Food & Drink

Pittsburgh's Restaurants That Are Absolutely Worth the Wait

Published On 02/07/2017 Published On 02/07/2017
Nicole Jarock Photography

Smoke Barbeque Taqueria


There's nothing quite like a strong margarita and a good taco. Or three. Of each. Lawrenceville’s Smoke is a cash-only, no-reservations BBQ joint that is worth waiting in the small space in the front of the shop. Everything on the menu has a kick to it, but even people who stay on the milder side will happily eat apricot habanero barbecue sauce -- runny nose and all -- because it's just that addictingly good. Although Smoke touts the finest Australian wagyu beef, Berkshire pork, and Gerber poultry, there are plenty of options for vegetarians, too. Black bean smoked onion dip, anyone?

Deluca’s Diner

Strip District

Have you ever eaten a plate of breakfast potatoes that was bigger than your head? We have, and we’ve waited in line for it, too. Count on Deluca’s Diner in the Strip District to have a line out the door during breakfast and brunch hours (it’s only open until 3pm), regardless of how the weather is outside. People line up under the awning of Strip establishments, huddled together away from the elements of a Pittsburgh winter (or spring, or fall, or summer, for that matter) for a breakfast feast. Whether you prefer a sweet or savory number, there’s a page on the menu just for you. A veggie omelet with four different cheeses? Sure! Peanut butter banana pancakes? Absolutely!

Gaucho Parrilla Argentina

Gaucho Parrilla Argentina

Strip District

As you drive over the 16th St Bridge into the Strip District, you’ve likely seen a line wrapped around a building. It’s a line of hungry people waiting to take a seat in Gaucho. You'll have to wait on that to get to the counter where you'll order from the hand-drawn menu lacquered on the wall. Though the main attraction is steak, there’s a wide array of salads, sides, and sandwiches. So, even if you’re not chowing down on the Asado Platter (five cuts of steak totaling 25oz) there will be something there for you when you finally reach the counter.

Adam Milliron/Courtesy of Piccolo Forno

Piccolo Forno


On the list of top places in the city to get Italian food, it’s worth hanging in there to catch a glimpse of Piccolo Forno’s Tuscan-style eats. Praised for wood-fired pizza, handmade pasta, gelato, and tiramisu, the restaurant utilizes seasonal ingredients in everything, so the menu is constantly changing. For mushroom lovers: the tagliatelle con sugo di funghi (pasta with mushroom sauce) will complete your life. Piccolo Forno is BYOB, however, those patrons in the mood for a drink that they don’t have to carry down Butler St in a paper bag can walk the 6ft down to a sister establishment Grapperia Bar Classico. It’s best to make a reservation or call ahead (if you have five or more), though you might get lucky if you walk in during off hours or just before the dinner rush.

Kelly’s Bar and Lounge

East Liberty

Though you probably won’t have to wait to physically get into Kelly’s, you’ll be sitting for a while for its signature dish: mac & cheese. The menu warns that it’s a 20-minute wait -- at least -- for the baked, liquid gold. Served in an individual baking dish, the mac (which comes in three sizes) arrives seeming more like a casserole than your standard bowl of mac & cheese. It’s piping hot, so those sensitive to heat will have to wait even longer, but it’s worth it. So worth it.

TJ Florentine



If you think that there won’t be a line at 8pm on a Monday night, you're sadly mistaken. Though the dining area at Tako will almost certainly be filled to the brim with those who made reservations, waiting your turn for a seat at the bar has its benefits. Chiefly, you’ll have a front-row seat to the bartenders charring orange peels to coat the rim of an Old Fashioned. Oh, and there’s build-your-own guacamole. Enough said.

Christina Shields/Courtesy of Square Cafe

Square Café

Regent Square

Few things compare to a colorful summer Sunday morning standing on S Braddock Ave for a brunch date. Though the menu changes seasonally at the Square Cafe, there is a "square classics" section that houses the Tot Mess (basically loaded nachos, except sub tater tots for tortilla chips). The choices don’t stop there, with specialty lattes, milkshakes, and smoothies adorning the drinks section. We recommend the Purple Haze latte: hazelnut, lavender, and cayenne pepper. While you will almost certainly find yourself waiting outside of the Square Café, it might take you longer to actually pick what you want from the extensive menu.

