One of the best things about traveling and discovering a new city is stumbling upon that fringe cafe or restaurant tucked away from the main strip — the unassuming spots that locals covet. This Pittsburgh guide is chock-full of those hidden gems, thanks to Michael McAllister, a publisher and editor at URBANIST Guide which produces free, fold-out, full color travel guides. Yes, that’s correct, it’s actually Michael’s job to explore cities, namely his hometown of Pittsburgh, a city with lots of history that’s undergoing a huge revival. The development of Pittsburgh has brought many jobs and, of course, countless new independent businesses and shops that Michael is eager to share with us today! Read on for the best Pittsburgh has to offer, from food and drinks to shopping and art. —Sabrina
Photos by Laila Archuleta
The revival of Pittsburgh is not a new story. From Conde Nast to Huffington Post, national press has been covering my city, detailing its “rise from the ashes” for the past 10 years and highlighting the incredible changes in development in all corners of the city. The good news for Pittsburgh is, these energies are not going anywhere. 20-somethings are moving here and investing in homes and careers, hotels are opening like mad and the tech boom has gone from hype to the real deal. While the business of this attention could feed into ego, changing the fabric of our people and places, Pittsburgh is staying true to its roots of a city built on hard work and good people.
As a result, many of the places (both newly opened and established) that I love and have listed here are small, independent spots where you can walk in and interact with the owner regardless of their success. They are eager to engage and connect with you while cultivating an experience without pretension or pressure. So while there are analogies of Pittsburgh to the next Austin, Portland or Nashville, I hope that we are just the next Pittsburgh. A city that is as welcoming and friendly as it is interesting and dynamic.
Below is a snapshot of some of the amazing spots I frequent in Pittsburgh, but there are also tons more! Luckily for you all, I produce an annual guide called Urbanist covering the best in independent food, drinks, shopping and art in the city. If you come to visit us (and you should!) make sure to check us out for the most up to date listing of places to go!
First Things First: Coffee
Espresso a Mano: It’s the type of coffee shop that everyone wishes was in their neighborhood, delivering extraordinary coffees from some of the friendliest baristas in town.
Constellation Coffee: A sunny and minimalist shop crafting beautiful cortados and lattes with beans sourced from Ceremony Coffee.
Big Dog Coffee: This cozy, tucked away South Side cafe begs for a coffee (they brew Intellgentsia) and a book by the fireplace. Their lattes and hot oatmeal bar are both killer.
Commonplace Coffee: With national accolades rolling in, the house roasted beans here are the furthest thing from common place at both their Squirrel Hill and Garfield locations.
A Little Something to Eat:
Dish: This tiny, unassuming and romantic Italian restaurant tucked down a side street in the bar-saturated South Side serves up some of the city’s best seafood and rustic Sicilian dishes.
Grit & Grace: Refined American Dim Sum blends seamlessly alongside rustic Asian preparations at this new Downtown dining destination. Make sure to order one of their tiki-inspired cocktails that come in fun vintage glasses.
Noodlehead/ Pusadee’s Garden: Peppered with succulents and a stylized Thai farmhouse look, Noodlehead is the go-to spot in the winter for affordable, fresh, spicy Thai noodles in Shadyside. Come summer, head to sister spot Pusadee’s Garden in Lawrenceville for a seat in the garden where you feel like you are at a dinner party in a Thai jungle.
Meat & Potatoes: An ambitious bar is the center of their high energy, creative gastro-style Downtown spot. Late night cocktails, brunch, and reservations are all musts.
Amazing Café: Practice at the yoga studio above then head downstairs for a juice or salad at this warm and friendly vegetarian/vegan South Side spot that leaves you feeling a better you.
Cure: Bon Appetit, James Beard, Eater, and Food & Wine all have praised this inventive urban Mediterranean spot in Lawrenceville highlighting locally sourced, house cured charcuterie. Their second, highly anticipated Spanish concept, Morcilla, is bound to be an equally hard-to-procure reservation.
Dinette: This mod pizza haven has won national accolades for their creative and innovative pizzas. Don’t miss the jalapeno, salt-cured anchovy pie and $1 bottles of Yuengling.
Bluebird Kitchen: Beautiful cafe elevating Downtown’s breakfast, lunch and coffee to new levels. Restraint needed to not order everything, like their daily house-made layer cakes and potato chips.
And Then Shopping:
Pavement: This spirited boutique was one of the first to open in Lawrenceville and years later they still are a destination for style mavens seeking out their creatively curated wares by indie designers and national favorites.
Mid-Atlantic Mercantile: A design driven lifestyle shop working intimately with both emerging and established designers, they have expanded their collection of men and women’s clothing to include periodicals, small homewares and one-of-a-kind items like handwoven rugs and ceramics.
No 14: They channel fashion blog and Kate Spade vibes with their thoughtful and fun clothing, jewelry and painted vintage furniture in their cute Lawrenceville shop.
Wildcard: You can walk in to window shop but the kitsch cards, local artist-made prints and gifts make it hard to walk out empty handed.
Local Designers: Wax canvas bags from Moop. Porcelain home wares and jewelry from Red Raven. Wood block prints by Tugboat Printshop. Witty stationary from Sapling Press. Custom wallpaper by Brooklynteriors. Pittsburgh has a bustling makers scene. Catch them and tons of others selling together at local trade shows like Trade Union and Handmade Arcade.
