Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods -- 90, to be exact -- each distinct and lovely in its own right. But we aren’t here to talk about loveliness; we're talking levels of tastiness throughout each of them. We've considered each neighborhood's quantity and quality of restaurants, the general ease of getting around, and whether the area can truly hold up for a night out. Here are our picks for the cream of the crop for food locales.
Here's the thing about Regent Square: it is small. It only has a handful of spots to eat. But, every one of those places is very much the shit. There is never a day that we don’t want a D’s hot dog loaded with chili and coleslaw in one hand, and a beer in the other, or an untraditional (sprinkles?!?) yet sophisticated (... and also espresso and dark chocolate?!?) frothy milkshake from Square Cafe. And some of the best hospitality lives at Istanbul Sofra, along with excellent baklava.
Pittsburgh’s Little Italy doesn’t have the best Italian food in Pittsburgh, outside of the immense portions at Pleasure Bar and a couple of solid Italian grocery spots. Va bene -- there are great places to dine with food that isn’t swimming in marinara. But the place that is bringing Bloomfield into the now with the most gusto is Apteka -- we'll have those vegan pierogies any day of the week.
The North Side is all about its hidden gems, with places like the cozy Monterey Pub serving up hearty shepherd’s pie smack-dab in the middle of historic residential row houses. You can also find the best soul food at Carmi and the best tacos at El Burro. It is a neighborhood worth exploring by following your taste buds.
With three thriving business districts in one neighborhood -- Walnut Street, Ellsworth Avenue, and South Highland -- opportunities abound for seriously promising forkfuls. And, in certain weather, this is easily the neighborhood with the most outdoor seating available. Almost every spot spills out onto the sidewalk or, better yet, onto a baller deck or patio (Harris Grill and The Elbow Room repping two of the best).
East Liberty is the development darling of the city with the intersections of Highland, Penn, and Baum taking the top spot for refreshed dining. You can go fancy at The Twisted Frenchman or Spoon (now with an extensive gin menu), or take it easy at Pizza Taglio and the no-frills oyster spot Muddy Waters. Or be the hippest and head to Ace Hotel for Whitfield and an in-your-face plate of tender meat, from roast duck to all sorts of steaks.
Not so long ago, Downtown emptied out after 5pm. Now, good luck getting a reservation at some of the hottest dinner spots in town that just happen to reside inside the Golden Triangle. The Cultural District in particular packs a flavorful punch with Tako, Sienna Mercato, and Bakersfield. A little further afield, Market Square is the place for lunch with dozens of eateries in the vicinity, including Franktuary, the historic Original Oyster House, and Revel + Roost. Honestly, it’s tough to decide where to eat Downtown these days -- and that is great news.
Squirrel Hill is THE place for Asian cuisine in Pittsburgh. Chengdu Gourmet leads the way with its buzzy Szechuan plates. There is also a wealth of kosher cuisine for the large Jewish contingent in the area (including a kosher Dunkin' Donuts -- the only one in town!). And if that wasn’t enough, the hottest pizza battle occurs on Murray between Aiello’s and Mineo’s. This writer's an Aiello's girl through and through, but Mineo's often takes the public gold.
Upper Lawrenceville keeps getting better with a mix of cool stores, breweries, and good eats. Where else can you eat cakes until 11pm like you can at Butterwood Bake Consortium? Nowhere, good sirs and madams! You will be hard-pressed to find better atmospheres and bites than at B52 and Pusadee’s Garden. It’s only a matter of time before Upper Lawrenceville eclipses its lower neighbors as the it spot for a night out as it continues to grow.
Known for getting a little pukey and punchy after the sun goes down, South Side should really be more known for hosting killer eats. It boasts the most eclectic offerings of any neighborhood, from the fancy Italian at Dish to the souped-up sandwiches of Carson Street Deli to the straight-from-England boxtys of Piper’s Pub to the vegan meals of Amazing Cafe. Plus, there have been Sidney Crosby sightings in Stagioni, so, bye.
Try to resist the sweet unlicensed Steelers goods awaiting you at every turn -- you're here for the food, people. Buy your sausage, cheese, and fish for later at the food purveyors lining Penn. Then, eat at one of the many storied institutions that call the Strip home or one of the young guns only bolstering the area's dining reputation. The first Primanti Bros. is here and the best wood-fired meat this side of the Equator is here at Gaucho. Smallman Galley is bringing the national food hall trend to Pittsburgh but instead of promoting high-stakes competition between the chefs, it fosters ideation and growth for fledgling restaurant concepts.
The essentials: The Vandal, La Gourmandine, Smoke Note that we've grouped Lower Lawrenceville and Central Lawrenceville together -- literally no one says Central Lawrenceville. Deal with it! And deal with the fact that this neighborhood is the top dog for dining. No one in the country can keep their cool when talking about Justin Severino’s Spanish-tapas-themed Morcilla, and the neighboring restaurants are no slouches either. The Vandal is giving all other Pittsburgh brunches a run for their money; Smoke is reinventing the duality of a fusion restaurant by making delicious Mexican food with its barbecued meats; and Piccolo Forno has some of the best Italian in the city. Try to find a place that flat-out sucks. It simply isn’t possible.
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Laura Zorch is hard-pressed to find a neighborhood that she hasn't had a meal in. Challenge her @lzorch!