The Food Lovers' Guide to Pittsburgh
We’ve outlined some of the most scrumptious producers and purveyors in the region—from farms to specialty stores and everything in between.
(page 1 of 7)
Demographers may decry the relatively homogenous ethnic makeup of our city, but, fortunately, their woe doesn’t have to extend to our plates. The Steel City’s large grocery stores are getting better every year, stocking more and more products from around the world. But if you have extra time (or you’re looking for something extra special), seek out one of these neighborhood ethnic groceries. You’re likely to find a wider selection, lower prices and a neighbor behind the counter.
The find: Huge selection of Indian produce
The largest Indian grocery chain in the country, Patel Brothers now has 35 stores nationwide, including its Monroeville outlet. The produce selection is larger than many other Indian groceries, with universal basics like onions and potatoes next to more Asian-centric offerings—from chili peppers and curry leaves to spiky gourds and turmeric root. Wander down the wide aisles to find fragrant spices by the pound, legumes in almost every color and jar after jar of pickles, chutneys and sauces. Patel Brothers stocks dairy staples like ghee, yogurt and paneer, the farmer-style cheese used in many vegetarian dishes. Frozen and fresh breads from across the Indian subcontinent—paratha, chapati, roti and naan—are accompanied by a vast catalog of rice, wheat and bean flours for making them yourself.
4145 William Penn Highway, Monroeville; patelbros.com
More Indian groceries
Kohli’s Indian Imports
319 S. Craig St., Oakland
Bombay Food Market
4605 Centre Ave., Oakland
Kohli’s Indian Emporium
3013 Banksville Road, Dormont
Pennsylvania Macaroni Co.
The find: Pittsburgh’s largest and best-priced cheese selections
When discussing Penn Mac, you could talk about the deli counter, where you can get imported prosciutto, pancetta, sopressata and rare roast-beef cold cuts. You could talk about the aisle with the huge cans of imported olive oils or the giant bags of semolina flour. But what you’re probably going to talk about is the cheese. Penn Mac stocks more than 400 cheeses from around the world, offering some of Pittsburgh’s lowest prices. And while you can certainly walk up to the counter knowing exactly what you want, it’s even more fun to let one of Penn Mac’s supremely knowledgeable cheesemongers be your guide (and maybe call you “Dearheart”). Tell them what you like—for instance, “I’m in the market for a creamy raw-milk blue.”—and they’ll choose just the cheese for you, plus several more for a well-rounded cheese plate that will wow any guest.
2010-2012 Penn Ave., Strip District; pennmac.com
The find: Freshly made tofu
On any given Saturday morning, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a busier, better-stocked Asian grocery in Pittsburgh, where the high volume means there’s plenty of product turnover. On the fresh side, Lotus Foods stocks hard-to-find produce common in Asian recipes, like baby bok choy, whole bamboo shoots, thin Japanese eggplant and enoki mushrooms. Freshly made tofu is a particular draw for Pittsburghers of Asian descent, with its silky, soft texture and rock-bottom price of 30 cents per block. The front of the store is bursting with a near-infinite selection of bottled and tinned kitchen staples like tamari (gluten-free soy sauce), fish sauces, red and green Thai curry pastes, and rice cooking wines and vinegars. Centrally located, you’ll find rice, wheat and buckwheat noodles; packaged foods; sweets; and, of course, vacuum-sealed packages of spindly dried squid (which can be delicious).
1649 Penn Ave., Strip District
More Asian groceries
Pittsburgh Asian Center
705-709 Penn Ave., Wilkinsburg
4770 McKnight Road, Ross Township
The find: Hand-stuffed ravioli
Take a detour off Bloomfield’s main drag to this diminutive corner grocery to satisfy your craving for fresh pasta. Gloria Mazzotta hand-stuffed the heavenly ravioli at Groceria Italiana from 1983 to earlier this fall; since then, other employees have taken the reins. Fillings range from best-seller cheese to more adventurous pockets stuffed with artichokes and Gorgonzola or prosciutto. Additional fresh pasta selections include plain-egg noodles, flavored linguini and full sheets that can be cut to fit your pan if you call in advance. Beyond the fresh pasta, Groceria Italiana offers a hot-food bar, featuring made-from-scratch goodies, like pepperoni rolls and soups simmered in homemade stocks—all prepared in the grocery’s downstairs kitchen. There are full pans of ready-to-eat tiramisu, house-stuffed sausages and all of the Italian grocery staples you might need.
