“You pick the place.”
Few things set me to trembling like those four innocent words. Whether it’s a high school friend visiting for a night or a few relatives in town for the weekend, we all end up getting saddled with the unenviable task of selecting a dinner spot. And it’s not always easy. Your grandma wants something quiet, your cousin wants something cool, your uncle wants something cheap—and you just want to get it over with.
There’s enough to be stressed about during the holidays without panicking over reservations. Sure, you could just head to Primanti’s and call it a day. But iconic though it may be, Pittsburgh has plenty more to offer.
That’s why we’ve drawn up this handy guide to dining out with out-of-towners. Read on for recommendations tailored to all the family, friends and long lost lovers visiting Pittsburgh this holiday season.
The Visitor: Your well-off parents/grandparents/mysterious benefactor—and they’re picking up the tab.
The Place: Eleven, Strip District
Why: What to do when someone else is paying but you’re picking the spot? You don’t want to choose the fanciest place out there or select somewhere with strange or fussy cuisine. Eleven strikes a perfect balance between formal and casual, bold but familiar. Chef Eli Wahl and his talented team create unique takes on classic American dishes, from crab cakes to strip steak. Located in a former warehouse in the Strip District, Eleven sits at the intersection of elegance and good old Pittsburgh grit.
The Visitor: Your Dr. Oz-obsessed aunt, who is avoiding a new food every time you see her.
The Place: Eden, Shadyside
Why: Though Pittsburgh food has an artery-clogging reputation, Eden provides a cozy haven for nearly any dietary preference. The entire place is gluten-free (good news for those concerned about cross-contamination) and almost 100% vegan. With a seasonally rotating menu heavy on inventive raw dishes and chefs sensitive to food allergies, Eden pays attention to the eaters that other restaurants ignore.
The Visitor: Your childhood pal, who still lives at home and is perpetually broke.
The Place: Noodlehead, Shadyside
Why: Noodlehead is no-frills—they’re cash only, the menu rarely changes, and they don’t even have a phone number. But unlike plenty of places that make the claim, they actually pass the savings on to customers. Their small menu boasts a mix of classic Thai dishes and house specialties like the Street Noodle #1, an addictive combination of fried chicken, rice noodles and an umami bomb of a sauce. And with a BYOB fee of a measly 50 cents, you’ll leave full and tipsy for less than 15 bucks.
The Visitor: Your gym rat brother, who wants heaps on heaps of meat.
The Place: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina, Strip District
Why: For the first two years or so that it was open, it was nearly impossible to get a seat at Gaucho Parilla Argentina. And now that the Strip District destination has tripled in size? Well, it’s still tough. But that’s a testament to just how good this Argentinian shrine to beef really is. Landing on Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S. for the past two years, Gaucho cooks everything on a wood-fired grill, from blood sausage to flank steak—and even the occasional vegetable.
The Visitor: Your NYC/Chicago/LA friend, who still can’t understand why you’d live in Pittsburgh.
The Place: Max’s Allegheny Tavern, North Side
Why: You could try to wow a skeptical friend with any number of glitzy Downtown spots. But chances are that they’ll know a place back home that does it bigger or better. Instead, why not blindside them with somewhere that’s Pittsburgh through and through, of which no equivalent exists beyond our hills? Max’s Allegheny Tavern fits the bill. With old-school German food, friendly people and décor that looks like it’s been untouched for a century, Max’s is as classic Pittsburgh as it gets.
The Visitor: A gaggle of relatives who want a restaurant that suits everyone, from your picky younger cousin to your snooty brother-in-law.
The Place: The Porch at Schenley, Oakland