The Nexus of Pittsburgh Food

Pete wrote about Penn Mac the other day, which brings up the larger subject of the Strip in general and in particular, that part of the Strip which is really the Nexus of almost all the good food in Pittsburgh. This nexus lies in that area of Penn Avenue within a couple of blocks of 21st street on either side of the actual crossing. Here, in a square that is about half a block on each side, you wil find a group of establishments that are either the source of some of the best food in town, the source of the best raw materials in town, or just a group of people who are connected to almost all the good food in town.

In fact, I believe if you hang out on that corner long enough, the only foodies in Pittsburgh who you will miss are the ones down at Lotus buying the best fresh vegetables and other Chinese items in town. Lotus is, of course, on the other side of the Strip, but that’s just because there is no appropriately large floorspace near 21st street.

So anyway, just what am I talking about here? Let’s get to the list.

1. La Prima Espresso

Simply the best coffee you can buy in Pittsburgh, period. Don’t try to tell me about your Coffee Tree, or your 61C or whoever else. It’s not as good.

2. Il Picolo Forno

A truly old world bakery. Amazing pizza, great pasta lunches on weekdays, the best muffins I’ve had in town (and only a $1 each!). You can’t do better than a Cappucino next door at La Prima and a pizza slice for breakfast. Plus, Antonio will cook his awesome ricotta pies, and his just as awesome savory tortas, to order for your pot luck gatherings. He does other catering items too.

3. Enrico Biscotti

Walk down Penn on a winter morning and just sniff when you get near Enricos. Heaven … on … Earth.

Also, the Cafe that he runs in the back was, for a while, the best casual lunch joint ever. Sadly, with the new fancier digs in Shadyside, the Cafe is not as strong as it used to be. But at least that crazy guy Roy is back.

4. Mon Aimee Chocolates

Best chocolate store in town. Really. I’ve seen all of them.

5. The Saigon Sandwich Lady

Nuff said.

6. Lotus

Not really in the area, but still bears mentioning. Actually, I already mentioned it above. Lotus has the best variety of Chinese and other Asian greens, other vegetables, fruit and prepared items of any store in Pittsburgh. it is truly a watershed for this town that you can get fresh Lychee at Lotus.

7. Benkovitz

With the fish at Whole Foods being more convenient and the fish at Lotus being better, we haven’t gotten here as often over the last couple of years. But, it used to be the only place you had a chance of getting decently fresh fish in town. Don’t talk to me about Wholey’s. Wholey’s smells like stale sewer water, and the fish smells too. Also, best fish sandwich ever.

8. Penn Mac

Covered by Pete.

In addition to all these places, people from some of the best restaurants in town can be found in this part of the Strip at one time or another every week. This includes Roberto from Regina Margherita, who got his start making pizzas for Larry at Enrico’s. Sam, the owner of Vivo, arguably the best restaurant in town on several axes. I’ve seen the people who run Tessaro’s down there, the owner of Tasty, and on and on. If you want to be around the Pittsburgh food scene, be at La Prima in the morning and just hang around. It will all come to you.