Pittsburgh Essentials

This list of local Pittsburgh hot spots just might be the only tour guide you need.


Close up view of coffee.

Photo by: istockphoto.com/Huchen Lu

istockphoto.com/Huchen Lu

By: Tim Puko and Heather Pharo
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Food & Drink Essentials: Best Places to...


Strip District 
The largely industrial area comes alive on weekends as Pittsburgh descends on the neighborhood to explore a smorgasbord of food shopping options. If it’s organic local produce and artisan cheese you seek, try Farmers@Firehouse, a seasonal market held at the Firehouse Lounge, 2216 Penn Ave. The Strip is also home to many Pittsburgh institutions like Wholey’s Fish Market (1711 Penn Ave.) and Pennsylvania Macaroni Company (2010 Penn Ave.), as well as quite possibly the largest concentration of specialty ethnic grocers in the Burgh, including Labad’s (1727 Penn Ave.) for Middle Eastern, Reyna Foods (2023 Penn Ave.) for Mexican and Stamoolis Brothers (2020 Penn Ave.) for Mediterranean and Greek.

Giant Eagle Market District 
5550 Centre Ave., Shadyside 
Those living in the city’s East End benefit from this 70,000-square-foot gourmet marketplace as well as national retailers Whole Foods (5880 Centre Ave., Shadyside/East Liberty) and Trader Joe’s(6343 Penn Ave.), all located within about a mile of one another. Residents drive to this area from all over the city just for routine supermarket trips.


4050 Penn Ave., Bloomfield 
Don’t be put off by the underwhelming decor. The plastic tablecloths belie a vegetarian-friendly menu full of fresh Vietnamese spring rolls and steaming hot pho, and the restaurant consistently takes top rankings in local readers’ surveys.

La Feria 
5527 Walnut St., Shadyside 
An unusual little gem in a city with limited Latin American offerings. Located upstairs from Pamela’s -- one of Pittsburgh’s most popular brunch spots -- La Feria features a small but tasty selection of Peruvian fare like lentil-tomato stew, chicken in lemon-cilantro sauce, Inca Cola and alfajores cookies made with a dulce de leche-like filling. The restaurant also sells South American handicrafts and folk art.


Crazy Mocha 
Various locations in Oakland, Shadyside, Bloomfield, Lawrenceville, the South Side, Downtown, as well as locations outside the city in Sewickley and Washington 
This Pittsburgh mini chain provides coffee for downtowners on a lunch break or holed up in the main branch of the Carnegie Library for a study session.

Strip District 
Prime territory for those seeking a gourmet caffeine fix, boasting a number of small specialty coffee roasters, such as Prestogeorge (1719 Penn Ave., Strip District) and Fortune’s (2005 Penn Ave., Strip District). On weekend mornings at La Prima (205 21st St., Strip District), groups congregate at the sidewalk tables to converse in Italian over espresso and cups of fair trade coffee. 21st Street Coffee and Tea (50 21st St., Strip District) leads the technology pack, offering small-batch coffee brewed with a Clover machine.

Pittsburgh enjoys a sizable and diverse fine dining scene for a city of its size, and many of the area’s most praised restaurants are known for seasonal menus and a focus on local ingredients.

1113 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square 
An intimate bistro with French, Italian and American influences. Known for its tasting menu.

1150 Smallman St., Strip District 
Also known for its tasting menus, available for vegetarians and omnivores alike.

Le Pommier 
2104 E. Carson St., South Side 
Serves modernized French fare in a charming and intimate setting.

Bona Terra 
908 Main St., Sharpsburg 
Slightly unexpected and off the beaten path, this farm-to-table restaurant is just over the Allegheny River.

Pittsburgh has a thing for French fries. For most people, they’re a side dish, but for Pittsburghers, they’re part of the main course. Some people even go to the local amusement park, Kennywood, mainly for the fries.

