What are the hidden gems in Pittsburgh near Pitt?
May 6, 2010 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Pittsburgh to start graduate work at Pitt in a few weeks and I'm looking for the hidden gems of the city near where I'm living.

I will be living near N. Craig St. between Centre and 5th Ave. I don't mind walking far, and I also have a car and access to the busses. Where are the hidden gems within walking distance, and what is worth driving to go to? My first priority is to find some inexpensive but good restaurants as well as a coffee shop I can become a regular at and a good bar.

I am already familiar with Primanti Bros.
posted by stevechemist to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I live in the vicinity.

Good, inexpensive restaurant: Ritter's! It's not so much a restaurant as it is a diner, but it's cheap and open 'round the clock. It's on Baum (the next street up from Centre).

The Quiet Storm is on Penn - I think at the intersection with Graham, but I could be wrong. Good for brunch, especially if you're vegetarian. There's a neat-looking coffee shop further down Penn, more towards Negley, but I haven't been there yet.

Further away from you - I like the Spice Island Tea House on Atwood. Cheap and fast. The Silk Elephant and its sister restaurant, the Bangkok Balcony, are my favorite restaurants. Bangkok Balcony is a little cheaper, I think. You'd be able to get to both by Bus.

D's Hotdogz in Regent Square is my favorite bar. It's small and intimate, and the bartenders are friendly. The food is surprisingly great. It gets a little crowded during games and on weekend nights, but otherwise it's pretty quiet. You'd have to drive to this, but parking is easy - turn off Braddock and grab a spot.

Welcome to Pittsburgh!
posted by punchtothehead at 8:55 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

2nding Quiet Storm in Friendship and D's in Regent Square (I haven't tried punch's other suggestions).

I'll try to confine my responses to your immediate area, though . . .

Salim's, on Centre, is a small middle-eastern grocery store with great takeout food. It's practically right around the corner from you. There are a lot of other restaurants on S. Craig, just across 5th Ave. At lunch time, there are cheap eats from the food trucks parked on Bigelow near Soldiers & Sailors Memorial.

As for coffee shops, Kiva Han is pretty good, and is located at the corner of S. Craig and Forbes.

There are a ton of bars within walking distance, and they're all a whole lot more tolerable this time of year, with many of the undergrads having moved home for the summer. Still, it is a scene that seems to appeal more to the undergrad crowd. Most of the bars are located along Forbes. Squirrel Hill and Shadyside are both a short bus ride from your neighborhood, and both have a lot of great bars -- along Ellsworth or Walnut in Shadyside, and near the Forbes and Murray intersection in Sq. Hill.

"The O" at Forbes and Bouquet (across from the law school) is a hot dog shop and not a bar, but they have a respectable selection of carry-out six packs. They're known for the hot dogs and fries, though.
posted by cac at 9:03 AM on May 6, 2010

Not particularly hidden, but can't go wrong w/ Dave & Andy's Ice Cream.
posted by reptile at 9:06 AM on May 6, 2010

Pitt students are all agog over Pamela's, which does make some damn fine breakfast food and is right there in Oakland. But if you want a serious breakfast, you want DeLucca's in the Strip district.

And on preview oh yes Salim's. Definitely.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:07 AM on May 6, 2010

Coffeehouse: give Kiva Han @ Forbes and Craig

Gelato: Mulberry Street Creamery @ 733 Copeland Street (in Shadyside right off of Walnut Avenue), ~1 mile away

A few places in Oakland do half-price at night from 11-12 [Fuel & Fuddle, Joe Mama's, India Garden, and Mad Mex - details for half price vary slightly at each place] - the first two are right near Forbes and Oakland (near Dave and Andy's, which is ice cream you should get at least once), and the other two are a little farther away from Forbes, down Atwood. They should be much less crowded during the summer/whenever undergrads aren't around.

Vera Cruz (between Oakland and Atwood on Forbes) is a surprisingly good cheap Mexican place

Smallman's Deli (in Squirrel Hill on Murray Avenue) is tasty with large portions for a reasonable price; it's really easy to get two meals from one of their sandwiches

The O (as mentioned by cac) is where you go if you want A LOT of fries/a lot of grease. But you should eat there at least once because you're in Pittsburgh and it's The O.
posted by radicarian at 9:08 AM on May 6, 2010

Sree's Indian truck is awesome if you like cart food (& Indian).
posted by reptile at 9:08 AM on May 6, 2010

Best answer: The Strip District is definitely worth driving to for grocery shopping (or the 54C will take you right there).

