As someone who recently moved after spending the last seven years living in Pittsburgh, I couldn't have been happier that the New York Times Travel section recently ran a story on what to see, do, and eat in the town I used to call home. I give them credit for nailing the best cultural attractions (The Andy Warhol Museum, the Mattress Factory, PNC Park, and the Carnegie Museums for Art and History) and the best places to grab a beer, Dee's Café and Brillobox (Iron City or Yuengling when you're there, obviously). But for where to eat, the NYT picked very...New York City places. But if you're in Pittsburgh, shouldn't you experience what it's like to eat like a local? So I'll give you the insider's scoop on my picks for the top five restaurants in town. Word to the wise: Most restaurants in the city are closed on Sundays.
Pittsburgh mornings begin at this popular breakfast chain, with outlets in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Oakland, and the Strip District. Even on a snowy Sundays Pamela's is worth the inevitable wait. Order the pancakes, cooked crepe-like, thin with crisp edges. You can get them stuffed with whipped cream, bananas, and Nutella or with strawberries, brown sugar, and sour cream. Either choice is a solid start to your morning and does wonders for a hangover.
The only problem with the falafel from Leena's Food is that it's ruined all other falafel for me. I've tried in vain for many years to find another venue as good. Leena's falafel is the perfect combo of verdant green on the inside, crunchy on the outside. Simply the best around.
121 Oakland Ave., 412-682-1919
Spice Island Tea House
Indulge in Southeast Asian flavors (the menu is inspired by local cuisine from India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam) served up in a hipster paradise of slow-moving ceiling fans and mismatched funky furniture. Spice Island also offers an amazing selection of loose tea, including a special iced tea of the day for only a buck. Even their pad thai is anything but generic-thin noodles, sweeter and saucier than most. They also offer three kinds of fried rice: Java, Burmese or Indonesian. And with prices so affordable (most dishes $10 or less), go ahead and try 'em all.
253 Atwood Street, 412-687-8821
Dave & Andy's
A few short steps from Spice Island is the city's best ice cream shop. Created in-house, flavors, like birthday cake and mint chocolate chip, are rotated daily. Make sure to get your scoops in one of the still-warm homemade waffle cones. Don't be surprised by the M&M they place in the bottom to counter drips-and guarantee you a sweet last bite.
207 Atwood Street, 412-681-9906
Church Brew Works
At the intersection of the Lawrenceville and Bloomfield neighborhoods, situated in a coverted church dating back to 1902, sits the city's best gastropub. Sample some of their specialty suds, brewed in-house in giant copper tanks: North German Style Pilsner, Bavarian Dunkel, British Special Bitter and Blast Furnace Stout. Though the food is great (try the Pittsburgh salad, which comes with fries on top), the real treat is the décor, repurposed from the church itself. You'll sit in pews under vaulted ceilings and catch only a glimpse outside through stained glass rose windows.
3525 Liberty Avenue, 412-688-8200