237 Cedarville St., Bloomfield
Located on Cedarville Street, one block off bustling Liberty Avenue, Groceria Italiana has been a mainstay of homemade and imported Italian foods since 1958.
The find: Fresh tortillas
In the back corner of Reyna’s, a Willy-Wonka-esque contraption of rollers, conveyor belts and heated spirals turns out the tortillas that envelope tacos at restaurants like Kaya, Mad Mex and Yo Rita. At Reyna’s, toasty, just-made tortillas are stacked in steamy bags at the front door, but do yourself a favor and walk all the way inside. You’ll find everything necessary for a delicious Mexican meal. Top your tortillas with Pittsburgh’s own Cinco de Mayo Salsa, or create your own sauce from the generous selection of fresh and dried chili peppers. Reyna’s also produces traditional tamales—available with carnivorous or vegetarian fillings—and tortilla chips under the Mejico brand. You’ll also find staples like cotija cheese, crema, masa harina and cane-sugar-sweetened Mexican Coke. Outside, grab a freshly made taco filled with your choice of meat (options include chorizo, carnitas and even lengua, aka beef tongue). In 2012, look for the Tortilla Factory, a new on-site restaurant that will offer diners the chance to watch tortillas being made moments before landing on their plate.
2031 Penn Ave., Strip District; reynafoods.com
Tortilla maker (and pro boxer!) Hugo Garcia can be observed in action several days a week at Reyna Foods, cranking out warm, fresh tortillas on a Wonka-esque machine.
Young’s Oriental Grocery Store
The find: All types of kimchi
We may be decades away from an H-Mart (the giant Korean grocery in some major U.S. cities), but Pittsburgh’s neighborhood Korean stores pack a surprisingly rich selection. The shelves and cases of Young’s Oriental Grocery Store in lower Squirrel Hill are stocked with Korean staples like fermented chili pastes (gochujang), ready-made sauces for Korean barbecue dishes like bulgogi and frozen dumplings (mandu). When you come in, head straight down the aisle to the large fridge to find a dozen (or more) kinds of kimchi, vegetables fermented in a flavorful brine of ginger, garlic, scallions and chili pepper. The most common cabbage preparations are available in massive two-gallon jars—or try a sampling of different regional specialties in more modest containers. And while Korean ingredients are Young’s focus, the establishment also carries essentials for many kinds of East-Asian cooking as well as basic produce and meats.
5813 Forward Ave., Squirrel Hill
The find: Pita, obviously
If you’ve eaten at a Mediterranean or Middle-Eastern restaurant in Pittsburgh—Ali Baba, Aladdin’s, Kassab’s, Khalil’s, Baba D’s and the list goes on—chances are you’ve already eaten Pitaland’s signature creations. Pitaland is the leading Steel City supplier of Middle-Eastern baked goods and supplies from its Brookline outlet. Bulk bins of bulghur wheat, dried beans and rice line one wall, and shelves are stocked with foundational ingredients like oils, olives, grape leaves and flours. Production happens on the main-level, where up to 3,000 bags of fresh pitas are produced daily. You’ll find large and small, whole wheat and za’atar-crusted pocket breads alongside house-made savory and sweet pastries, including spinach-and-cheese pies and honey-drenched baklava. You can even buy Pitaland’s dough in bulk if you’d like to try your hand at making fresh pitas at home.
620 Brookline Blvd., Brookline; pitaland.com
Tokyo Japanese Food Store
The find: Pittsburgh's widest selection of miso
Tucked into a tiny shopping center on the quiet end of Ellsworth Avenue, Tokyo Japanese Food Store is brimming with goodies for Pittsburgh's shinnichi (aka Japanophiles). Tokyo partners with producers from around the country to stock everything from specialty vegetables (think daikon radish and burdock root) to Japanese-style baked goods. In addition to impressive selections of staples like rice, noodles and soy sauce, you'll also see fish and meats ready for traditional Japanese preparations, an aisle full of sweets and frozen fishcakes and dumplings. In the far corner, you'll find several brands each of red, yellow and white miso, the salty fermented soybean paste that adds instant umami to any dish—Japanese or otherwise. Bento boxes and sushi are available for carryout.
5855 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside; tokyostorepgh.com