Primanti Bros 
Various locations 
The fries go on the sandwich -- and so does the slaw. The restaurant has its genesis during the Great Depression, and everything went on the sandwich as a convenient way to feed the main clientele, truckers. The original spot in the Strip District is still open, and a string of suburbanrestaurants went up during the past decade adding pizza and salads to their menus. In a 2002 interview with the Tribune-Review, the chain’s owner called those additions “too progressive” for the Strip District’s menu.

Just about any local joint 
Pittsburghers put fries on their salads. Try Kings (5 Alpha Drive) and Eat n’ Park (various locations), where a dinner salad always comes with fries on top.

Pittsburgh’s university scene is the best bet for a wide selection of late-night restaurants -- and a great chance to save some cash. Here’s a list of Oakland eateries that offer half-price entrees past midnight:

  • India Garden. 328 Atwood St., 10 p.m.-midnight
  • La Fiesta. 346 Atwood St., 10 p.m.-1 a.m.
  • Spice Cafe. 328 Atwood St. 10 p.m.-1 a.m.
  • Fuel and Fuddle. 212 Oakland Ave., 11 p.m.-1 a.m.
  • Mad Mex. 370 Atwood St., 11 p.m.-1 a.m.

Elsewhere around the region, a midnight snack often means a trip to one of two local institutions:Eat n’ Park and Kings. Both are great local diner chains -- similar to Perkins -- best for dessert and breakfast. To break the tie, we rate them on their signature items: Eat n’ Park’s “Smiley” iced sugar cookie vs. King’s stroke of rival marketing genius, the “Frownie” brownie. The Smiley, though, is a better sugar cookie than the Frownie is a brownie, so we give the edge to Eat n’ Park.


Point Brugge 
401 Hastings St., Point Breeze 
The best waffles in the city. There’s nothing more to say; it’s the best food -- it’s Belgian! And if you get there on a sunny, warm afternoon and don’t have to wait a half hour to sit at one of the few outside tables, then you have amazing fortune.

2015 Penn Ave., Strip District 
The quintessential greasy spoon, this is Pittsburgh’s place for pancakes. They have about a dozen ingredients, flavors and fruits you can add to your custom-made stack for flavors like pumpkin-apple or chunky monkey. And, you know, if you’re boring, just get chocolate chip. Ask for the special cinnamon syrup for even more flavor. And don’t show up after 3 p.m., they close EARLY.

Crepes Parisiennes 
732 Filbert St., Shadyside 
Be careful not to walk past it because this cavelike cafe is below ground on Filbert Street. And they sell only crepes.


Oh Yeah! Ice Cream & Coffee Co. 
232 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside 
This home of the “custom swirl” isn’t very old, but it’s already taking accolades as a top dessert joint in the city. They keep more than 100 “mixins” on hand, and you can put crazy things like habanero, wasabi peas and gummy worms into your organic ice cream. We recommend going simple and delicious like fresh peaches and Golden Grahams.

Dave & Andy's Homemade Ice Cream 
207 Atwood St., Oakland 
Often featured in national best-of lists, Dave & Andy’s is the best relief for a hot afternoon in congested Oakland. Try the birthday cake ice cream and the world-class sugar cones.

Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to...


Stroll through Allegheny Cemetery 
Gates at 4715 Penn Ave. and 4734 Butler St., Lawrenceville 
Not nearly as creepy as it sounds, it's sure to delight history buffs and lovers of the fancifully weird. Stop by the graves of “Camptown Races” composer Stephen Foster, noted Pittsburgh patriarch Thomas Mellon and actress Lillian Russell, or simply enjoy the cemetery’s many imaginative monuments. It’s easy to spend an afternoon wondering about the lives of those who chose to mark their final resting place with a giant stone tree or an Egyptian-style mausoleum guarded by sphinxes.

Gallery crawl in Downtown's Cultural District 
Held four times a year. Past crawls have featured multimedia installations, tango lessons, live steel drum bands and complimentary refreshments at nearly 25 participating locations.


