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A Boho Eats in Iron City
By Christine Stoddard
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has well-known industrial and sports histories. Yet it has less of a reputation as a foodie destination. When this little Virginian stayed in Pittsburgh from mid-December 2010 to mid-January 2011, however, she enjoyed many quality meals. If that surprises you, you may be further shocked to learn that every restaurant I'm about to list was within reasonable walking/biking distance of Upper Lawrenceville, locally-owned, student-friendly, and quite affordable.
Only 190 miles away from Washington, D.C. and 240 miles from Richmond, Virginia Pittsburgh is just a short drive from from Quail Bell country. In other words, it's time to let some air graze your feathers. Fly (or take the bus/train) to P'burgh! Pull out your Carnegie guidebooks and keep yourself from starving as you soak up a little culture.
Here are just a few restaurants I recommend you try next time you visit Iron City:
• Sammy's Famous Corned Beef (Bloomberg): I ordered their Famous Special for $5.99 and have no regrets. Warm corned beef with swiss cheese, cole slaw, and Russian dressing hugged by two chubby slices of bread—what greater comfort on a cold day? I wish they hadn't told me that their hot chocolate was just a packet of Swiss Miss and water, but they quickly redeemed themselves. One of the men behind the counter grabbed two packets of Swiss Miss and a bottle of Hershey's chocolate syrup when I asked if they had anything more “chocolatey.” Now that's customer care. There are several locations, but this is the one I tried: 412-688-7399, 4067 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA. No website.
• Crazy Mocha (Lawrencville): There are several Crazy Mocha cafes in Pittsburgh, but, naturally, I went to the one closest to where I was staying. I liked the atmosphere: a cow theme, colorful walls, and just the right amount of noise for someone who's trying to work without going insane. I had a rather wide cup of hot chocolate, almost bowl-like, with more than a dollop of whipped cream. The chocolate could have been stronger, but, again, the serving was rather generous. I also had one piece of biscotti. It was a delicious mix of cranberries and macadamia nuts. I definitely took advantage of the free WiFi, too. CrazyMocha.com.
• That's Amoré Pizza (Lawrenceville): $9 bought me a heaping serving of eggplant parmigiana, fresh garlic bread, and a decent salad. Service was slow (I had enough time to check out two stores before my food was ready) and there was very limited seating (just a counter and a couple of stools, really), but my slice of Italian-American heaven was worth the wait. My housemate's cat kept trying to rob me of it! 412-782-9922, 5123 Butler Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201. No website.
• Thunderbird (Lawrenceville): I distinctly remember rushing out of my room one afternoon after oversleeping. I had one thought on my mind: fried ravioli. I knew exactly where to get it, thanks to my habit of mentally cataloging menus (even the ones I read from the sidewalk). $5 later, I was a happy woman. I took a seat at the bar since it was the only place well-lit enough for me to read. The lady bartender was sweet and chipper. Better yet, my food came hot and fast. The ravioli were thick and far more filling than I expected. Just five of them satisfied my tummy. My only complaint? Other patrons' cigarette smoke.ThunderBirdCafe.net
• Sun Penang (Squirrel Hill): Even though I should take into account that I was mind-numbingly hungry when I came to this place, this Malaysian restaurant served up the best meal I had in all the city. Their lunch special comes with a steaming entree, a spring roll, and a salad for a mere $7. I frankly could have done without the bland roll or the hum-drum salad, but the clay pot noodles thrilled me. The chicken was tender and juicy; there were also plenty of noodles and a pleasing variety of Asian vegetables. The serving was more than fair. Even though I'm in the habit of always boxing up my left-overs, I didn't do so at Sun Penang because I was staying a forty-minute bike ride away. Instead I ate every last bite of what could have easily been two meals. Bonuses include the exotic décor and the attentive staff. Sun-Penang.com