Within walking distance:
- Schenley Park is a great place to explore, and the Phipps Conservatory is beautiful.
- The Indian grocery store on Craig Street between Fifth and Forbes has really good, cheap samosas.
- Uncle Sam's has good tasty greasy subs.
- Leena's Falafel on Oakland Avenue between Fifth and Forbes has good, cheap Middle Eastern food (so does Nellie's at the corner of Fifth and McKee).
- Spice Island on Atwood Street south of Forbes has excellent Southeast Asian food.
- So does Burma/Tokyo across the street, which might be the only place in town specializing in Burmese food.
- Fuel and Fuddle is a little pricier, but has just kind of regular American food and a decent beer selection.
- Red Oak Cafe on Forbes Avenue specializes in local/sustainable food, mostly classic American staples.
- Tamarind, right across the street from you, is a good but slightly-expensive Indian restaurant. I think they still have specials on dosas on Tuesdays, which is totally worth it because their dosas are really really good.
- A lot of people love Lulu's Noodles on Craig Street. I think it's overrated because the food is too salty and not boldly enough flavored for my taste, but you might disagree.

Coffee Shops: You will mostly get chains in Oakland. There is Kiva Han (Forbes and Craig and Forbes and McKee), Starbucks and Caribou at Fifth and Atwood, and Crazy Mocha on Oakland just south of Forbes. Crazy Mocha is my favorite of the local chains. If you branch out a little further than Oakland, you can hop a bus to several local independent coffee shops:
Asylum in Uptown (closest to you)
Voluto and Quiet Storm in Garfield
Perk Me Up! in Lawrenceville
Enrico's Tazza d'Oro in Highland Park
Morning Glory in Morningside
Buena Vista Coffee, Amani, and Hoi Polloi in the North Side
La Prima, Fortune's, and 21st Street Coffee in the Strip
Beehive and Big Dog in the South Side
Cannon Coffee in Brookline (a bit of a voyage, but I really like it there)

There are certainly many coffee shops which I am forgetting. These are just the ones that I have gone to in the past. My favorites are La Prima, the Morning Glory, Tazza d'Oro, Buena Vista, and Big Dog for coffee. For coffee plus snacks, I like Perk Me Up!, Cannon Coffee, Buena Vista, and Hoi Polloi. Quiet Storm is more of a vegetarian restaurant than a coffeehouse. The food is tasty, but the customers tend to rub me the wrong way so I don't go there much. I tend to steer clear of the Beehive because it is usually loud and raucous.

As for bars, the bars in Oakland are clogged with undergrad frat-boy types and can be really off-putting. That said, it's summer so it might be worth going to some of them again. Peter's Pub on Oakland Avenue has some good food items and usually has some drinkable beers. Hemingway's on Forbes has a few drinkable beers as well, and a late-night half-price menu. I prefer to go to D's Six-Pax and Dogz, on Braddock Avenue in Regent Square. It's about a 10-minute ride on the 61B. They have the best domestic microbrew selection in the city and a tasty menu. But they don't have a liquor license. Another must-go-to place for beer drinkers is the Sharp Edge in Friendship. They specialize in Belgian beer (personally, I don't care for their food or for many Belgian beers, but I have friends who swear by that place.) For cocktails, the Firehouse Lounge in the Strip is fantastic, although it isn't the youngest/partyingest crowd. (Go there if you want a really good drink, but be prepared to pay for it and don't expect to spend the night rubbing your groin on a stranger. For that, you want to go to almost any bar on the South Side.) In my neighborhood (North Side), there are 2 bars that I love: the Park House (neighborhood-style bar specializing in Pennsylvania and other reasonably local microbrews) and the Monterey Irish Pub (Irish-style pub with awesome, although not always Irish, food on Monterey Street).

Also worth driving to: Awesome museums on the North Side (Mattress Factory and Warhol Museum), or just take the 54C or the 500 to get to the North Side.

