A foodie’s guide to must-try Pittsburgh eateries and bars

By Ashley Adams

October 11, 2023

Though mostly known for its steel mills and rivers, you should make time to explore a few of the excellent food and drink establishments in Pittsburgh on your next visit.

With its stunning views, world class museums, and great food and drink destinations, Pittsburgh has a lot to offer visitors.

The city may evoke images of steel mills with tall smokestacks or make you think of industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, but the city renowned for its industrial history is also home to a great mix of excellent food and drink locations.

Here are some of the most delectable destinations in Pittsburgh:

Breakfast

You can grab breakfast in the ‘Burgh at the ever-popular Pamela’s Diner, famous for their Lyonnaise potatoes and crepe-like pancakes. If you’d rather not wait—because the line will almost certainly be long at Pamela’s—try the also-popular Kelly-O’s Diner, a woman-owned and operated diner serving up some delicious breakfast fare. 

Lunch

Enjoy the outdoors by eating takeout under the sun at Schenley Plaza near the University of Pittsburgh. Schenley Plaza has a number of food stands where you can get your lunch to go and then lounge in the grass or at a patio table in the shadow of the university’s 42-story Cathedral of Learning.

Or visit the Strip District, a diverse and lively neighborhood that’s home to many of the city’s international grocery stores and eateries. The Strip District (Smallman Street and Penn Avenue between 11th and 33rd Streets) used to be an anchor of Pittsburgh industry, and you’ll still notice some of that history as you walk the shops and admire the architecture.

Primanti Brothers sandwich (Photo: Shutterstock)

Another excellent lunch choice is a Pittsburgh institution. Primanti Bros. sandwich shop, has been featured on television numerous times for its well-known sandwiches, piled high with coleslaw and french fries. The restaurant appeared on the Food Network a few years back courtesy of Rachael Ray, who chose one of the sandwiches for an episode of “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” a show where celebrity chefs talk about some of their most memorable meals.

Dinner

If you want a dinner experience that includes beautiful cocktails, an outdoor garden seating area, Eastern European small and large plates, and even a natural wine shop, Apteka in the Bloomfield neighborhood is the perfect destination. Apteka’s menu changes with the seasons, and is made up of Eastern European comfort food, yet the restaurant is all vegan. But that shouldn’t dissuade carnivores.

Photo Credit: Apteka by Jon Fisher // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Or try Big Jim’s, located in “The Run” in Pittsburgh, an isolated valley that is named for the Four Mile Run stream. The restaurant is much more likely to attract locals than anyone else simply because The Run is hard to get to and many in Pittsburgh don’t even know about it. But hundreds of thousands of people learned of Big Jim’s when Guy Fieri visited for “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” This unassuming neighborhood spot was highlighted for its Italian Wedding Soup, calzones, and giant parmesan sandwich served on half a loaf of garlic bread. Still, even for the ridiculous portions, the food is pretty inexpensive.

Pierogies

Pittsburgh is an excellent city to visit if you’re craving a good pierogi. S&D Polish Deli is one such location, offering pierogies fresh or frozen. Like the other options on the S&D lunch menu, rest assured that these delicacies are made according to traditional Polish recipes. If you want to order pierogies to eat immediately, you can try the classic potato and cheddar. But if you order ahead, and depending on availability, you can get frozen or pre-cooked pierogies in flavors like sauerkraut mushroom, farmer’s cheese, and even prune.

Pierogies in Pittsburgh (Photo: Jin Wu)

Located in Etna just across the Allegheny River, Cop Out Pierogies has a long menu of specialty flavors that may inspire a most welcome form of indecision. The shop offers classic flavors like potato and sauerkraut, but you can also find unique options like gyro, pepperoni pizza, and reuben pierogies. All pierogies can be ordered hot to eat at the restaurant or frozen to make at home.

Pierogies Plus is a longtime Pittsburgh favorite, and it’s received national acclaim as well. The Pierogies Plus kitchen has appeared on the Food Network more than once to showcase its namesake specialty. So, you could consider owner Helen Mannarino and her crew Pittsburgh pierogi ambassadors to the rest of the country. After all, Mannarino grew up in Poland making pierogies alongside her family, and it’s these traditional recipes that have made their way into her kitchen. (And into the bellies of so many Pittsburghers.)

