Last Updated on November 21, 2023
My reason for visiting Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) was more a matter of convenience. My boyfriend and I lived eight hours from each other, and this city was a great meet-in-the-middle destination for a long, summer weekend. Four days and thousands of calories later, we learned that Pittsburgh is vastly underrated and completely awesome. In fact, if you’re a foodie looking to satisfy your taste buds, Pittsburgh’s got you covered.
Pittsburgh may not be an iconic foodie destination like Rome, Bangkok or Tokyo. However, the City of Bridges (with 446 of them) is actually home to famous foods such as Heinz Ketchup, the Klondike Bar, the Big Mac (invented nearby), and hundreds of restaurants that helped the ‘Burgh earn its title as Zagat’s 2015 Food City of the Year.
While I wanted to try literally every restaurant we saw, gentle reminders from my “shrinking” jeans and my bank statement kept me in check. To help you save time in this task, here are 5 Pittsburgh restaurants you simply cannot miss.
You know the feeling when you finally get your food when you’re starving, and you just want to devour the whole thing vacuum style? Well, it seems the Primanti Bros’ “almost famous” sandwich was designed for just this. It’s a heaping portion of meat (I recommend the Pastrami and Cheese) enveloped in slaw and french fries, huddled together between two slices of fresh bread. You read that correctly— the french fries are on the sandwich! It’s all going to the same place anyways, making for one delicious ride into tastebud ecstasy.
As a New Yorker, I take my sandwiches very seriously, and this one was definitely one to write home about. What began as a sandwich cart in Pittsburgh’s Strip District during the Great Depression, has, thankfully, spread to several locations throughout the Pittsburgh area. So wherever you are, this delicious bite isn’t too far away. To preplan your meal, be sure to check out their menus, which vary slightly from location to location.
Diamond Market Bar and Grill
After you decide Sunday morning yoga in Market Square was enough exercise to warrant a scrumptious brunch, the Diamond Market Bar and Grill is a great option to replenish your strength. Especially if you don’t want to wait in line at The Yard, which is usually packed before you can roll up your yoga matt. While their brunch menu isn’t online, I can tell you the brunch burger, with chorizo and avocado, is awesome. And the mimosas are free-flowing and refreshing! Its relaxed atmosphere and square-side patio make the trip worth it.
A wise eye-liner clad pirate named Jack Sparrow once asked perhaps the most important question of his time: “Why’s the rum always gone?”
Well, Jack, odds are, it’s sitting at Pirata. Just a couple blocks from Market Square is a seafaring themed restaurant that looks like a tasteful Epcot exhibit. And I mean that as a compliment, the murals and nautical decor alone are impressive. For those who are interested in quenching their thirst, Pirata takes guests on a trip through the Americas and the Caribbean with their 200 bottle rum collection.
For the rest of us who are hungry for an adventure, you’re definitely going to want to try their menu, which “celebrates the cuisine and lore of South America, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.” Get out of your comfort zone with their Trinidad Salt Cod Fritters and sample their various empanadas (stuffed pastries common to Latin American Cuisine). They also offer a late night menu, brunch, and—odds are— a showing of at least one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
This one takes us away from downtown and onto E. Carson street, the nightlife hub for the locals. And Steel Cactus had me at queso (cheese dip) and rooftop bar. Moreover, they also get pretty creative with their tacos. You may choose to build them yourself or go for one of their menu combinations. For example, you could try the Pollo Barbacoa— grilled chicken paired with a sweet-and-spicy duet of jalapeños and candied peaches, red onion, cilantro, and queso fresco (a mild, salty cheese used in Latin American Cuisine). If that isn’t enough to sell you on this must-try spot for a night out, their Happy Hour specials, including half-price appetizers, probably will. After a meal and libations at this bar, E. Carson street is your oyster. For more information, check out their menu.
Last but not least, Bigham Tavern is up there on my list of favorite restaurants I’ve tried this summer. It’s located in Mount Washington, a neighborhood 367-feet high that overlooks the Pittsburgh skyline across the Monongahela River (the “Mon” to locals).
TAKEAWAY: If you’re headed here, take one of the inclines and bring your cameras. These cable cars allow for some great photo-ops and save you the terror of driving up the steep terrain. The view from the top is breathtaking.
Alright, back to Bigham. Bigham Tavern is a homey dive known for their wings and their charismatic line of sauces. These range from the Chupacabra to the more ambiguously alluring Dingo. This collection of delicious sauces suits varied tastes, but I unquestionably recommend trying as many as possible. Furthermore, if that means going for the order of 50 wings, then I guess you’ll just have to do it.
On the other hand, there’s an unsung hero to this story: the Sausage Mac Bites. It is a mix of mac n cheese with sausage and vegetables accompanied by aioli. One word: extraordinary. They weren’t greasy, and the light, sweet and herbal flavor of the sausage mingled nicely with the smoky gouda. It is probably the most precocious kid-friendly food you can find.
Again, I’ve only scratched the surface on all the foodie things Pittsburgh has to offer. This New York Times article mentions some innovators on the Pittsburgh food scene, and the Eat PGH food blog gives great updates on new restaurants, specials, and local events. Forget about the restaurants in New York and LA, Pittsburgh’s hungry and knows how to work a plate.