Downtown comes to life during the summer, with the Three Rivers Arts Festival kicking off Friday and events unfurling throughout the warm months. It's a good time to check out some of the newer places to eat, whether it's biking to a favorite spot for lunch or hitting a new place after work.
There has been a flurry of investments in Downtown dining over the past few years, with many restaurants having opened and several on deck. Proper Brick Oven and Tap Room will open in the former Tambellini Seventh Street Ristorante. Sienna Mercato will debut in the 900 block of Penn Avenue, helmed by chef Matthew Porco of Sienna Sulla Piazza in Market Square. And in two months, Brian Pekarcik of East Liberty's Spoon will unveil his yet-to-be-named American dim-sum restaurant at 535 Liberty Ave. in the former Taste of Dahntahn space.
Below is a list of lunch, dinner and drink spots for relaxed to fine-dining tastes.
Bluebird Kitchen is the stylish sandwich shop from owner Liz Moore that offers baked goods, breakfast and lunch. Fried egg sandwiches ($4.75/$6), frittatas ($5.50), sweet potato corned beef hash ($5.50) and biscuits with gravy ($5.50) represent the morning meal until 10:30 a.m. Seasonal offerings such as May's salad ($8.25) with arugula, plantains, corn, tomatillo, charred scallion and manchego sate a vegetarian. Roast beef ($8.75), croque monsieur ($8) and roast turkey ($8.25) are standards served on house-baked breads. The coffee is excellent, too. Seating is limited but you're steps away from Market Square that's filled with tables. 221 Forbes Ave. 412-642-4414; bluebirdkitchen.com.
Craftwork Kitchen is tucked on the concourse level of the U.S. Steel Tower where first-time customers get a bullhorn greeting. Shrimp po'boys ($8.50), the Porko-Rican pulled pork sandwich ($8.50) and a steak and fry combo ($8.75) round out sandwiches along with soups and salads of the day. During the nicer weather, the staff moves outside and tacos seed the menu. Chalkboard hangman beckons when there's a wait. 600 Grant St. 412-979-4754; also on Facebook.
Tucked in the basement of Trinity Cathedral, the hot dog shop Franktuary offers a quick, inexpensive lunch. Try the Pittsburgh hot dog with a pierogi and slaw garnish or the hypocrite veggie dog with chili. Brats and sausages are also for sale, as well as an array of sides such as chips, pickles, salads and baked beans, and refreshing smoothie-like fruit shakes and craft sodas to drink. Everything here is well under $10. 325 Oliver Ave. franktuary.com.
A new Argentine parrilla seduces with the scent of wood fire and rosemary. At Gaucho, chef/owner Anthony Falcon fires up a ribeye bife del gaucho ($12-$20), steak sandwiches ($10), chorizo ($12) and half chicken ($10). A charming outdoor seating area shades diners from the summer sun with a trio of umbrellas. 1607 Penn Ave., Strip District. 412-709-6622; eatgaucho.com.
A Downtown anchor for more than 140 years, The Original Oyster House plates fish sandwiches and plenty of character. Skip the line and head to the stainless steel bar watched over by autographed photos and faded memorabilia, where longtime bartender Bob Harper serves up one-liners and wry observations with pints of Iron City. The original breaded fish sandwich ($5.75) is the best-seller. Ask for a fork and be ready for a hairy eyeball and perhaps some ribbing for asking. 20 Market Square. 412-566-7925; originaloysterhousepittsburgh.com.
Stone Neapolitan Pizzeria creates fair-priced, Neapolitan-style pies that will please a pizza snob. A charred, chewy thin crust wears a range of ingredients, from buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto, to sausage and arugula. Sandwiches, salads, beer and wine are also available. Pizzas start at $6.35. 300 Liberty Ave. 412-904-5431; stonepizzeria.com.
At Bigelow Grille, chef Anthony Zallo is one of the city's best-kept secrets. Using the finest ingredients from local sources, Mr. Zallo makes elevated fare in a dining room that doesn't match his talent. Do not let this dissuade. Burgers, sandwiches and salads occupy the menu, but here's a place to splurge on pastas and entrees, such as local country pork ribs and country style greens ($19) or scallops, spring peas, fingerlings and mushrooms ($20). Mr. Zallo is also quite good at beer pairing tasting menus. One Bigelow Square (Doubletree Hotel). 412-281-5013; bigelowgrille.com.
