Here are a dozen places to visit in Downtown/Strip District, East End, South Side and South Hills for the best tacos in Pittsburgh.
In what was otherwise a lackluster summer for movies, "Chef" (now on DVD) was one of the few decent films. The protagonist is burned out on running a restaurant, and has a hilariously caustic meltdown after a bad review from a critic. (Please don't get any ideas, Pittsburgh culinary professionals with an ax to grind.)
The rant goes Internet viral. He loses his job, hits the road and ultimately gets his kitchen mojo back while running a food truck serving the Cuban food he'd cut his teeth on as a professional.
Minus the meltdown, a similar thing happened to Pat Joyce. The longtime proprietor of 17th St. Cafe on the South Side, he'd grown tired of the fried zucchini and angel- hair dishes that he'd served since taking over the cafe 13 years ago.
At the beginning of the year, he bought a food truck (since dubbed the CarnivoreMobile) and, along with his brother Mike, started hitting the streets in March, serving the "slow and low" barbecue the brothers learned to cook and love while working in South Carolina during the early part of their careers.
The success -- and fun -- he had in the process inspired him to shutter the cafe, a neighborhood institution since 1988, over the Fourth of July weekend and reopen as the South Side BBQ Company.
It's the same cozy spot that's been a bar on the South Side since the 1940s, when it was Bendik's Tavern. It was a butcher shop before that, originally constructed as a single-family home in the 1880s. The handsome wooden bar back is believed to be nearly as old.
Colorful modern pictures of Pittsburgh adorn the dining room walls and some wooden pallets have been repurposed as fun paintings of beef, chicken and pig meat cut charts by manager Nicole Lockhart.
The menu is what you'd expect: all manner of chicken, pork and beef that's been slow-cooked, smoked, slathered with sauce and sprinkled with rub, plus all the appropriate fixins -- cornbread, mac-and-cheese, baked beans and grilled sweet potatoes (each $3).
The bar could use a little sprucing -- when you see Irish Mist and peach brandy on the shelf you check to see if your Gram is nearby -- but a new cocktail menu and other flourishes such as barrel-aged Negronis are a step in right direction.
A Memphis-style dry rub goes on the ribs, which have a mild spice and almost sweet flavor, perhaps with a note of cinnamon. My rack of ribs ($12/half, $20/full) was fall-off-the-bone perfect, as was that of my friend, who somehow managed not to choke while enthusiastically declaring, "Thith ith awethome," through a mouthful of pork.
The sauce comes in two varieties, "hot" and "not." The "not" has a nice sweet tang to it, while the "hot" has a sharper, vinegary nose backed with some pepper-flake heat that sneaks up on you but washes down just fine with the Full Pint Chinooke IPA that's regularly on tap.
The Hillbilly Club is a tasty and fun mix of Carolina pulled pork and slaw with Texas-style brisket, on a brioche bun ($7) and the pepper jack mac-and-cheese is well-prepared and super creamy. It could use a little more peppery spice but has great flavor when it is sprinkled with the house rub.
The item that may go on the Joyce brothers' epitaph is the Bar-B-Cone. This masterpiece of culinary ingenuity is a feast in one convenient package. It's a large waffle cone with mac-and-cheese at the bottom, pulled pork (or chicken) atop that, and coleslaw on top of that, with a choice of barbecue sauces ($7).
Mr. Joyce is in the process of securing a legal trademark on the concept, but is worried about blow-back from Mattel because it sounds too much like the doll (honest; when it come to corporate lawyers, you can't make this stuff up) that's helped inspire body dysmorphic disorder in generations of American women from a young age.
If that comes to pass, here's Munch's suggestion for a settlement: Mr. Joyce gets to use the name, while Barbie gets a lifetime supply of Bar-B-Cones, so that she might get a little meat on her bones and better resemble a human being.
The South Side BBQ Company is at 75 S. 17th St., South Side Flats; 412-381-4566 or www.southsidebbqcompany.com.