You will find that the bus system is kind of a hidden gem -- Oakland is a neighborhood where a lot of buses go, and it's always worth it to just take the bus downtown or to the South Side or to the bar, because it's a pain in the ass to find a parking place.

MeMail me if you want any more questions/advice/tips about getting good groceries, where the farmers' markets are, other restaurants in the area, bike shops, or anything really relating to food, outdoor explorations, or shopping in general. I've been here for about 5 years, I'm a grad student at Pitt, and I know the city pretty well at this point.
posted by kataclysm at 9:11 AM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, the food trucks on Bigelow Boulevard just north of Fifth are usually excellent and cheap. And 2nd-ing Veracruz in Oakland and DeLuca's in the Strip.
posted by kataclysm at 9:12 AM on May 6, 2010

Best answer: Coffee shop: Voluto in Garfield/Friendship. There are some quirks (don't ask them to pour you a ready-made cup of drip coffee...) but the coffee is absolutely wonderful--the best I had in Pittsburgh. If they have spicy hot chocolate, get it. The iced coffee is good, too. They get bagels and pastry from local shops, so there's good food if you need a snack. And there's free wifi. There's free parking in back of the building (ignore the threatening signs... this is another quirk) but it's only about two miles from you, so you could walk it if you like.

Gem: Udipi Cafe. You'll have to drive, and when you get there you'll think you must have taken a wrong turn. It's at 4141 Old William Penn Highway, in Monroeville. It's the best southern Indian food I've had anywhere, and totally affordable.

Gem: Church Brew Works in Bloomfield/Lawrenceville has half-price appetizers and inexpensive beers during happy hour. Get the spinach and smoked gouda dip for $3. It's an incredible place--a huge old church turned into a pub. It's about 2.5 miles from where you'll be, so you may want to drive (there's a parking lot, though it does fill up when the restaurant is busy) or take the bus, it's possible to walk there from where you'll be (i.e., you don't need to take a highway to get there).

(Also, as a pedestrian in Pittsburgh, watch out for people turning "Pittsburgh left"--the front car signaling left at an intersection sometimes turns in front of oncoming traffic, either with the other lane's permission/wave or by just plowing ahead when the light changes; regardless of who yields or not, the turning car and the oncoming car rarely check to see if there's a pedestrian crossing so you need to watch out.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:15 AM on May 6, 2010

Try going to Bloomfield, Pittsburgh's Little Italy. Lot's of bars, restaurants, a couple of coffee shops. I find that the bars around there don't have as much of a student feel to them, rather a good mix of urbanite hipsters, blue collar types, and just regular people. I'm partial to Armand's.

Spend a Saturday morning/afternoon some time just walking around the Strip District. You can buy produce, fruit, and just about anything else food related you can think of.

Make friends with the main branch of the Carnegie Library in Oakland. Also get a bike and make friends with the trails that go all around the city and along the rivers.

Pittsburgh's a great city. Hope you enjoy it here.
posted by squawk at 9:15 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dave and Andy's has excellent ice cream, but you should check out Klavon's in the Strip District at least once. nth-ing DeLuca's and suggesting Jo-Jo's as well.

Only In Oakland has a list of just about everything near Pitt's campus with addresses, phone numbers, and some websites.
posted by alynnk at 9:20 AM on May 6, 2010

Are you from the region? If not, maybe you haven't had access to cheap, plentiful Yuengling before. Fortunately, you get to fix this soon at just about any local bar!

I like Oishii Bento on Oakland Ave (not to be confused with simply being in Oakland, the overall neighborhood), tucked away between Forbes and Fifth. There's also a great Korean restaurant that I think is on Liberty or nearby - you cook your own food or you can order sushi. Man, I really hope someone else knows the name of this place because now I want to go back.

I like IGA, the little grocery store on Forbes near all the half price restaurants in Oakland. It's part of an independent grocery network, hence the name. Giant Eagle Market District, specifically the one on Centre, is surprisingly good for the dominant local chain; but if you disagree with me, Whole Foods is just a couple of blocks east of there.
posted by tantivy at 9:48 AM on May 6, 2010

Best answer: If Pittsburgh ever rolls out real-time arrival info for their buses, the system will be much more usable. It's clean and used by people of varying income levels, which is more than you can say for a lot of cities' transit. However, the headways on some routes can be 30+ minutes, which is bad if you have a paper schedule and much worse once you realize that the paper schedule is worthless.

