In recent years, Pittsburgh has rightly received numerous accolades for its lively dining scene, and we’re all grateful to have moved on past boring burgers, pizza and wings. But there are some holes in the casual-fare landscape that I’d like to see filled. Some might seem kooky or weird, but I ate at (or walked past) similar restaurants in other North American towns this year.
Make-Your-Own Vietnamese Grab-and-Go. It’s like a Chipolte for banh mi sandwiches, spring rolls and rice bowls. Pick one, then work your way down a line choosing protein, condiments, seasonings and so on. Cheap and fast.
All-Pie Meals. Pie is a great dessert, but it’s a good savory option, too. Meat pies, seasonal vegetable pies, hand pies (like empanadas or Cornish pasties), followed by a piece of cherry pie. Or custard tart. Eat in, or pie to go. Pies.
Eat in the Pitch-Black Dark. A bit of a one-time gimmick, but a fascinating exercise in how we process the experience of eating when we can’t see our food. Can you guess what you’re eating? Can you enjoy it without photographing it first?
Asian Hot Pot Buffet. The table is set with several seasoned boiling broths. Then you order as much as you want from dozens of raw meat, seafood, vegetable and condiment options. You cook the food in the pots. Great fun for a group.
Mexican Bakery. There is a whole world of flakey sugary baked goods unavailable here.
Hawker Joint. These spots serve Thai street food, rather than sit-down meals. The fare is often served in sharable small plates and geared toward the late-night crowd.
Artisanal Innards. Americans generally eschew the organ meats and other “exotic” cuts, but a good chef can work magic on tongues, hearts, stomachs and so on. Plus, diners should stop being so fussy.
Ridiculously Fancy Donuts and Ridiculously Fancy Ice Cream. Such places admittedly come with ridiculously high prices for time-honored inexpensive treats. But what if I need an over-sized bubble-gum donut or spicy strawberry ice cream?