Roxanne’s Dried Flowers: Dried flowers and arrangements are mixed with gifts for the home and garden in this cozy and amazingly scented Strip District shop. In warmer months, check out the backyard with an incredible selection of plants and pots for your patio.
hot haute hot: An eclectic mix of housewares and furniture from vintage to modern with everything in-between, including an expanded lower-level showroom that you will want to call home.
Weisshouse: This family-run furniture mecca has been cladding the most stylish Pittsburgh homes in amazing modern and vintage pieces for over 65 years.
Ragged Row: House-designed Pittsburgh themed tees mix with national labels at this stylized East End clothing boutique.
Spaces Corners: Perched on Troy Hill, this clean and crisp artist-run bookshop caters specifically to photography. Go with time to hang as you will want to post up and page through their beautiful collection.
The Shop in East Liberty: Thoughtfully curated, affordable collection of everyday art, home goods, and jewelry handcrafted by makers from around the country.
And a Little Libation:
Kelly’s: Restored retro landmark keeps it simple. Classic cocktails (with a crazy $4 feature nightly). Strong drafts. Solid tunes (DJs and jukebox). Chill patio.
Butcher and the Rye: A backlit wall with over 350 bourbons is the centerpiece of this delicious, intimate restaurant featuring some of the city’s best bartenders.
Allegheny Wine Mixer: 40+ wines by the glass, craft beer, cocktails, delicious cheese and meat plates, and kitschy paint-by-number art in Upper Lawrenceville. Also on the same block as Cure (see below), making it a perfect pre- or post-dinner stop.
Acacia: Far from the college bars of the South Side, this spot is so understated that you might walk right by — but don’t, or you’ll miss incredible handcrafted cocktails in an effortlessly cool and speakeasy setting.
Local Booze: Traveling, I always seek out the local options and Pittsburgh has some good ones for you. Wigle Whiskey, Maggie’s Farm Rum, Hop Farm Brewing and The Brew Gentlemen are all worth seeking out whether at their respective tasting rooms or on cocktail menus around town.
Round Corner Cantina/Ballroom: Drinks and food are on point at this Cali cantina with epic party vibes and the best patio in town. Upstairs, the party continues at Ballroom with Japanese snacks with revolving local and national DJs.
brillobox: The original hipster hangout with seasonally decorated trees draping the bar is still one of the city’s best spots for a night out or to catch a show.
What to Do in Between:
Mattress Factory: The Mattress Factory is a museum of contemporary art that presents art you can get into — room-sized environments, created by in-residence installation artists from around the world such as James Turrell and Yayoi Kusama.
The Andy Warhol Museum: A trip to Pittsburgh, even for 15 minutes, wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the seven-floor museum devoted to the pop art icon (and Pittsburgh native). At Friday happy hour, snag a drink in their lobby and admission for half off!
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: The tradeoff for gray days is the incredible collection of dessert life, orchids and English gardens at this Victorian Oakland gem in Oakland.
The Strip District: Saturday mornings in the Strip are still as Pittsburgh as its gets. The market district packs in street-side vendors selling everything from t-shirts to tomatoes. Get a coffee then stroll and snack your way down Penn Ave.
City Parks: From the riverfront trails and iconic fountain at Point State Park to the massive wooden Frick Park, they all offer their own flavor to the city landscape.
La Hütte Royal: This immersive art project turned a formerly abandoned house into three floors of curiosity mixed with photography from German artist Thorsten Brinkmann. There are no regular hours for this one-of-a-kind experience, so make sure to make your reservations in advance.
VIA: Producing events and special projects that roll out emerging music, new media art and technology throughout the year, this locally based collective also produces a festival every fall that in itself warrants a trip to Pittsburgh.
Row House Cinema: Not the spot for the latest blockbuster, this newly built, single-screen theater runs everything from Gone with the Wind to Beetlejuice; all made even better by their adjoining bottle shop, Atlas Bottle Works.
Fallingwater: At just over an hour ride through the beautiful Laurel Highlands you will happen upon Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece that is a must for those with the time to visit. In warmer months, pack a picnic and hang out on the grounds as you won’t want to leave this architectural icon!
Where to Stay:
Ace Hotel: Coming summer 2015, the Ace will open its doors in a former YMCA in the up-and-coming East Liberty neighborhood with the same effortlessly cool vibe as their other NY, PDX, and London locations.
Hotel Monaco: Quirky meets luxury at this new boutique in the heart of Downtown complete with a stellar chef-driven restaurant (The Commoner) and ninth-floor rooftop beer garden.
Fairmont: If you are lucky you will be greeted by Edie, the resident lobby yellow lab at this swanky yet never stuffy mod Downtown hotel. Don’t be surprised if you are riding the elevator with the NY Rangers or whomever is filming a movie in town; they all stay here.
Omni William Penn: From the grand lobby to the porter that greets you at the door, everything about this Downtown landmark showcases the golden era of Pittsburgh steel industry money.
Mansions on Fifth: Get a glimpse into the city’s storied money past with a stay at this mansion-turned-cozy-boutique-hotel located along Millionaires row in Shadyside. A short stroll to area universities, parks and landmark museums.