I never really thought of Pittsburgh as a food city. I knew the city was home to Heinz Ketchup and Primanti Bros., hawker of a bazillion calorie French fry stuffed-sandwich. Lots of people love them, but they aren’t really my thing.
On my recent trip to Pittsburgh, I was excited to find the city has lots of new and interesting culinary adventures popping up including some food and restaurant concepts I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world.
Here are some of my picks for where to eat in Pittsburgh, PA.
1 | Smallman Galley
This old brick building with food stalls and long communal tables looks a lot like the trendy food halls that are popping up in cities around the world (here’s one in San Jose), but this one is different. Smallman Galley is America’s first food hall and restaurant incubator, helping aspiring chefs learn how to run a restaurant.
Each session, four aspiring chefs are chosen by a competitive application process. Each chef gets 18 months to test their restaurant concept, develop a menu, and learn to run a kitchen. The whole session is rent-free and includes career development training, mentoring, and a monthly financial stipend.
We got to meet all of the chefs and sample some of their dishes. They were all delicious, things you might find in an upscale restaurant but for a more reasonable price. Lunch and dinner entrees range from $10-18.
Smallman Galley, 54 21st St., Pittsburgh (Strip District)
2 | Conflict Kitchen
The little food stand near the campus of the University of Pittsburgh serves a rotating menu of home cooking and street food from countries that are, “in conflict with the United States government.”
When we were there, the restaurant was focused on Iran, but they have since shifted to sharing the traditional foods of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Iroquois), native people from Upstate New York. Previous iterations of the stand have featured the cuisine of Afghanistan, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, and Palestine. The organization pairs the food with discussions and community educational events to create a dialogue about the people and cultures from these often misunderstood regions.
I ordered an Iranian vegetarian dish kookoo sibzamini, fried potato and onion patties served with pickled vegetables and sumac-yogurt sauce. It was delicious and included a colorful printed handout with facts and about Iranian culture and cuisine.
Conflict Kitchen, 221 Schenley Dr., Pittsburgh (Oakland)
This mid-century modern diner is said to be the best breakfast spot in Pittsburgh and after trying their unique crepe-style pancakes, I’d have to agree! The diner uses a thin but rich batter that makes soft and light pancakes with crispy edges.
Even President Obama is a fan — he and Michelle ate breakfast here on the morning of the 2008 Pennsylvania Primary. They liked it so much, they even invited the owners, Pam and Gail (“P+G”), to come cook at the White House the next year for their annual Memorial Day veteran’s breakfast.
Pamela’s P&G Diner, 60 21st St, Pittsburgh (Strip District)
4 | Wigle Whiskey
Did you know that Pittsburgh was once the center of U.S. whiskey production? Jim Beam (of the namesake Kentucky bourbon whiskey) hailed from Western PA. Today, Wigle Whiskey, the first craft distillery in Pittsburgh since Prohibition, is making about a dozen wonderful spirits in that old PA tradition. I highly recommend doing their guided distillery tour. The guides from weave the local whiskey-making history of Southern Pennsylvania in with their distilling process. I’ve been on a lot of food and drink producer tours over the years, and this was one of my favorites.
Wigle Whiskey, 2401 Smallman Street, Pittsburgh (Strip District)
5 | The Strip District Food Tour
Pittsburgh’s historic market district, the Strip District, is a great place to find historic cultural food traditions (Italian, Polish, etc) mixed with new creations from around the world. One fun way to explore the area is on the ‘Burgh Bits and Bites food tour. Their Strip District Market Tour gives a great overview of the neighborhood’s best local vendors.
Some of my favorite stops: Colangelo’s Bakery, for Italian sweets, sandwiches, and espresso drinks; S & D Polish Deli, for potato and cheese pierogis, just like my Polish grandma used to make them; and Enrico Biscotti Bakery, for dozens of flavors of Italian-style biscotti–try the Black Pepper & Walnut!
6 | The Vandal
This buzzy and Instagram-worthy cafe in the Lawrenceville neighborhood has been named one of the best new restaurants in Pittsburgh and has had mentions in Bon Appetit, the New York Times, Eater, and more. They offer a modern take on classic comfort foods (my breakfast: grilled sourdough with frangipani cream and fruit compote). For dinner, the place offers a frequently changing menu and innovative dishes including some created in partnership with local food trucks. I’ve heard their fried chicken is amazing!
The Vandal, 4306 Butler Street, Pittsburgh (Lawrenceville)
This destination restaurant, right at the top of Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington is Pittsburgh’s finest seafood restaurant but the best reason to go there is for the stunning views. Their floor to ceiling windowed dining room offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the city.
Pro tips: Ride up the Duquesne Incline (next door) for the best sunset and city views. Get there before sunset so you get to enjoy all the phases of the changing view.
The Monterey Bay Fish Grotto, 1411 Grandview Ave., Pittsburgh (Mount Washington)
This trip was organized and hosted by Visit Pittsburgh. All photos and opinions are my own.