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1. Smoke Barbeque & Taqueria 225 E 8th Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15120

Where there's smoke, there's fire... or serious tacos, in the case of Smoke Barbeque & Taqueria in Lawrenceville. The casual, cowboy-chic spot combines Texas-style barbecue with Mexican taco accoutrements to create a new kind of taco experience than the one you're used to. You can smell the smoker the second you step in, and better yet, taste it in meats like brisket on a housemade tortilla with hot pepper, onions and mustard sauce. Beverages continue the fusion novelty, with tomato water and horchata helping to cool you down after some jalapeño-apple slaw.

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2. DeLuca's Diner 2015 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

There's a universal appeal to the American diner model, and Deluca's has nailed it with their take on the tradition. Open since the late 1950s, this spot looks the part -- with checkered floors, red swiveling stools, and an old-time breakfast counter. A sign out front reads "The Best Breakfast In Town" for a reason: you have your pick of massive egg-filled burritos, huge omelets, stacked hotcakes, and all the bacon and sausage you can handle. It wouldn't be a diner without hot sandwiches, heaping burgers, or chicken fingers. The lines are long, but food so reliable (and comforting) keep people lining up.

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3. Gaucho Parilla Argentina 1607 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

This Latin American steak joint in the Strip District serves up five cuts of beef in their bright, al fresco eatery. The restaurant exclusively offers counter service -- chefs call out customer's names as they line wood-fired steak, chicken, and fish dishes (including a build-your-own-paella entree) onto the food bar, and hungry guests are expected to seat themselves after placing their orders. The entrees are best paired with a classic rice and beans plate, grilled corn on the cob, or an order of the famous Gaucho Parilla empanadas. The place has a lax BYOB policy, plenty of communal seating, and a private sub-ground event space called The Bodega.

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4. Piccolo Forno 3801 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201

Piccolo Forno is the Lawrencville neighborhood's epicenter for Tuscan-style Italian fare, and a big emphasis is put on the pizzas and rich pastas. Flames from the wood-burning oven warm the brick-walled dining room, and births all of the eight pies on offer, from a white take with ricotta and Gorgonzola to a fragrant mushroom-prosciutto pie. Twelve pastas are made with seasonal ingredients, including options like beet bucatini with salmon and pappardelle with braised rabbit. Know that there's a BYOB policy here, so it would only be prudent to pick up a nice bottle of red before you arrive. Come early if you want a table, or be prepared to wait.

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5. Kelly's Bar and Lounge 6012 Penn Circle South, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

A retro fluorescent sign accented with a martini glass calls drinkers into this vintage-style East Liberty hangout. Throwback tracks will sound as you make your way through the 1940s-styled space to the bar for cheap daily cocktails, which could be a Moscow Mule or a Paloma. You can grab any of the bar bites to eat in a booths -- from pot stickers to burgers -- but we can't stop thinking about the mac & cheese. It takes a while for the kitchen to make, but thankfully you can drink while you wait.

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6. täkō 214 6th St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Think you know tacos? You haven't tried the Asian-Mexican fusion versions coming out of täkō, serving up modern street food with a global bent. The namesake octopus (täkō is octopus in Japanese) is the must-order: coming grilled and folded into a tortilla adorned with harissa aioli, preserved lemon, greens, and pickled onion. The lineup ranges from unexpected to familiar, with a Korean-inspired taco (with Wagyu short rib, peanuts, and fermented cucumber) balanced by more safe Mexican choices like chorizo or carnitas. Whatever you do, try one of the eight margaritas, which can be spiked with lychee & pepper or sweetened with Thai coconut milk.

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7. Square Cafe 1137 S Braddock Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15218

Let's get one thing straight: Square Cafe is not for squares. In fact, it's one of the most popular places for brunch in the Regents Square area. You'll want a cup of coffee to start, which comes in crafty mugs with squared edges, before you indulge in quirky takes on traditional breakfast foods, like tofu hash and cornmeal pancakes. The bright blue and green interiors are cheery, but tables spill out onto the sidewalk when the weather gets nice, which makes for the an optimal setting to people-watch over a milkshake.