Eleven Contemporary Kitchen is one of the most pleasing fine-dining experiences in Pittsburgh. Start with a sparkling wine and a dozen Fisher's Island oysters ($12, $24) and make way through a menu of Jamon Iberico ($16) and Hudson Valley foie gras ($18). Entrees include swordfish ($28), roast chicken ($26) and prime strip steak ($45). Service is terrific for lunch and dinner, though the deal is Sunday brunch: $25 buys a cocktail, appetizer and entree. 1150 Smallman St., Strip District. 412-201-5656; elevenck.com.
A fine dining mecca, Habitat at the Fairmont Pittsburgh hotel offers panoramic views, refined cuisine and polished service. Chef Jason Dalling's seasonal menus will please the many epicureans, along with an extensive wine list and among the most impressive desserts in town. Dishes are $10-$42. 510 Market St. 412-773-8848; habitatrestaurant.com.
The benchmark for Neapolitan pizza, Il Pizzaiolo, the new sibling to the Mt. Lebanon location, offers crowd-pleasers in a handsomely remodeled two-story space. Antipasti tempt with a plate of grilled vegetables ($15), charred octopus from the wood-burning oven ($11) and house-made meatballs ($9). The best-selling pizza is the $16 Margherita, certified in Italy for its authenticity ("00" Italian flour, San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di Bufala). Don't skip the bar, which includes a fleet of Italian aperitifs, wine and beer. 8 Market Square. 412-575-5858; ilpizzaiolo.com.
Meat & Potatoes attracts the big names coming through town for good reason. It offers stellar people-watching, compelling cocktails and the satiating menu from chef Richard DeShantz. This is not light fare. First courses include poutine ($8), fried pickles ($5), mac and cheese ($12) and bone marrow ($14), with entrees of fish and chips ($22), duck breast ($19) and pot roast ($22) for big appetites. Expect more from Mr. DeShantz as he develops a Sixth Street space across from Heinz Hall into Butcher in the Rye and extends his reach outside the neighborhood. 649 Penn Ave. 412-325-7007; meatandpotatoespgh.com.
Sienna Sulla Piazza offers well-executed Italian fare and ensures expedient, polished service. Antipasti, soup and homemade pastas are menu staples. Liver mousse ($7) is as sweet as it is savory, spiked with honey and garnished with pistachio. Creamy pasta carbonara is dotted with house-cured pancetta, leeks, peas and black pepper. And a delicious pappardelle bolognese ($15) is stacked with slow-cooked ground veal. A handsome dining room attracts a Downtown crowd for lunch, happy hour and dinner. 22 Market Square. 412-281-6363. siennapgh.com.
The 45-seat Speakeasy of the Omni William Penn is a re-creation of a speakeasy that was there during Prohibition. In a storage area under the lobby stairs, the hotel uncovered a hidden hallway leading to street level that alluded to its earlier life as a hotel bar. With 40 classic cocktails and light fare, it's among the most civilized rooms in the city to sip a cocktail. The bar is open for business from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tues.-Sat. 530 William Penn Place. 412-281-7100, ext. 5087.
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., the second outpost of the Mount Washington standby Redbeard's Sports Bar and Grill features plenty of beer and TVs for sports fans. With daily specials from 4 p.m. to closing, Monday offers all-you-can-eat crab legs for $29.99. Tuesday is dollar taco night. Wednesday features 50-cent wings. And Thursday is peel-and-eat shrimp night for a price to be determined. 144 Sixth St. 412-261-2324; redbeardspgh.com.
Sharp Edge Bistro on Penn offers beer with focus on Belgium styles, as well as fine bar food such as panini, nachos, buffalo bites and mussels. Beer specials are a draw from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m, for half-off Belgian drafts and $1 off craft and imported beers. 922 Penn Ave. 412-338-2437; sharpedgebeer.com.
Vallozzi's offers a respectable wine list with happy hour price cuts, a number of which pair with items from the mozzarella bar that features burrata, buffalo mozzarella, ricotta and smoked cheeses. From 5 to 7 p.m. wines by the glass are half price, with beer and cocktail specials, too. 220 Fifth Ave. 412-394-3400; vallozzispittsburgh.com.
Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar is an iconoclast among local burger joints for its indie imagery and attention to the bar. It also sells one of the area's best burgers. A library of whiskeys and a flight menu makes this a mecca for fans of the spirit. 5 Market Square. 412-434-5600; winghartburgers.com.
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter: @melissamccart.