PUMP Sports Leagues 
Venues around the city 
The Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project (PUMP) is a nonprofit designed to unify young adults around the city and keep them from moving away. One of their most successful ventures is the Pittsburgh Sports League, which offers more than a dozen team sports during four seasons of play. (Kickball is the best.) My team alone has people from Maryland, Ohio, Oregon and Washington playing with Pittsburgh natives. You can build your own team or sign up to meet some strangers and make some new friends. Just sign up on registration day as many leagues fill up right away.


Stroll through Phipps Conservatory 
700 Frank Curto Drive, Oakland 
There is probably nothing more romantic than this on a spring day. Tucked away in Oakland near the campuses of Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, the conservatory offers an oasis of serenity and beauty throughout its grounds and within its Victorian-era greenhouse. Unsurprisingly, this picturesque attraction is also one of Pittsburgh’s most sought-after wedding locations.

Make bread at the Enrico Biscotti Company 
2022 Penn Ave., Strip District 
On the last Sunday of each month, foodie couples can take a hands-on breadmaking class. Participants knead, shape and bake bread from scratch, learning the secrets to perfect, melt-in-your-mouth loaves.

Luckily for parents, grandparents and baby sitters, there’s plenty to do with little ones in the Burgh.

Pittsburgh area’s historic amusement park, where kids big and small have loads of fun riding the wooden rollercoasters and chowing down on the park’s famed Potato Patch fries.

Ice skating in PPG Place 
4 PPG Place (off Fourth Avenue between Stanwix Street and Wood Street), Downtown

Trip to Triple B Farms 
823 Berry Lane, Monongahela 
Head outside the city to feed sheep, rabbits and miniature horses, and explore the Play Barn.


Kawaii Gifts 
5413A-B Walnut St., Shadyside 
Satisfy your inner child or grab a gift for a real one in this unique store. Note its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it subterranean location just off the Walnut Street shopping drag. If it’s cute and it’s Japanese -- or Japanese-inspired -- it’s here, from Domo plush figures to Hello Kitty cell phone charms to all manner of adorable stationery.

3701 Butler St., Lawrenceville 
One of the many eclectic, design-oriented shops lining Lawrenceville’s Butler Street, offering artsy housewares.

Ellsworth Avenue 
Offers a mini-concentration of carefully curated vintage boutiques for Pittsburgh’s aspiring Betty Drapers, including Eons (5850 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside) and Hey Betty (5892 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside).


Elixir Ultra Lounge 
1500 E. Carson St., South Side 
Catering to a more upscale crowd, this venue presents a respite from East Carson Street’s overload of rowdy college bars.

4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield 
Weekly dance parties vacillate wildly between funk and soul, electro, crunk and just about any genre you can think of.

126 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty 
Great for old school hip-hop fans. Also worth visiting is its adjacent sister establishment, Shadow Lounge.


The Sharp Edge 
288 W. Steuben St., Crafton 
This local chain's signature location, a refurbished Victorian home in this western suburb, was just named one of the 200-plus best beer bars in America by DRAFT Magazine. The Sharp Edge has four locations around the region and specializes in Belgian imports. Try the mystery brew, only $3.30 every day, for a chance to sample imports and micro brews on the cheap.

D’s Six Pax & Dogz 
1118 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square 
One thing all Pennsylvania newcomers have to get used to are the bizarre liquor laws. Liquor is sold only at state-owned stores, and beer at separate distributors -- and even those beer stores can sell only by the case. For a six-pack, beer buyers usually have to go to a bar or restaurant and that often means a limited selection. This is what makes D’s a beer oasis: It’s a bar and restaurant, but it keeps more than 900 beers on hand. Its goal is 1,000.

Piper’s Pub 
1828 E. Carson St., South Side 
South Side in general is the place to go for drinking. It has the highest concentration of bars in the city and Carson Street is THE spot for carousing. Piper’s is our favorite though because we’re suckers for anything British. The boxties and English breakfasts are great, and any soccer match of major importance is going to be on the telly. In fact, this is the best crowd in Pittsburgh to watch a Champions League final with, but people who don’t show up until kickoff have to push their way through the door -- the crowd is that big -- and stand in the back.