If you're in anything of a hurry, I wouldn't count on the buses unless you have parallel lines (e.g., taking 61A, 61B, 61C, etc. to Forbes & Murray in Squirrel Hill is easy, because lots of routes go from point A to point B; taking the 54C to the Strip is more frustrating because it's the only bus that will take you there from your current stop).
posted by tantivy at 9:52 AM on May 6, 2010

Although the Pirates are usually awful, PNC Park is often considered the best modern baseball stadium for a fan. It has lots of good food, intimate seats and a great view of the downtown skyline. Plus with the Pirates being historically bad it is easy to get cheap tickets and sit in a somewhat better seat.
posted by mmascolino at 10:02 AM on May 6, 2010

None have mentioned Tessaro's in Bloomfield, which has the best burgers in the city. The Sharp Edge has been mentioned; I will swear by the place. Phipps conservatory and the art and natural history museums are in your backyard. Definitely worthwhile excursions to make.

You need to drive out to the south hills and hit up Beto's pizza (Blvd of the Allies -> 376 -> 279 South -> Banksville Exit). Fantastic stuff.
posted by bfranklin at 10:03 AM on May 6, 2010

Uncle Sam's is my favorite sub shop OF ALL TIME and I still get cravings for it, even though I haven't lived in the city in almost 10 years (my personal faves are the chicken cheesesteak and the italian). The bread is perfect, it's always hot, and the fries are beautiful. You only get fries if you order in, though.

While it doesn't get great reviews on Yelp, Yum Wok/Lulus noodles on Craig Street has fantastic fried wontons that have red bean paste in them. I have never been able to find their replacement on the west coast, as much as we love our asian food out here. Their honey bbq pork is good as well.

Definitely check out all the Carnegie Museums. Explore the Cathedral of Learning. The 3rd weekend in April is CMU's carnival, with over-engineered soap box racing called "buggy" behind the campus in Schenley Park. And also robot races called "Mobot."

Try just driving around, and see if you can get from one place to another without ending up in a river. Discover the Pittsburgh Left.
posted by sarahnade at 10:46 AM on May 6, 2010

i can't understand the veracruz love, worst burrito i've ever tasted. lulu's is quite bland too, try taiwan cafe instead. you will be living right next to a 54c stop, so you can take a ride up to bloomfield and check out good thai (thai gourmet) and vietnamese (tram's kitchen). pittsburgh lacks much decent mexican, but try mexico city downtown. oishii bento is good and kohli's, the indian grocer on craig is nice. the thai food truck near pitt on bigelow blvd is good, but the trucks near cmu on margaret morrison are better. right by nature in the strip and the east end food co-op are good non-chain grocery stores. gooski's, howler's, brillobox are bars that often have excellent shows. the mattress factory museum on the north side is one of my favorite places in the world.
posted by alk at 11:18 AM on May 6, 2010

oh, you will also be right next to tamarind, an excellent indian place.
posted by alk at 11:22 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

You will regret for the rest of your life if you miss the opportunity to get wings and hand-cut chips at Ryan's Pub at the far end of Forbes Ave. Seriously, these are worth a trip to Pgh from anywhere in the world. The 'Seasoned Salt' wings are particularly fantastic.
posted by qwip at 12:57 PM on May 6, 2010

1. You can see the Pirates for pennies. Yes, they are a terrible team, but being able to enjoy the fantastic experience of a night at the ballpark rocks.
2. The Mattress Factory is fantastic.
3. YOU MUST VISIT THE BAYERNHOF MUSEUM. MUST. It is the wackiest place I've ever been. Try to know as little as possible before you go. It doesn't even have regular hours, you just call a phone number to make an appointment for a tour.
posted by missmary6 at 1:27 PM on May 6, 2010

Udipi's is truly a gem as has been mentioned. In my opinion, 21st Street coffee is the best coffee in the city, though they only have locations downtown and in the strip. Oh and I COMPLETELY agree with missmary6 on the Bayernhof.
posted by chinston at 8:31 PM on May 6, 2010

I hate to contradict others, but damn, OP, I am really afraid that you are going to go to Kiva Han and then say to yourself, "my god, all the other coffee in Pittsburgh is WORSE than this?"

