Best of the ‘Burgh 2023: Staff Picks

28 of the best things to do, see, eat and drink Pittsburgh on a list you won't find anywhere else.

# 1 Best Annual Event to Run Into Someone You Know

Art All Night

The odds of saying hello to an acquaintance at this jam-packed overnight festival each spring are higher the longer you are there and the closer you live to Lawrenceville. But, y’know, there’s a lot of art to see and it’s kind of loud in this warehouse … let’s hang out sometime soon, OK? Good running into you here! —SF

# 2 Best Accompaniment for Your Cup of Joe

Almond Mele


Almond Mele

If you’re looking for that perfect pastry to pair with your morning coffee, look no further than the almond meles made from scratch at Colangelo’s Bakery & Cafe. These puff pastry turnovers (pronounced maylay) can be filled with apricot, raspberry, cherry, apple, blueberry and nutella, but it’s the almond pastry that makes the superb combo (especially with La Prima Espresso coffee from next door). The tiny cafe was opened as Il Piccolo Forno by Antonio Branduzzi, who made the Italian pastries and pastas of his native Lucca, Italy. After he died in 2007, the Colangelo family continued this tradition. —VL

Strip District: 207 21st St. •

# 3 Best Yinzer Picnic Fare

Battleship to Go

Grab a Battleship hoagie from Triangle Bar in Swissvale with your sweetie (and maybe even some adult slushies), then head to one of the region’s many parks and pick a bench or table to enjoy a summer afternoon or evening of people- and deer-watching. —SF

Swissvale: 2122 Monongahela Ave. •

# 4 Best Cowboy

Cowpoke Jul23


Cowpoke Paul

In urban storefronts and makeshift arenas, pro-wrestling fans go crazy for a 22-year-old cowboy. Cowpoke Paul, an up-and-coming grappler, enters the ring to John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” wearing a 10-gallon hat and twirling a lasso (which, at one point or another, will probably be used to ensnare his opponent). The native of Cumberland, Maryland, has become a fan favorite at promotions including Uniontown-based Ryse Wrestling and New Kensington’s 880 Wrestling; he says that the Cowpoke character is “just an extension of myself — being goofy and having a little fun.” —SC

Instagram: @cowpokepaul

# 5 Best Secret Library

Little Library


Little Free Adventure Library

A book cabinet recently appeared in the woods off the Braddock Trail in Frick Park near the Parkway East. The cobalt-blue cabinet, bolted to a remnant of a concrete wall, offers a collection of travel and outdoor-themed books and magazines, such as “Walking in Switzerland,” “The Worst Journey in the World” and “Desert Solitaire.” Take a few, leave a few. You get extra points if you can find it. —VL

Regent Square, in Frick Park

#6 Best Overlooked View of Downtown

Fineview Overlook


Fineview Overlook

It was atop Catoma Street in Fineview that Jennifer Beals’ character began her descent into Downtown in the opening credits of “Flashdance” in 1983. About 20 years later, the city renovated the Fineview Overlook on the other end of the block, creating a spectacular spot to view the city’s skyline. It doesn’t get the attention of Mount Washington’s observation decks, but it should. Even more fun: The rectangular park is designed in the shape of a giant exclamation point, with the “period” a round, paved area to take in the view. —VL

Fineview: 308 Catoma St.

# 7 Best Place to Get DIY Advice for Car Repairs

Mccandless Auto Parts Cook


McCandless Auto Parts

I’m not an auto mechanic and don’t pretend to be. But the staff at McCandless Auto Parts has over the years taught me, and eventually my sons, how to save substantial sums by performing routine maintenance ourselves. We’ve tackled brakes, coolant flushes, oil changes and more thanks to the staff’s patient advice. They even lend us hard-to-find tools at no charge. They are old school in the best possible way, offering a level of customer service that is increasingly hard to find. —RC

McCandless: 9120 Perry Highway •

Best Exotic Furniture for Non-Exotic Prices




With gorgeous pieces fashioned in India, Indonesia and Thailand, the folks at Nadeau are on a mission to inspire you to look past the traditional. Featuring imported woods such as chamcha, mango, batu and teak, you’ll find one-of-a-kind tables, dressers and cabinets here, all at direct-to-consumer prices. Every square inch of the store deserves a look, as you’ll also find statuary, religious ceremonial objects, rugs, pillows, wall hangings, antiques and more tucked into shelves and corners. This isn’t your grandmother’s furniture. —HB

