Looking for a cool deal at lunch Downtown this summer? We always are and, frankly, we have a hard time finding good, cheap and fast eats Downtown. Since when did a cold sandwich, a drink and a cookie cost more than $10?
Still, we've made a few good-for-summer finds that we're willing to share. And if you know of some that we don't, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or write Food, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. We'll share them with our readers.
1. The "cold plate" at Istanbul Grill, the Turkish place on Liberty Avenue. I think this is some of the best food and the best deal going: For $5, you get a heap of seasoned salad and your choice of three of the cold sides of the day: hummus, beet or carrot salad, eggplant, various bean salads, stuffed grape leaves, etc. If you ask, they'll throw in a piece of pita and warm it up, too. I regularly see the owner, Coskun "Josh" Gokalp, or one of his crew pile on tastes of other dishes, too. This place, sister to the open-at-night Istanbul Grill on Butler Street in Lawrenceville, is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday but everything's made fresh for each day and sometimes they run out of the cold stuff earlier. (The hot food is great, too.) 643 Liberty Ave., 412-325-3346.
-- Bob Batz Jr., Post-Gazette food editor
2. The fruit cup at Einstein Bros. Bagels, PPG Place. It's fresh cut daily -- chunks of two or three types of melon, pineapple, strawberries, grapes -- big and a good deal for $2.99. 3 PPG Place, 412-434-0343.
3. The California Roll at Sushi & Rolls at Oxford Center food court. This tidy place has a great menu of Japanese and Asian fare, including several hot meat, noodle and rice dishes and some creative bento combinations of sushi, maki and teriyaki (I'm told the Korean Chirasi -- assorted fish over rice and lettuce -- is good, too).
But I like to keep it simple and grab a box of California Roll (nori, or dried seaweed sheet, wrapped around rice, avocado, imitation crab and cucumber for $5.99) or, better, Orange Roll, which is the California rolled in masago, a gorgeous orange flying fish roe ($6.49). Nine pieces, garnished with hot wasabi paste, slivers of pickled ginger and soy sauce for dipping with chopsticks, make for an elegant and slightly exotic lunch. Fourth and Grant streets, 412-255-0520.
4. Pie for lunch? Don't knock it until you've tried Sand Hill Berries' pie at the Market Square Farmers Market. There are several ready-to-eat bites available at the market, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays through Nov. 18. But my favorite is the berry pie from this Westmoreland County farm, just $1.50 a slice. If you get there early, you can have your choice of several -- black or red raspberry, blackberry, blueberry and bumbleberry (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries and strawberries, and dashes of orange and cinnamon). Make friends by buying a whole pie to take back to the office. sandhillberries.com.
5. It follows that the best food for really hot weather comes from countries with really, really hot weather, such as Cambodia (average annual temperature for Phnom Penh = 89.8 degrees). The Green Papaya salad at Downtown's Cambodian restaurant, Lemon Grass Cafe, is a glowing example of this -- spaghetti-like strands of crunchy green papaya and carrots, basil, shrimp, chicken and cherry tomatoes dressed up with a salty, sweet and citrusy sauce. For a salad, it's surprisingly substantial. 124 Sixth St., 412-765-2222.
-- Moriah Balingit, Post-Gazette staff writer
6. It may seem like Downtown lunch options rarely change, but it pays to keep your eyes open and take a new route to work every once and a while. On a recent detour down Penn Avenue the cold noodles on Fu Lai's specials menu caught my eye. A big pile of lo mein noodles was topped with a small scoop of soft peanut butter and sprinkled with sesame seeds. As I stirred, a spoonful or two of soy sauce thinned out the sauce until it just coated the noodles. A bite revealed sweetness, from peanut butter and sesame oil, the salty tang of soy sauce and the surprising heat of chile oil. It's not the most nutritionally balanced meal, but if you're planning a long run after work, this is ideal carbohydrate loading. At $5.30 with tax, including an egg roll (only OK) and a drink, this was a real bargain. 525 Penn Ave., 412-471-6338.
-- China Millman, Post-Gazette restaurant critic
7. The falafel sandwich at Bigelow Grille is neither as cold nor as cheap as most of the items on the list, but it has quickly become my favorite splurge lunch. Straight from the frying pan, falafel, soft and warm, are wrapped up in grilled flat bread with chopped cucumber and tomatoes and drizzled with yogurt sauce. It comes with a side salad, french fries or pierogies, making for quite an ample lunch. 1 Bigelow Square, 412-281-5013.
8. There's something magical about quiche. Combine eggs, cream, chopped-up vegetables and meat and put it in a crust, you suddenly have a meal equally delicious at any temperature and any time of day. A thick slice of the daily quiche from Dozen Bakeshop will run you $5. Usually there is a vegetarian option and one with bacon, which I like to think makes it extra filling. 807 Liberty Ave., www.dozenbakeshop.com, 412-281-4800.
9. When walking out of the office resembles stepping into a sauna, skip the sandwich and head straight for the ice cream. Two local favorites are now offered Downtown -- Dave and Andy's at Franktuary ($3 for one large scoop, $5 for two; I highly recommend the chocolate peanut butter) and Mercurio's mulberry Creamery Gelato at Verde Good Beans ($2.75). Franktuary, 325 Oliver Ave., www.franktuary.com, 412-288-0322; Verde Good Beans, 412 First Ave., 412-523-8885.
10. Chaat papri is technically a snack, but the portion at India Palace is more than sufficient for lunch. Layers of wheat puffs, chopped potato, chickpeas, onions and spicy green pepper are doused in cooling yogurt, cilantro chutney and deliciously sour tamarind sauce ($4). The wheat puffs stayed surprisingly crisp despite the thick layer of sauce. 137 Sixth St., www.indiapalacepgh.com, 412-471-0660.