Double Wide Grill 
2339 E. Carson St., South Side 
This is not a traditional spot for Steelers games, and the crowds are still tepid relative to some of the others in the region. But that’s its strength right now: They have two mega-comfortable couches in front of an HD television in the back dining room, and seating was still available to walk-ins during the NFL playoffs. It’s like watching the game at home, only with a wait staff to serve you some of the best barbecue, brunch and vegetarian options in the city.

Duke's Upper Deck Cafe 
122 W. Eighth Ave., Homestead 
It’s hard to find bigger Steeler fans than at old-school places like this in the Mon Valley. Duke’s keeps getting listed among the best places to watch the Steelers, in part for its food and in part for its atmosphere. Its owner got arrested the last time locals celebrated a Steelers Super Bowl win in 2006.

Outdoor Essentials: Best Places to...


Bike the Great Allegheny Passage 
This bike path stretches from downtown Pittsburgh to Maryland, where it connects to another path going all the way to Washington, D.C. In theory, one could rent a bike at Golden Triangle Bike 'n Blade on First Avenue and go all the way to D.C.; but in reality, not quite yet. Allegheny County is still negotiating the rights for a half mile of trail, and other construction disturbs the path to McKeesport. Try going further southeast to the Boston section of Elizabeth or West Newton, Westmoreland County, for a place to rent bikes and get started.

Kayak on the rivers 
It may seem odd, but downtown is a great place to get started on this outdoor activity. The three rivers around the point fill up with boats and kayaks every summer. Kayak Pittsburgh rents kayaks under the Roberto Clemente Bridge near PNC Park, and the calm waters allow for leisurely viewsof the Golden Triangle -- and a few rare chances to catch home runs from Pirates games. Heading up the Allegheny River is a good way to avoid the barge traffic and recreational fleets that sometimes clog the other two rivers. You can also try going through the Emsworth Lock -- like a giant whirlpool -- as long as you have a 50-foot rope to bring for safety. And for faster waters, head to Ohiopyle in Fayette County.


The Great Allegheny Passage 
Off Douglas Run Road, Elizabeth 
The bike trail through the Sutersville and Blythedale sections of Elizabeth can be a sweet spot for dogs along the Youghiogheny River. “There are a few waterfalls with just a short distance in between them,” said Laksmi Roka of nearby Westmoreland County. “It's great because there are nice spots to stop and sit on a bench and look out onto the river and afterward, you can reward yourself and your pups with some ice cream.”

Frick Park 
Regent Square 
City dwellers love to head to nearby Frick Park where, deep in the hollow sits Hot Dog Dam. This fenced-in dog run features a little doggy swimming hole. Just be careful of the shoes you wear, this dog run can get muddy in a hurry.


Fort Pitt Tunnel 
“This is the only city in America with an entrance,” a New York Times architecture critic wrote 20 years ago, and the Fort Pitt Tunnel is it. If you haven’t seen Pittsburgh yet, drive through this tunnel from the Parkway West -- the road that comes from the airport -- and catch a sudden and stunning view of the city’s skyline, one the road then takes you directly into.

Mt. Washington 
This is the neighborhood the Fort Pitt Tunnel goes under, and there are plenty of lookout posts (and overpriced restaurants) at the top. Instead of driving up there on P.J. McArdle Roadway -- a road that often has some of the worst potholes in the city -- park near Station Square on the South Side and take one of the inclines. Duquesne incline, 1197 W. Carson St., South Side, and Monongahela, 1200 block of West Carson Street, South Side.

West End 
This is a great way to get away from the tourists, and you’ll get a dead-on view of the point that often gets ignored. And if you really want to avoid tourists, try to find a spot in Fineview on the city’s North Side. The name’s origin is obvious, but this residential neighborhood is still off the radar for most skyline seekers. If you can find a resident willing to share their porch with you, this is the place to go for downtown fireworks and still avoid the homebound gridlock.

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