Ross: 7203 McKnight Road •

#9 Best Place For a Solo Sunday Beer



Hop Farm

There’s something about a lazy Sunday afternoon that makes good beer taste even better. Hop Farm Brewing Company has next-level pub fare and a balanced tap list with high-ABV dessert stouts and hazy IPAs to crushable lagers and Belgian wits. Depending on my mood and the weather, I can either lone-wolf it in the warehouse, sit at a sidewalk picnic table or belly up to the bar. I usually opt for the bar, where I’ve met some of the most interesting people in Pittsburgh, Hop Farm employees included. —KL

Lawrenceville: 5601 Butler St. •

# 10 Best Place to Visit Sea Creatures on Dry Land



Octopus Garden

The first hint that you’re coming upon something curious is the road sign reading “CAUTION: Tomatoes.” Around the corner you’ll find colorful sculptures of Octavia the octopus and Doris the sea monster nestled in the whimsical Octopus Garden that delights kids and adults alike. Octavia, part of a temporary art installation donated after the Three Rivers Arts Festival in 2009, got some necessary TLC in 2016 after an Indiegogo campaign raised more than $12,000 to rebuild and weatherproof her. Now she’s here to enchant the community for years to come. —VL

Friendship: 133 S. Aiken Ave. •

# 11 Best Custom Engagement Ring For Less

Skelton Jewelry


Skelton Jewelry

“It’s not about the stone, it’s about the feeling,” says Samantha Skelton, whose Lawrenceville shop has been creating unique, often-custom designs since 2016. Up to 80% of her customers are seeking bridal-related pieces, and while she does work with higher-end stones and metals, Skelton often sits down with a couple to create rings in the $4,000-$6,000 range. “I think part of the value of what I do is being able to listen … people are coming to me for the experience of creating something one-of-a-kind, something unique and special.” —MS

Lawrenceville: 4049 Penn Ave. •

# 12 Best Way to Spend a Summer Thursday Night



Zelienople Open Air Market

Fridays are fun and all, but it’s hard to beat a Thursday in Zelienople during the warmer weather. Since it debuted in 2020 as a way to support local businesses while still keeping things socially distant, the Zelienople Open Air Market continues to entertain locals and visitors alike. From May through October, you’ll find crowds of people, handcrafted cocktails or beers in hand, exploring the businesses and outdoor artisan vendors that line Main Street. Oh, and there’s also food, live music and a kids activity area. See you there? —JS

# 13 Best Place to See Bald Eagles While Dining



North Park

For several years, various bald eagles have made Marshall Lake in North Park their home, and you’ll get occasional sightings of them from the deck of the popular OTB Bicycle Cafe at the North Park Boathouse. Lady Liberty and Freedom (named by the amateur photographers who follow them) are the current lake residents; they recently claimed a heron’s nest, possibly to raise a family. —VL

Allison Park: 10301 Pearce Mill Road

# 14 Best Way to Get Your Dog Dog-Tired

Doggy Dip


Labor Day Swims

It’s Fido’s favorite day of the year. Each Labor Day, some communities open up their public pools for a doggie swim before they’re drained for the season. Pooches in the Pool is offered at Allegheny County pools in Boyce, North, South and Settlers Cabin parks. The Dormont Pool along Banksville Road offers Doggie Dip. Both operations charge fees for the plunge. Make sure Fido’s vaccinations are up to date. —VL •

# 15 Best Free Behind-The-Scenes Experience



Powdermill Avian Research Center

Did you know that Powdermill Avian Research Center in Westmoreland County runs the longest-running bird-banding program in the U.S. and has banded more than 800,000 birds since 1961? You can get an up-close look at this process during migration seasons at free open houses and learn what data they gather on the birds. You can also visit the flight tunnel and learn about the research underway on how to reduce bird-window collisions. Powdermill is part of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. —VL