I don't know Oakland too well, but Tazzo d'Oro may be the closest excellent coffee place, in the East End's Highland Park, which is quite a lovely neighborhood with a park with a lake-like reservoir in the middle from which you can often hear the zoo's lion roaring. It's a 10-minute drive from Oakland. You could combine it with a trip to the Bayernhof. VERILY IT IS WACKY.

Udipi Cafe is fantastic and well worth the drive to Monroeville.

The Rose Tea Cafe in Squirrel Hill, on Forbes, is great if you order the traditionally Taiwanese menu items and not the usual American-style beef-with-broccoli-type stuff. Same with Zaw's, on Murray, if you order the (unfortunately few) Burmese or Indonesian items.

Long-term, you might think about joining us East Enders, if Oakland's vibe gets to be a little too undergrad for you.
posted by palliser at 8:33 PM on May 6, 2010

Oh, and I forgot to mention that if you are up for a short trip, croissants as excellent as those right out of France can be obtained at Jean-Marc Chatellier’s bakery in Millvale right across the river from Highland Park. The rest of the breads and pastries are fantastic as well, but the croissants...

I couldn't believe I lived in Pgh so long without having come across this place, but it made the last few years full of ambrosia.
posted by qwip at 4:46 AM on May 7, 2010

No one's mentioned Nicky's Thia Kitchen on Western Ave on the Northside. Easily my favorite asian restaurant in the burgh, although I'm a little biased since it's within walking distance for me.

A vote for Tram's on Penn Ave too, the spring rolls there are amazing and make up for the negative atmosphere and the grumpy owner.
posted by octothorpe at 7:40 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Squirrel Hill Cafe, is a nice, low-key local bar in Squirrel Hill.

Silky's in Bloomfield and Squirrel Hill are both 2 nice additional low-key bars too.

Keep an eye on the Pittsburgh Filmmakers schedule if you are into independent/foreign film. They do a good job of keeping the city supplied with good movies at their 3 independent theater locations.

Chaya in Squirrel Hill is a great sushi and japanese restaurant.

People's Indian Restaurant is arguably some of the best Indian in the city. It's in a bit of shifty location though.

For coffee shops, I'm a fan of Coffee Tree Roasters. Great coffee. Shadyside location is a good place for internetting and people watching. Squirrel Hill location is a bit smaller. They also have a new location opening soon in East Liberty. Also, check out the 61C Cafe in Squirrel Hill - rock solid free wireless and great people-watching here too!
posted by punkrockrat at 8:36 AM on May 8, 2010

Best answer: I was just coming to mention Nicky's, actually. Not quite walking distance from me, but if I picked the right direction, I could just about roll down the hill to it. Well worth the drive from the rest of town, too.

I think Ritters is disgusting, but it is certainly cheap and nearly within walking distance from North Oakland. Of all the diners in Pittsburgh, it's the one that's open all night and isn't a chain.

There are a couple different kinds of coffee shops in Pittsburgh, with very different styles and very different fans, and both have been represented in this thread. Voluto, 21st Street, and to a lesser extent Tazza d'Oro are the painfully earnest super-gourmet shops for people who need to know every detail of their beans; as noted, Voluto doesn't do drip coffee, only French press, and 21st Street has only the Clover single-cup drip machine. Voluto especially, and 21st Street to a lesser extent, also have very modernist interior design that makes it actually physically uncomfortable to sit there for an extended period...

The Crazy Mocha chain, the Kiva Hans (Kivas Han?), Perk Me Up, and some of the other ones katastrophe mentioned are, in the main, comfy cozy places where you can actually get a simple cup of coffee if that's all you want, and nobody will have a meltdown if you want ice in your coffee.

Most of the bars in Oakland are pretty crappy, unless you like light lagers and frat boys. You will, however, be well within walking distance to Gooski's, the legendary dive bar in Polish Hill...
posted by FlyingMonkey at 1:19 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older Suggestions for Backpacking in the Cache Creek...   |   West in our West Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.