least one bowl a week, so wherever you decide to go, you'll be fine.

        Hitting the strip on Saturday is something you won't forget or regret easily (except for the crowds if you're in a hurry). Even waiting in a giant line at the Penn Mac cheese counter is all worth it for a quick conversation with Carol and for that morning taste of a little sliver of the bosco tartufo. The first truffle of the day is always the best ;-)

        Have a great trip to Pittsburgh!

    2. I agree with Skoledin that you should make some time on Saturday morning for the Strip District...It's kind of quirky, but great for food lovers!

      1. Can't tell where you're from, but guessing San Diego based on other threads. I can see why you might pass on street food, but if you're in the Strip, I'd really give S&D's Polish Deli a chance - I don't think you're gonna find much of that out in California. Might also consider that for your Monday lunch.

        Also not crazy about Kaya like some are here. I'd take Tamari over it. But I'm not you.

        And not to throw you a curveball, but if you're heading to Mt. Lebanon for Il Piz and you're not alone, you might want to consider splitting the DOC margharita (granted, it would be a rather large appetizer) and a glass of wine then heading over to KousKous for some excellent Moroccan, even if just the bastilla (it's byob).

        Not sure what kind of coffee you like, but keep in mind that Espresso a Mano is fairly serious - not hardcore, but certainly not Starbucks. Ask Matt or Braden (or whomever is on bar) for a straight shot of Apollo or a cappuccino and you'll get their best work. Good choices on the pourover bar too.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Panini Guy

          Thanks Panini Guy for the info. I'm actually from Michigan, but I'm up for any kind of food. I will definitely consider going to Tamari over Kaya. KousKous sounds awesome as well. I might do that for lunch on Saturday instead and go for Vietnamese for lunch on Sunday.

          I'm into espresso drinks so that's why I wanted to check out Espresso a Mano. I'm starting to become a coffee snob so Starbucks doesn't cut it for me any more.

          317 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

          1. re: manhong

            If you're in the Strip on Saturday, you can get lunch at the Penn Ave Fish Co there (there's another one downtown, 308 Forbes Avenue). My favorite things are the big salads with whatever kind of fish you like, from $8.95 for salmon to $10.95 for crab.

            1. re: manhong

              I think you really want to be in the Strip on Saturday morning. It's the best time to be there. Not trying to talk you out of KousKous, but if you haven't been to Pgh, the Strip on Saturday is definitely where you want to be.

              1. re: Panini Guy

                If you go to the strip on Saturday, you must try Cafe Raymond's (best breakfast in Pittsburgh) for brunch or Penn Fish for lunch. Seek out Lucy's Bahn Mi sanwich, located in front of FireHouse. Skip Vietnam Pho.

                Cafe Raymond
                2103 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

                1. re: six dower

                  <<<<you must try Cafe Raymond's (best breakfast in Pittsburgh) for brunch>>>>

                  What do you order for brunch at Raymond's?

                  Cafe Raymond
                  2103 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

          2. I like Kaya, but I don't love Kaya. Sounds like you'll be in the Strip at least twice, I'd give 21st Street Coffee a try too while you're there. I liked Vietnam Pho over Trams Kitchen.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Rick

              Thanks Rick. 21st street coffee is on my list as well so I will definitely consider it.

            2. if you're into avante garde type techniques check out Notion. Salt definitely has a touch of it, and if you only want to experience it once - choose Salt. Spoon is another great option.

              8 Replies
              1. re: Rodzilla


                Thanks for the info about Notion. I think Notion is too out there for me. I understand the chef's concept and what he wants to do with his restaurant, but I don't think I will get it. I decided to go to Spoon on Sunday night instead of Kaya. I think I might go to Kaya on Monday for lunch instead.

                By the way, I've been reading your food blog to learn more about places to eat in Pittsburgh and it is very helpful. Thanks for all of the hard work you put into it.

                1. re: manhong

                  Kaya Lunch and Dinner Menu are almost if not the exact same. I will also urge you to go to the strip on Saturday Morning ,9ish, and walk through all the shops. Any one into food at all, will enjoy any of the venues.

                  1. re: Augie6


                    Thanks for the advice. My plan is to go to the strip on Saturday morning, walk around, and have lunch at Vietnam Pho. Depending on what street vendors I see, I might have lunch at a street vendor instead.

                    1. re: manhong

                      If you are interested in street vendors, my favorite is just a few doors down from Vietnam Pho. Lucy Sheets is set up in front of The Firehouse Lounge, makes a great banh mi and she's also pleasant to talk to.


                      1. re: Burghfeeder

                        Lucy and the Renya Taco stand are the only street vendors I like going too.. Even if you just try one Renya Taco, you will have room for other food def worth it.

                  2. re: manhong

                    Thanks a lot manhong, I appreciate that more than you know! Definitely understand where you are coming from. You'll get to experience plenty of such techniques at Salt - but it's much more casual. I think you will be really pleased.

                    I just saw the Sean Ehland is back in Pittsburgh for a week, I don't know if that means he will make an appearance at Kaya, but I doubt it. If that's the case, I think you'll be happy at spoon - the food has always been great, I've only had lack-luster service once.

                    1. re: Rodzilla

                      When you comming back to the Burgh.. ?? Cali is long way to try out a good review... lol

                      1. re: Augie6

                        haha thanks, I'll be back for awhile in the fall. Looking forward to trying some of the new places that have been popping up.