Rector: 1795 Route 381 •

#16 Best Local Weirdo

Weird Paul

Weird Paul

California has Weird Al. Pittsburgh has Weird Paul. Musician Paul Petrosky was making ridiculous videos before there was an internet — we’re talking VHS era — and he’s still going strong on modern-day social media. The song “I Got Drunk At Chuck E. Cheese” is a personal favorite. The guy’s a renegade in a bowl cut. A yinzer Emo Philips. A force of nature doing unnatural things. His brand of weirdness is just what this weary world needs. —KL

Instagram: @weirdpaulp

# 17 “Breast” Way to Talk About Cancer


Cara Sapida’s “Not the Breast Year of My Life”

In the last three years, 41-year-old WPXI-TV reporter Cara Sapida has navigated a global pandemic, a divorce and a double mastectomy for an aggressive form of breast cancer — all while caring for her two young children. Her memoir, “Not the Breast Year of My Life: Finding Hope and Resilience After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis,” goes beyond the pink ribbon to take an unfiltered look at the challenges and triumphs of a cancer diagnosis. When it debuted in April, the book became an overnight Amazon bestseller in the breast-cancer category. “By sharing my story, I hope I can offer something I’d been desperately searching for after my breast cancer diagnosis: hope,” Sapida wrote. —JS

Instagram: @carasapida

# 18 Best Gluten-Free Bakery

Baked True North

This 100% gluten-friendly bakery delivers the goods. Whether you’re looking for English muffins for breakfast or a treat (or five) to satisfy that sweet tooth, they will not disappoint. We highly recommend the lemon bars; the zesty lemon filling is a refreshing treat any time of the day. Their scones are also a must try. Baked True North even has gluten-free options that can be modified for vegans. —DB

McCandless: 1137 Perry Highway •

# 19 Best Place for Puppies to Paw-ty

Hounds Town


Hounds Town

From St. Patrick’s Day to Prom Day to Valentine’s Day, there’s always four-legged, holiday fun to be had at Hounds Town in the Strip District. Past activities have included photo shoots, paw-rades, costumes and arts-and-crafts sessions. At the last Harry Pawter Party, each dog was sorted into its Hogwarts house by the magical Sorting Hat. The facility is designed as a miniature town for dogs, featuring a barber shop, a cinema, a firehouse and more. The photo shoots on the Hounds Town Instagram page are not to be missed. —HB

Strip District: 3228 Penn Ave. •

#20 Best Movie Theater For Catching a Summer Blockbuster

Chartiers Valley Luxury 14

Whether it’s the highly polished seventh installment of “Mission: Impossible” or the debut of “Blue Beetle,” there’s something about sitting back in a reclining movie theater seat and letting the mayhem wash over you. If you want your hair blown back by the action on screen, the Phoenix Theatres Chartiers Valley Luxury 14 in Bridgeville delivers. In addition to its seriously comfortable seats and beer and wine at the bar, the theater offers a Sunday-night series of classic hits for film lovers. —MS

Bridgeville: 1025 Washington Pike •

#21 Best Chance to Test Your Obscure Knowledge



Buzz Worthy Pub Trivia

Pop quiz, hotshot! Glenshaw-based Buzz Worthy Pub Trivia holds free, spirited contests every night of the week at 65 locations throughout the Pittsburgh area and as far north as Erie. Cassie Roach and Rebecka O’Brien met at Pitt in 2010 and by 2013 were hosting events for smartypants at Hough’s Taproom in Greenfield. “Some people get pretty cut-throat,” says Roach. Trivia hosts — apply online, they’re always looking — have the final word. No matter where you go, “you get the same Buzzworthy experience, but it’s fun to see the different hosts’ personalities come through,” says O’Brien. —MS

#22 Best Place to Find Unexpectedly Good Food

Marshall’s Cigar

The Shell station/cigar shop/convenience store/take-out joint on Spring Garden Avenue has the best Reuben in Pittsburgh — and I’m not just blowing smoke! Marshall’s Cigar is a tiny, family-run empire that’s been doling out deliciousness since 1975 (let’s hope their BBQ business makes a comeback). Breakfast is served all day. Reubens are my favorite sandwich and the house speciality. You get half-a-cow’s-worth of lean corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing on Mancini’s seeded rye. Although one half (hell, one bite!) is enough to fill your tank, spring for the whole thing. Eating ridiculous sandwiches is the only way gridlocked Pittsburghers can live life in the fast lane. —KL

Spring Garden: 1520 Spring Garden Ave.

