Here are a few of the places I’d want to take you if you were an out-of-town friend in for a short visit to our city. I always like to say “a few of the places” rather than “the best places” because I think superlatives just set you up for ridicule and disappointment. No matter where you go to eat in this (or any) town, the variables are too many (from the weather to the politics of the kitchen) to be sure of a certain experience.
330 Freeport Road
I’ve posted a lot on social media about Maenam Thai in Blawnox, a tiny restaurant run by a wonderful chef named Supannee Khansuwan (or just Nee). There’s seating for about six people on a busy night, but many people get takeout, and some even head over to the nearby Old Thunder Brewing that encourages its patrons to take advantage of local restaurants like this one. I especially love Nee’s tom yum soup with shrimp, and I like it very spicy, but her chive dumplings are also superb, and everything else I’ve had there is remarkable for freshness and vibrant flavors.
16070 Perry Highway
Up on Route 19 in Warrendale, there’s an unusual barbecue restaurant that I have taken many folks to, including my brother and sister the last time we three were all together. It’s called Mitch’s Barbeque (yes, they spell it with a “que” on the end) and you will usually find Mitch Evanitsky and his wife working there, although their son Justin is the chef and mastermind behind some of the best beef brisket I’ve ever tasted. He also puts his smoked meats in Asian treats like ramen and pork-belly buns. The ribs are tremendous. Tacos are excellent. And there may be specials on the chalkboard when you arrive. Justin also makes incredible ice creams in often unexpected flavors that are definitely worth trying. As you drive north on 19, watch for a bright blue pig, and turn in there.
414 Hawkins Avenue
For many years, I have sung the praises of Emil’s Lounge in Rankin. I often say, “It’s an old Mon Valley steelworkers’ bar — not far from Carrie Furnace — with incredible food.” Krissy Kochis runs the place that she inherited from her father Emil Luzaich, and it’s the fried fish sandwich that keeps me coming back, although the Reuben is also unforgettable, and I have to love a place that often has liver and onions on the menu. Many people are very fond of the stuffed cabbage special, but I also have been truly impressed by the steak sandwich there (just a big steak on a piece of Italian bread.) I think of it as a legendary spot.
1118 S. Braddock Avenue
In pre-COVID days, I would probably have included The O on this list, and I still miss its delightful dogs and fabulous fries, but with that landmark eatery gone, I now want to take you to D’s 6 Pax & Dogz in my Regent Square neighborhood. Dino DeFlavio and his family have been making superb franks and sausages for nearly 25 years now. The Chicago Dog is perfectly done. I also greatly respect their Swissvale Gold chicken wings, their fries, and even their salads. I haven’t yet been to their second location out in Murrysville, but I’m sure to get there soon.
232 North Avenue
Having made a pair of PBS documentaries about outstanding breakfast places across the country, I thought I might end this little list with one of my favorite morning stops: the P&G Diner inside the Lincoln Pharmacy in Millvale. The Lincoln has classic breakfast fare galore on the menu, including their legendary Big Lincoln (two eggs, choice of meats, Lyonnaise potatoes, AND a short stack of the large, crepe-like pancakes that got Pamela Cohen and Gail Klingensmith––they are P&G––invited to the White House after Barack Obama tasted the pancakes while campaigning in the Strip in 2008). I often order the very tasty Pittsburgh Hash with potatoes, kielbasa, and sauerkraut, but I can be persuaded to try anything there. The pharmacy and the diner are run by Jennifer Cohen, Gail’s sister, and that family’s roots go back several generations at this location. Some of their history is included in my program titled “The Joys Of Millvale” that you can stream on wqed.org.
Story by Rick Sebek, WQED.ORG / Styling by Anna Calabrese / Photography by Dave Bryce
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