Hotspots: Where We're Eating in March

In addition to a green beer or six, we're also celebrating St. Patrick's Day with a Guinness-Stout cupcake from Sugar Cafe.

Photo by Laura Petrilla

Sugar Café
Gently heating Guinness beer with butter and adding it to classic chocolate batter probably isn’t a trick you’ve tried at home. Thank goodness Sugar Café has. The result is this rich, moist Guinness-Stout cupcake with subtle hints of malt and deep espresso flavor. What’s more, it’s topped with espresso-stout buttercream frosting. Who said St. Patrick’s Day is just about having a pint?

1517 Potomac Ave., Dormont; 412/341-1090,

Smoke bbq taqueria
We adore Smoke’s succulent chorizo and brisket (smoked on-site), and homemade flour tortillas created daily by co-owners Jeff Petruso and Nelda Carranco. Navigating the newly expanded menu, it’s nearly impossible to pick out an item that’s not homemade — from the silky avocado cream to the mouthwatering apricot-habanero sauce that tops the pulled-pork taco. Their growing business is split equally between bountiful takeout orders and visitors to the tiny dining room. We highly recommend stopping in for the funky décor and friendly service. — Dave Robbins

225 E. 8th Ave., Homestead; 412/205-3039

Groceria Italiana
This much-loved corner shop, located in an ethnic neighborhood, is a treasure-trove of cheap takeout — there are great daytime deals during lunch and delicious frozen pastas to bring home for dinner. For mid-day munching, try the huge pepperoni roll, which can be yours for $4 and some change. The hefty roll features fluffy, freshly baked dough stuffed with spicy pepperoni and melted Mozzarella and provolone cheeses. Want to try something else? There are plenty of other favorites offered on a rotating basis. — Kate Chynoweth

237 Cedarville St., Bloomfield; 412/681-1227,

Osteria 2350
This casual eatery dishes out simple Italian fare that can be enjoyed anytime (especially as takeout). You can order massive homemade meatballs (basically the size of your fist), covered in marinara sauce and cheese for just $2.50 each. Or a fresh arugula salad topped with Gorgonzola, roasted red peppers and balsamic vinaigrette for three bucks. Even the pasta entrées, which feature noodles from Fede’s, won’t break the bank. In the mood for riccolina, rigatoni or maybe some cavatelli? Good news: it’s all here. — Kristina Martin

2350 Railroad St., Strip District; 412/281-6595,

Pi Coal Fired
Despite its nightclub atmosphere, the tasty pizzas that are served at this new South Side joint are (dare we say it) pretty close to authentic Italian creations. The thin-crust pies are appropriately sized (perfect for devouring on your own) and have a distinct coal-fired flavor. We dig the salsiccia — which features San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh Mozzarella, spinach and bits of zesty Italian sausage — and the anything-but-ordinary pepperoni pizza, which receives an added kick from roasted red peppers. — K.M.

1707 E. Carson St., South Side; 412/431-5095,

Shawn Carlson, Exective Chef, Café Phipps

Favorite root vegetable?
I like salsify, which is a starchy white root. If you peel it and fry it until it’s crispy, it adds a really nice crunch to salads.  

Soup or sandwich?
Depends on the weather. If it’s cold, I like butternut-squash soup made with cream; it fills you up and it’s delicious. If it’s warm, I go for a BLT.  

Favorite vegan product?
I like to use seitan because it has a very firm texture. For the Café Phipps menu, I created a wrap that combines it with homemade fig marmalade and goat cheese.  

Size of cookbook collection?
Small but quality. I especially like the cookbooks I have by Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert and Marco Pierre White.   

Favorite Pittsburgh-centric dish?
I always like the halupki that my Grandma makes — minced meat and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves, baked in the oven with savory tomato sauce.

Café Phipps, One Schenley Park, Oakland; 412/622-6914,

Categories: Eat + Drink Features, Hot Reads