Taste of Pittsburgh: Discover Worldly Menu of Dining Options

By Haigh, Ann | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 2, 2009 | Go to article overview

Taste of Pittsburgh: Discover Worldly Menu of Dining Options


Haigh, Ann, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Like the city itself, Pittsburgh's restaurant scene models reinvention, diversity and a "green" attitude. Today's array of quality dining amazes visitors, and even locals marvel at such rapid expansion of their foodscape.

While this late 19th/early 20th century industrial powerhouse was undergoing transformation into a financial, healthcare, educational and cultural center, its restaurants were also refocusing -- from old guard to vanguard, building a contemporary culinary vibrancy that other cities of comparable size surely envy.

Travel plus the ubiquity of food on TV and in the blogosphere continually sharpens diner sophistication here as elsewhere. More importantly, Pittsburgh's storied entrepreneurial spirit is not only alive and well but highly affordable. Lured by national press underscoring the city's low cost of living, creative professionals, including talented chefs and restaurateurs, are venturing here from larger markets to stake a claim on the good life -- a boon to all.

Gastronomic diversity roots deeply in Pittsburgh's urban fabric. Historically, waves of immigrants settled here, tossing their native cuisines into our great melting pot of tastes. The presence of international corporations and the multicultural populations of large hospital and university campuses also abet a global-centric food environment.

Match the mood of the moment, plug in some geography and scroll through possibilities -- from casual to fine dining, cutting-edge cuisine to seafood and steak, Italian, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Korean, Pan-Asian, Peruvian, Nicaraguan, Brazilian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Ethiopian, Mexican, German, Eastern European, Middle Eastern.

Sensational sushi restaurants -- Umi, Chaya, Sushi Kim, Plum Pan- Asian Kitchen -- thrive next to such local icons, as Primanti's in the Strip, with its quirky fries-inside-the-sandwich, and The Original Hot Dog Shop in Oakland, with its famous twice-fried fries - - both frequented by visiting celebrities and garnering national media attention.

Many chains have a presence: high end Morton's, Ruth's Chris, the Capital Grille; mid level Cheesecake Factory, Hofbrauhaus, Bravo Italian Kitchen;> and the prized local favorite Eat'n Park, home of the Smiley Cookie.

Tapas can speak Spanish -- La Casa, Ibiza, Bossa Nova; Nuevo Latino Seviche; Pan-Asian -- Tamari; Thai -- Silk Elephant; or eclectic Tusca Global Tapas.

Thanks to Pittsburgh's dramatic topography, dining in window- walled restaurants delivers an exhilarating experience. The most famous views are from restaurant row on Mount Washington. Favorites include: LeMont, a formal, retro-glamor icon serving pricey Continental cuisine -- a good stop for a classic cocktail; stylish Isabela on Grandview, in a former private house, with large square windows framing stunning views of The Point; and more reasonably priced but still smart Monterrey Bay Fish Grotto, with scads of fish and breath-taking views from wrap-around windows.

In general, new restaurants are on trend for smaller, more casual, chef-directed spots with serious kitchens replacing the cavernous dining palaces of yore.

Few cities of comparable size boast such broad dining choices.

For G-20, some 20 suggestions:

Lunch/Tea

Cafe at the Frick: Eat inside a small, noisy but charming, glassed-in pavilion, or outside, under awnings, on the idyllic grounds of Clayton, the Henry Clay Frick family estate. The cafe offers gourmet soups, salads, sandwiches, entrees, desserts and afternoon tea. The chef-run kitchen utilizes local growers and produces Mediterranean/California-inspired cuisines. Reservations are essential. Try to avoid the bus groups visiting the center. Eating exquisite desserts here qualifies as virtuous. Frick Art & Historical Center, 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze, 412-371-0600, www.

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