# 23 Best Bar You Can’t (Usually) Visit



Storyville Lounge

There are plenty of wonders to be found at Dr. Tumblety’s Time-Inspired Specialty Shop, a unique Allentown storefront offering spooky and strange apparel and more. The biggest surprise, however, is hiding beyond a bookshelf; push on the right volume and you’ll find yourself in the Storyville Lounge, a speakeasy-style bar and event space. The space is the future tasting room for the forthcoming Inspired by Spirits Distillery, so for now, you’ll have to wait for a special event to visit the New Orleans-style haunt. Follow Dr. Tumblety’s on Facebook to find out when the bookshelf will swing open next. —SC

Allentown: 753 E. Warrington Ave. •

#24 Best Indulgent Yet Inexpensive Lunch

Flavor of Puerto Rico

Every now and then, it hits: It’s the middle of the day, you’ve already had enough of the grind and all you want is a big meal and maybe a nap. Head to Flavor of Puerto Rico on Brownsville Road in Mt. Oliver to fill up without emptying your wallet. Our preference is the steak with onions and rice, a perfectly seasoned and filling dish that’ll become a staple if you live in the vicinity. The dish is only $7; pair it with an empanada for $3 or a side of sweet plantains for $4 and you’ll have a lunchtime feast. You might just skip dinner — or come back for more, like the slow-roasted pork shoulder. —SC

Mt. Oliver: 160 Brownsville Road •

# 25 Best Way to Have a Slumber Party



Fairtyale Forts

Forget sleeping on the floor of your friend’s bedroom. These days, slumber parties are all about creating an “experience” with custom tents (themes range from Harry Potter to Boho Glam to Spider-Man), such as the ones provided by Hampton-based Fairytale Forts. Owner Shanna Struble arrives at the sleepover location several hours before the event to set up the tents, which include an air mattress, tray, pillow and lantern. She returns the following day to deconstruct them. Easy peasy! Adults can also have their sleepover dreams realized: The company offers an oversized glamping tent — with all the same accouterments — where you and your friends can have some big-kid fun. —JS

# 26 Best Place to Get Fido Into Vinyl

The Government Center

There are a number of great record stores in the city, but only one (that we know of) has a bowl of dog treats waiting at the register. The Government Center is both a massive repository of new and used vinyl and a dog-friendly hangout. An espresso bar is open daily, and live shows from local favorites and under-the-radar touring acts fill the schedule at night (although the concerts might be a bit loud for your canine companions). We can’t guarantee that your pooch will become an audiophile, but we bet he’ll enjoy sniffing the other customers — and accepting that Milk-Bone at the counter. —SC

North Side: 715 East St. •

#27 Best Way to Feel Like You’re in Washington D.C. (Without Having to Endure the Beltway)



Pittsburgh Sakura Project

If you’re hankering to see the Capital City’s famous cherry blossoms but hate the thought of driving in D.C. traffic, there’s an alternate, no-less-stunning way to take in the flora. More than a decade ago, the nonprofit Pittsburgh Sakura Project began planting a variety of cherry blossoms around Marshall Lake at North Park. Every spring, the trees, more than 200 of them, bloom — turning the grounds into an ethereal pink dream. If you’re planning a trip: The trees usually bloom around the end of April, and blossoms can sometimes last for up to a month. —JS

# 28 Best Local Business Mascot That Looks Like Spongebob Squarepants


Colker Janitorial Supplies

Everytime I go to the Strip, I think about Bikini Bottom, where the cartoon character “SpongeBob SquarePants” lives in a pineapple under the sea. Colker Janitorial Supplies, a family-owned business on Penn Avenue that’s been around since 1974, has the original absorbent, yellow and porous mascot gracing the front of their building (a work of art by Dave Klug). C.C. the Sea Sponge is adorable in his Chuck Taylors and jaunty hat. The best part? He’s mercifully silent! As the mother of a messy, 13-year-old SpongeBob superfan, this tide-y dude is my hero. —KL

Strip District: 2618 Penn Ave.

Categories: Best of the ‘Burgh, From the Magazine