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Hot Places to Dine in Pittsburgh

The sun shone with searing intensity on the outside seating area at Jerome Bettis Grille 36. Brightly clad baseball fans made their weekly pilgrimage to an afternoon game and, while I would’ve killed for a good beach umbrella right about then, I watched them stream past incongruously carrying brooms. Brooms but no umbrellas; go figure!

Brothers Max and Herb work the kitchen at Enrico's in the Strip District

The hostess said they gave up on umbrellas because the wind that rushes up the valley always knocks them down. As I sweltered on the edge of a hot table waiting for my friends to arrive, I looked out across the broad Allegheny to the majestic crown of Pittsburgh’s skyline, and decided I could stand a little heat. Whatever the patio at Jerome Bettis 36 lacked in sun protection it certainly made up for with its awesome view.

On my sixth mouthful of papaya salad at Nicky’s Thai Kitchen, I felt a different kind of heat creeping up on me. Even though this was a pleasant heat, the kind that stayed in the mouth and didn’t spread to lips or gullet, it was unusual in a salad.  And refreshing, I decided. In fact, from the pleasant greeting I got at the door and the casual competence of the waitstaff, right on to the fresh flower arrangement at the table and the soothing sound of water in the room, everything about this little restaurant on Pittsburgh’s north shore refreshed me. I took a swig of water and watched the couple at a nearby table coo at their newborn.

The Wine Fairy complained to me about the heat at Enrico’s. She poured a taste of the local label’s Syrah and left me to sample the heady mixture while she stepped outside to get some air. I turned toward the inside and beheld a most wondrous sight: right there in this little cafe in the Strip District out to the east end of Pittsburgh a brick oven was fully stoked and a gnarly headed guy was baking up lovely little Italian-style pizzas. This was my kind of place. I put down my glass and went down for a closer look.

Noshing at Nicky's on Pittsburgh's North Shore

All of these places are sizzling in more ways than one. Jerome Bettis Grille 36, which fills a vacuum in this most sports-minded of cities, is an antidote to downtown Pittsburgh’s tight claustrophobic feel. Walk across the bridge, meet a couple of friends you haven’t seen in a while and that feeling dissipates. Nicky’s Thai Kitchen is a breath of fresh air in a city whose claim to culinary fame has long been a sandwich that has the fries on the inside. Nicky’s is quietly serving up innovative curries like Salmon Mango and Massaman in a neighborhood near the National Aviary that’s poised for transition. The most astonishing thing about Nicky’s is that there was no line waiting to get in. Before it’s discovered, go!

You’ll be forgiven for wandering into Enrico’s Biscotti storefront and missing the cafe out back. I know that’s what I almost did. Stacked like Jenga towers, the biscotti was beguiling, with flavors galore. But go around the corner and you’ll find a whole other world.

Enrico’s Biscotti Cafe is active and ambitious, doing several things in a fairly small space. There’s the wine thing, with tastings at the front and several bottles to choose from, all made locally with juice from California, Chile and Italy. There’s the biscotti thing, the baking and cutting of which takes up more than half the kitchen back here. And then there’s the restaurant thing, with woodfired pizzas, sandwiches and specialties. Be sure to look into one of their First Friday Dinners, which showcase the oven, or to take in the Italian Bread Baking demo.

Now, if there’s a commonality among these restaurants besides how hot they are, it’s that in every place there’s something I failed to do. I didn’t have a pizza at Enrico’s. I noshed on spring rolls and samosas with my huge salad instead of trying one of the fabulous-looking entrees on the Chef’s Special list at Nicky’s. And I didn’t even come close to ordering the deep-fried Italian hoagie at Jerome Bettis.

I also didn’t give the Six Penn Kitchen in downtown Pittsburgh enough attention. While I had an excellent lunch there, I barely noticed it, so busy was I meeting old friends who I hadn’t seen in years. My bad. It’s a cool place. Well, there’s only one way to remedy a thing like that. I’ll just have to go back!

Margherita Pizza in the oven at Enrico's in Pittsburgh's Strip District

7 comments to Hot Places to Dine in Pittsburgh

  • All of those place sound absolutely tempting! I’ll definitely keep them in mind the next time I’m in Pittsburgh!

  • Steve

    From the looks of Nicky’s online menu and that overstarched roll in the photo, it would be hard pressed to be the second best Thai place in town. And Thai food without beer is . . . well, you know. A major PIT problem. Next time try this place: http://www.silkelephant.net/

    Far more interesting menu, nice folks, great beer list (and pretty good on wine). The Haw Mork Fish is delicious and a classic I’ve never seen elsewhere. Lots of other stuff on the menu is every bit as unusual and good. This is probably the best and most dependable restaurant in Pittsburgh. Which isn’t saying much in a truly terrible restaurant town.

    If you’re REALLY adventurous, there’s Rose Tea Cafe, a Taiwanese place a block away that has stinky tofu (in the menu below, it’s called “smelled bean curd”). As Sue said, “Tastes like s***. But in a good way.” After that, I could not to get her to try the “pork intestine home style.” http://www.campusfood.com/restaurant.asp?campusid=15&mlid=60075

    No woodfired oven, but a childhood pizza memory. Dunno if it’s the oil or the cheese, but this pizza has a strange (I’m not sayin’ GOOD) taste unlike any other (though the crust is unmemorable): http://www.mineospizza.com/ 6 Penn’s menu does look interesting, tho. We noticed that joint on the way to the ballpark a few weeks ago.

    How’s by you?

  • Too bad I live in Iowa 🙁 These places sound fantastic. Might be time for roadtrip!

  • […] Seattle Foodie dines in the Burgh and came away fairly impressed Hot Places to Dine in Pittsburgh | Sortachef […]

  • It’s nice to see you enjoyed your visit! You also picked three of my favorite places…None of them serve pretense, just good quality food and a comfortable feeling. Hope you make a return visit!

  • Josh

    Steve, I mean this in a nostalgic way, but you’re such a typical Squirrel Hill denizen. In response to an article on restaurants in all of Pittsburgh, you give three (sort of) recommendations all within one Squirrel Hill block of each other. To everyone else reading this, thinking of visiting, I assure you: There is more to Pittsburgh than Squirrel Hill! Much, much more.

  • ASC

    You scratched the surface that, should you investigate later, reveals a significant food and dining culture in PIttsburgh.

    Just as some have continued to regard it as e a city of smoke and industrial filth, unaware of a decades old turn around which is quietly gathering attention on many fronts, the food scene here is top drawer. Wide vernacular, common knowledge of James Beard, and cutting edge cuisine and restauranteurs in a town of a size and density that are most agreeable. All that and twice a year sales by the All-Clad factory!

    A converted outsider that sees the benefits as a result of much previous travel and lifetime food focus.

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A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.