City Guide: Strip District

If you want visitors to love Pittsburgh, you take them to the Strip District, ideally early on a Saturday morning.

Get breakfast at DeLuca’s, Jojo’s or Pamela’s, then walk around, checking out the sidewalk vendors. Wander into Wholey’s to see some fish. Get coffee at Prestogeorge Coffee and Tea and then some Italian bread at Mancini’s Bakery. You buy cheese at Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., macaroons at Enrico’s and a stack or two of fresh tortillas at Reyna Foods. You sample the new Berkshire prosciutto at Parma Sausage—maybe even pick up a pound of lonzetta.

You explain to your guests that locals don’t giggle about the name of this neighborhood. It’s a strip of flat land along the left bank of the Allegheny River between Lawrenceville and downtown. It’s the part of town where produce was unloaded from trains and sold for most of the 20th century. This wholesale food-distribution center gradually transformed throughout decades into a retail shopping center for unusual foods, all sorts of ethnic specialties and odd small businesses that make everyone happy. Now it has nice restaurants, the Society for Contemporary Crafts and the Sen. John Heinz History Center, so it’s tony as well as food-y and funky.

You probably should explain that Pittsburghers love this neighborhood. If we find a parking space along Penn Avenue or Smallman Street, anywhere from 17th Street to 22nd or so, we’ll gladly walk around, scoping out old favorites and new surprises. We stock up on crusty breads and cheeses at Jimmy & Nino Sunseri’s, see what’s happening at Hermanowski’s, have a fish sandwich at Roland’s. We try the Peruvian chicken on 21st Street, too. And then go crazy buying spices at Penzey’s.

Oh, there are historic businesses around here, like Mike Fineberg’s—where novelties, party supplies and Steelers merch are always available. You can get massive quantities of paper at Schorin’s, or you can go across the street and buy your choice of sporty T-shirts. Standing still for a moment, you may be tempted by mung-bean pancakes on the griddle outside new Sambok Oriental Foods or shrimp rolls and grilled chicken-on-a-stick at Bob Ching’s trailer. Indulge yourselves.

Vegetarian visitors may want to learn about fresh Strip produce, so scoot over to Stan’s, where everything is sold at more than reasonable prices. Check out the new Market Outlet, too. And if you’ve never browsed an Asian grocery store, you have choices: Lotus Noodle, Kim Do or Wing Fat Hong. Consider a Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich from Lucy Sheets at her stand outside the Firehouse Bar.

You must never be afraid to try new things in the Strip. That’s how it stays vital. How about those miniature sinkers at Peace Love & Little Doughnuts? Have you had the salmon sandwich at Penn Avenue Fish Co. yet? The kielbasa at S&D Polish Deli? Or tried Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory’s sweet treats sold in the Public Market section of the old Produce Terminal building? Fresh ideas, good food and open minds make this work.

Your visitors may think they’re in heaven.

Take a Saturday Strip stroll
Head to the new(er) Pittsburgh Public Market to nosh on some tasty samples while enjoying free entertainment. Or let your love of craft beer steer you in the direction of an East End Brewing Co. growler to go for about $10-12. We also recommend that you stop by the Pittsburgh Flea, where you’ll find everything from vintage furniture and crafts to tasty treats—and even more free entertainment. The flea runs every Saturday in the big parking lot behind the Terminal Building. La Prima Espresso holds Roaster Tours Sept. 1 through April 30. For $10, you’ll enjoy multiple coffee tastings, a keepsake ceramic La Prima mug and all the knowledge you’ll need to call yourself a java connoisseur.

Please your palate
At Dreadnought Wines, you’ll find one of the best (if not the best) affordable wine-tasting opportunities in the city. Each first and third Friday of the month, you can mingle with longtime oenophiles and novice tasters hoping to learn something new at the Wine-Knows Classes held 5:30-7:30 p.m. Your taste buds will undoubtably enjoy sampling three whites and three reds, along with fine breads and cheeses. An added bonus? You can order your favorites after the class—many of which are less than $15 a bottle.

Watch the sopranos
The Pittsburgh Opera shows us that high-caliber culture doesn’t always have to come with high ticket prices. From its Brown Bag Concert Series to Art Song Recitals and Opera Up Close, Pittsburghers get numerous chances throughout each season to take in a Pittsburgh Opera performance for free. The Brown Bag Concert Series offers attendees an hour of live performances from various operas with resident artists on the second Saturday of every month. You’re encouraged to bring your own packed lunch to eat while enjoying the show. Guests normally receive treats like cookies, 21st Street Cafe coffee and even chocolate from Dorothy’s Candies.

Get happy
Yeah, happy hours may be a dime a dozen, but how many do you know of that offer half off every drink in the house? And we’re not just talking about rum & Coke and Budweiser. At Kaya, you can order Mango Mojitos, a nice lineup of craft beers or anything else your heart desires. If it’s an alcoholic beverage, it’s yours to enjoy at half price from 5-7 p.m. each weekday. The food isn’t discounted, but there’s a nice selection of rather hearty tapas in the $6-9 range. The atmosphere has a festive Caribbean island vibe, and the place is almost always hopping.

Red up your Thursday with a half-off wine night
The Firehouse Lounge is known for their awesome, authentic cocktails, but wine lovers will delight in their Thursday Wine Flight special, which offers half-off bottles of wine all day. Visit LivingPittsburgh.com for a list of more half-off wine days around the city.

More sweet deals in the Strip District
>> Free drop-in craft studio for adults and children
>> Free food at Mullaney's Harp & Fiddle happy hour

Cioppino
2350 Railroad St.
412/281-6593
cioppinoofpittsburgh.com

Eleven
1150 Smallman St.
412/201-5656
bigburrito.com/eleven

Kaya
2000 Smallman St.
412/261-6565
bigburrito.com/kaya

Primanti Bros.
46 18th St.
412/263-2142
primantibrothers.com

Wholey’s Fish Market
1711 Penn Ave.
412/391-3737
wholey.com

Artistry
2613 Smallman St.
412/765-2522

Hacienda Furniture Co.
24th and Railroad St. (Cork Factory)
412/904-4477
haciendapgh.com

In The Kitchen
1725 Penn Ave.
412/261-5513
shopinthekitchen.com

Loom Exquisite Textiles
2124 Penn Ave.
412/586-4346
loomshowroom.com

Pittsburgh Public Market
2100 Smallman St.
412/281-4505
pittsburghpublicmarket.org

Next: Best of the 'Burbs >>

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