At the Pierogies Plus counter shop in McKees Rocks, you can pick up pierogies with traditional and nontraditional fillings like cabbage, sausage, breakfast, and potato and jalapeño, as well as dessert fillings such as apple pie and apricot. Many local grocery stores also carry Pierogies Plus. And if you’re only visiting Pittsburgh? Pierogies Plus ships nationwide!

Apple cider donut at Triple B Farms, Monongahela (Photo: Triple B Farms)

Farm Market

The first thing you will likely gravitate toward upon your arrival to Triple B Farms, located just south of Pittsburgh in Monongahela, is the farm market that serves tray upon tray of fresh, sugar-covered apple cider donuts. After you’ve made a beeline to the donuts, you can browse the market for apple cider, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and pantry staples like sauces and jams.

The farm, however, is more than the market. Triple B Farms also provides opportunities for apple picking and pumpkin picking as well as family activities like a corn maze. Clearly, you can spend an entire fall day there.

Speakeasy

Aptly named, The Speakeasy is a classic speakeasy in the basement of the Omni William Penn Hotel. The vibe nails that of a 1920s speakeasy, probably because the space used to actually operate as a speakeasy during Prohibition. In fact, the former speakeasy space had been used for storage for decades before it was converted into the sophisticated cocktail bar it is today. Pay a visit to this bar under the hotel lobby to try one of The Speakeasy’s craft cocktails, many prepared with Pennsylvania-made liquor.

The Confidant is a speakeasy in the back room of The Goldmark in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood and is open to everyone—so long as you can find it. With no posted address, sign, or social media presence, you just need to waltz down the alley of Eden Way and enter through the black door—so long as the green light of The Confidant is lit. The light tells you that The Confidant is indeed open, as the tropical-themed cocktail bar is only open Friday and Saturday nights. The place is small, with only enough space for 30 people—a perfect, cozy atmosphere in which to sip your mezcal old fashioned.

Church Brew Works. (Photo courtesy of Jin Wu and VisitPittsburgh)

Brewery

One of the coolest things The Church Brew Works has going for it, even outside its delicious food, is the fact that it’s a brewery and restaurant inside of an old church. And when you’re eating inside the restaurant, the stained-glass windows and repurposed pews make it very evident that you’re eating inside of an old church. 

Fried Chicken

Whether you’re looking to savor some tasty fried chicken at a leisurely pace with friends in a restaurant, or you just want to grab some to go, Carmi has you covered in the ‘Burgh. Husband and wife Carleen and Mike King keep it pretty simple at Carmi Express, with straight-up fried chicken, and a chicken and waffles platter. At Carmi Soul Food, you’ve got options: smothered fried chicken, wings, fried chicken paired with sweet potato waffles, or straight-up classic fried chicken. At both spots, you can pair your fried chicken with classic soul food sides like macaroni and cheese, candied yams, and grits.

Fried chicken (Shutterstock)

Another great spot for fried chicken is Nanban. Billing itself as an Asian soul food restaurant, Nanban’s Korean fried chicken is double fried and then tossed in sauces like gochujang, sambal, and chimichurri. Locals in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood likely first came to this delectable fried chicken when it was originally served at Ki Pollo. It hasn’t lost a thing since Ki Pollo teamed with the Ki Ramen restaurant to form Nanban. The sandwiches are a big draw here, especially the hot chicken sando, which features a chili oil-dipped chicken thigh, spinach, rayu pickles, kewpie mayo, and special seasoning.

Another great place is Walter’s Southern Kitchen. While primarily known as a top-shelf barbecue joint, Walter’s serves up amazing fried chicken as well. The bad arse fried chicken sandwich features candied bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and Walter’s special sauce. Water’s serves classic, straight-up fried chicken as well with waffles and sides like macaroni and cheese and collard greens.

Author

  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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