Friday, January 28, 2011

Why Food Tastes Better In Pittsburgh

This couple served food from a truck on Carson St. for over a decade. Now indoors at Cambodi-can Kitchen.
I'm asked often "what's your favorite place in Pittsburgh." I could spend an hour telling you, because there isn't just one, and it changes weekly. I detest stack-ranking things; I used to stack-rank employees at a job I hated, and I really don't think I can simplify or distill my best food experiences in Pittsburgh into a sound bite.

Pizza at Winghart's in Market Square. They make a killer burger too.
Let me preface things by sharing some of my philosophy on food. I believe food is to be shared, and the best meals are made by those who want to share what they do well. Meals are a grounding event; they bring us together socially and spiritually. They can be therapy. (Also noted: some meals can cause drama that result in the need for therapy.) Meals get us unstuck from temporary problems. If only for a few minutes we can lose our minds and our senses awaken to that which really matters.

 Cure in Lawrenceville. This man shares well-crafted food in a tremendously comfortable dining room.
Money spent is not a direct indicator of the value of the food you will eat. There is a difference between food and a meal. Food you eat; a meal will nourish you, and it's far more than food. I've had great meals in simple conditions for little money. And I've had great food prepared by jerks who charge too much, but their food was worth it. Expensive food is really just a balance of knowing what you're in for and deciding whether it's worth it. But isn't it better to get great food from good people at a fair price?

An English reader shared a ploughman's lunch with me after I tweeted about Irish Cheddar  :)
There's something about Pittsburgh, that's attracting more people who want to share great food here. We have low rents and ownership is attainable for a chef early in his career. There's a wave of this happening now in Pittsburgh which is unprecedented and exciting. And about price: some things we're seeing ARE expensive at times (or if prices go up), but do realize that food is a business and costs are also rising. Talk to anyone from NYC, SF or DC and they will confirm that the best food in Pittsburgh is still a steal by comparison.

Mrs. Kwon at The Golden Pig in Cecil, PA. She moved from Korea to Pittsburgh to be closer to her son's family. He suggested she open a restaurant. It's great, by the way.
I propose that largely it's the people that make Pittsburgh an attractive destination for tourists and newcomers. I speak to many "transplants" (as they're called), some who've moved back after years elsewhere. A common theme arises: "The people here are wonderful; they're friendly. It's not like other places--people aren't faking it." I agree, as Pittsburgh has twice lured me home from bigger, "greater" cities I thought I'd never leave.

Where is this? First person to email me the correct answer I'll buy one of his pizzas.
Many foods unite this city's cultures and heritage. Like no other people I've met, Pittsburghers will go to great lengths to share their food with you. Don't worry about the venue so much; a meal doesn't have to be served on modern furniture to be exquisite. The best sandwich you may ever eat is made on a card table on Penn Ave. by a Vietnamese lady named Lucy. 

Great food is being shared in this town. If you haven't noticed it, take a little trip to some of the places I talk about. Call up someone you haven't seen in a while, take your time and make a meal of it.

This couple owns Killian's Pub on Freeport Rd. They share great grilled food and more.

Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar on UrbanspoonCure on Urbanspoon
Cambod-Ican Kitchen on Urbanspoon
Golden Pig Authentic Korean Cuisine on UrbanspoonKillian's Pub on Urbanspoon 


  1. OK. So where does this infamous "Lucy the bahn-mi lady" set up shop? I've been to The Strip (and every corner) time-and-time again (and at different days/hours of the week) in an effort to find her, to no avail.

    I'm beginning to think she is a figment of the 'Burgher's imagination.

  2. Lucy the Banh Mi lady is Vietnamese, not Korean. Typo. I'll go back and fix that. And she's in Vietnam right now...she told me she'll come back when the weather breaks.

    Oh, and back in the 90's I spent a few days in Milwaukee visiting a friend at Marquette. They like their food too.!

  3. There are foods and eating experiences I love in other cities like New York, but the people of Pittsburgh are more open and giving than any I have met.

  4. I spy the folks from Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory ;) The Public Market has been the best thing to come to the "Burgh since Mancini's Sliced Bread.

  5. Golden Pig is so dang good. So good... reminded me of the careful touch and knowledge-sharing I had when I went to Josza's.


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