Two of the best things in the world are walking around in beautiful summer weather and eating. Why not do both?
Sometimes you order something so delicious that it would be intolerable to wait until you get home. And sometimes your walking-and-talking afternoon with friends requires a delicious treat to go with it.
Walking and eating requires a bit of planning — ideally, you want something you can hold with one hand, preferably not two. And you’ve got to leave the utensils out of it. There is an art to this — if any part falls on the ground, you lose. (Nearby birds and/or dogs win, though).
I’ve never managed to eat an Uncle Sam’s sub without sitting down. Even the mighty Primanti’s — designed to put everything in one hand, supposedly — is a struggle. But here’s a short list of 10 Pittsburgh foods that you can actually eat on the move:
T-Swirl Crepe, Squirrel Hill
In the heart of Murray Avenue’s “confused cuisine district” (Thai tapas, anyone?), lies this unusual newcomer. Like an ice cream cone full of, well … food, T-swirl crepes are unlike anything else. (Well, except maybe the late Pizza Cono, RIP, whose conical pizzas apparently amused only me). There are sweet ones, as you might expect — try Caramel Fuji Apple, or Chocolate Nut Party (with chocolate chunks, custard cream, gelato, pistachios and Pocky sticking out the top). Others take the contents of a sandwich or salad, and put that into a soft crepe cone, like the T-Swirl BLT (with bacon and avocado, tomatoes, shallots, lettuce, chipotle aioli). I’ve no idea if this is catching on, but the concept is intriguing.
Mancini’s, Strip District
Pepperoni rolls: The unofficial state food of West Virginia (and we say that with legit admiration). It would be a crime if you couldn’t get a credible rendition in Pittsburgh but luckily, you can. They’re stuffed with cheese and pepperoni, of course, and are wrapped up in delicious dough. Very easy to eat with one hand.
Ki Pollo, Lawrenceville
Korean Fried Chicken and Empanadas are one of those only-in-America marriages that bring something to the table on both sides. Restaurateurs Domenic Branduzzi (Piccolo Forno) and Roger Li (Umami), along with partner Claudia Moyano, bring culinary firepower to Ki Pollo‘s very simple concept. It’s even possible to imagine their perfectly balanced minced-beef (or pumpkin, mushroom, tofu or ham & cheese) empanadas rivaling pierogies for Pittsburghers’ dumpling dollars … someday. Also perfect for walking and eating: Scallion Bao Buns and house-made pickles.
Choolaah, East Liberty
Naan wraps: Going out for Indian food seems like a sit-down-type situation, I know. But Choolaah has somehow discovered a loophole. If you take meats and pickled veggies, spices and/or various sauces and curries — and wrap it up snugly in fresh-baked naan bread — you’ve suddenly got a full Indian dinner in one hand. Plus, every available filling tastes amazing: lamb meatballs, sustainably-raised chicken, salmon, Amish-made paneer cheese. They’re a small Pittsburgh-based chain at the moment, but Choolah ought to have Chipotle-sized ambitions–this is a concept that could take over the world.
Las Palmas, Brookline and Oakland
Tacos: In other cities, picking the best tacos is an invitation to Mineos-vs.-Aiello’s-style culinary warfare. But we can save our fightin’ energies for arguments about important stuff like pizza, and who diluted Phil Kessel’s secret sauce in the playoffs. Let’s just be thankful that Las Palmas is so very good. These are only as messy as you make them, but the temptation to go overboard on spicy sauces is real. So stick to solid ingredients that will more or less stay where they belong.
La Gourmandine, Lawrenceville, Hazelwood, Mt. Lebanon and Downtown
Simple (amazing) sandwiches: Given Pittsburghers’ penchant for cramming everything under the sun into a bun and calling it a sandwich–a sandwich you can actually walk and eat, and not have it explode all over you? Sacre bleu! A little taste of Lyon on the Monongahela, La Gourmandine makes some of the best sandwiches in town, and somehow also the cheapest ($5). They slice fresh baguettes down the middle, put in something simple, like prosciutto and cornichons, or ham and butter, and that’s really all you need.
Chile Cheese Fritters: Replacing the renowned Conflict Kitchen in Schenley Plaza, this kiosk specializes in New Mexican cuisine — still a rarity around here. Since we could all use more Hatch green chiles in our lives, it’s a good niche to fill. The menu and hours are a bit unpredictable (I swear I’ve had Tamales here — good walking food — and yet recently they were nowhere to be found). The Tostadas were excellent, but so overloaded with stuff that a sit-down is required. But the crispy, fried Chile Cheese Rice Fritters, make excellent finger food for a stroll in the shadow of the Cathedral of Learning.
Bae Bae’s Kitchen, Downtown
Fried chicken: I bought some slightly spicy Korean fried chicken here at this little Downtown lunch spot. The next few minutes were a blur, and by the time I found my car, the chicken was gone. Its disappearance is still a mystery. I have several theories, but evidence suggests it was so good that I just devoured it somewhere during the three blocks’ walk to the parking garage. Further research needed.
Mike & Tony’s Gyros, various locations
Gyros — pronounced “jie-rose” in Pittsburghese — were once the most ubiquitous Pittsburgh street food. For unknown reasons, they don’t seem to be as thick on the ground as they used to be. But there’s always Mike & Tony’s on the South Side (and in Moon, Bridgeville and Downtown). Sizzling meat sliced from the big spinning spit, stuffed in a pita with a dollop of tahini sauce — why change? Keep eating, keep walking.
Baby Loves Tacos, Bloomfield
More tacos: I ordered three of the daily taco specials—Chorizo, BBQ Mushroom and Buffalo Cauliflower—and idly wondered aloud if I could eat ‘em while walking down Liberty Ave. Several customers burst out laughing—they’re so overloaded and messy that you’re taking your life into your hands, brother.
Yet…they looked so delicious, and I was so hungry, that I housed all three before reaching my car six blocks away. No regrets, and not impossible.
Bonus: One of the customers was Rick Sebak. (He didn’t laugh). Always a good sign.