June 11, 2004

The Nexus of Pittsburgh Food

by psu

Pete wrote about Penn Mac the other day, which brings up the larger subject of the Strip in general and in particular, that part of the Strip which is really the Nexus of almost all the good food in Pittsburgh.

This nexus lies in that area of Penn Avenue within a couple of blocks of 21st street on either side of the actual crossing. Here, in a square that is about half a block on each side, you wil find a group of establishments that are either the source of some of the best food in town, the source of the best raw materials in town, or just a group of people who are connected to almost all the good food in town.

In fact, I believe if you hang out on that corner long enough, the only foodies in Pittsburgh who you will miss are the ones down at Lotus buying the best fresh vegetables and other Chinese items in town. Lotus is, of course, on the other side of the Strip, but that's just because there is no appropriately large floorspace near 21st street.

So anyway, just what am I talking about here? Let's get to the list.

1. La Prima Espresso

Simply the best coffee you can buy in Pittsburgh, period. Don't try to tell me about your Coffee Tree, or your 61C or whoever else. It's not as good.

2. Il Picolo Forno

A truly old world bakery. Amazing pizza, great pasta lunches on weekdays, the best muffins I've had in town (and only a $1 each!). You can't do better than a Cappucino next door at La Prima and a pizza slice for breakfast. Plus, Antonio will cook his awesome ricotta pies, and his just as awesome savory tortas, to order for your pot luck gatherings. He does other catering items too.

3. Enrico Biscotti

Walk down Penn on a winter morning and just sniff when you get near Enricos. Heaven ... on ... Earth.

Also, the Café that he runs in the back was, for a while, the best casual lunch joint ever. Sadly, with the new fancier digs in Shadyside, the Café is not as strong as it used to be. But at least that crazy guy Roy is back.

4. Mon Aimee Chocolates

Best chocolate store in town. Really. I've seen all of them.

5. The Saigon Sandwich Lady

Nuff said.

6. Lotus

Not really in the area, but still bears mentioning. Actually, I already mentioned it above. Lotus has the best variety of Chinese and other Asian greens, other vegetables, fruit and prepared items of any store in Pittsburgh. it is truly a watershed for this town that you can get fresh Lychee at Lotus.

7. Benkovitz

With the fish at Whole Foods being more convenient and the fish at Lotus being better, we haven't gotten here as often over the last couple of years. But, it used to be the only place you had a chance of getting decently fresh fish in town. Don't talk to me about Wholey's. Wholey's smells like stale sewer water, and the fish smells too. Also, best fish sandwich ever.

8. Penn Mac

Covered by Pete.

In addition to all these places, people from some of the best restaurants in town can be found in this part of the Strip at one time or another every week. This includes Roberto from Regina Margherita, who got his start making pizzas for Larry at Enrico's. Sam, the owner of Vivo, arguably the best restaurant in town on several axes. I've seen the people who run Tessaro's down there, the owner of Tasty, and on and on. If you want to be around the Pittsburgh food scene, be at La Prima in the morning and just hang around. It will all come to you.

Posted by psu at June 11, 2004 10:56 PM | Bookmark This

can you please provide a newly arrived emigre with a listing of other decent (food that is--atmosphere is completely irrelevant) moderately priced eateries? you will save a cash poor student a year's worth of lost funds and disappointingly mispent hours.
already greatful for your cheese advise,
new to pittburgh

Posted by rk at October 1, 2004 01:51 AM

I will engage in shameless self promotion here.


Posted by psu at October 1, 2004 07:46 AM

Much to learn about coffee...

Intelligentsia beans available from Aldo in Mt. Lebo or Intermezzo on Smallman & 21st better than La Prima - and much more socially responsible (fairer than fair trade). Why? Because Intelligentsia works directly with farmers in every signficant coffee region ensuring both quality and sustainability.

La Prima seems to get plenty of PR just for being where they are and not serving the frou frou lattes (to their credit). But suggest you get out and taste some of the best coffee in the States - Intelligentsia Black Cat espresso used by three of the top five ranked US baristas and the runner up world champion barista, Matt Riddle, also used by Belle at Aldo who finished 4th in the MidAtlantics and 25th nationally.

Also, lots of bakers making better biscotti than Enrico. Try biscotti from Uptown coffee in Mt. Lebo - Il Pizzaiolo uses those and Enrico's is right up the street. Also try the biscotti sold at Intermezzo. Reason Enrico's gets business is because of the smell - he leaves his screen doors open all the time while baking. Smart guy, great marketing, but that doesn't make the best biscotti.

You forgot to mention the Pad Thai and eggrolls at the cart across from Stan's.

Posted by spro at June 20, 2006 10:33 AM

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