Six Great Casual Meals You Can Find in Pittsburgh For Less Than $17
These dishes are perfect for a quick and delicious meal and offer a good value in these times of soaring inflation. Don’t feel like dining out right now? All but one are terrific for takeaway, too.
Baby Loves Tacos: Carne Asada Burrito
Baby Loves Tacos owner Zach Shell says it took a lot of experimenting to land on the right type and treatment of steak to feel enthusiastic enough to add a carne asada burrito ($11) to his Bloomfield takeout window’s menu. Finally, Shell decided to use flank steak, which is cut into pieces and then sliced on the bias into small chunks. It’s then marinated for 24 hours in a mix of lime zest and juice, fresh garlic, chili, burnt and raw onions, charred tomato and arbol salsa. The beef is seared prior to service and steeped in a mix of its cooking liquid and marinade reduction. It’s tucked into a 12-inch flour tortilla with melted Jack cheese, black beans, avocado, jalapeño, pico de gallo, onions, sour cream and a dash of habanero salsa, resulting in a perfectly satisfying mix of savory, hot, creamy and salty. The burrito is terrific if you’re looking for a meal on the go, and I appreciate how it’ll keep you full for hours yet not so weighed down to send you to nap-town. It’s also my favorite burrito in Pittsburgh right now.
4508 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield; babylovestacospgh.com
Butterjoint: Potato and Leek Soup with Endive Salad
I always look forward to digging into whatever permutation of Butterjoint’s seasonally evolving soup is on the menu at the Oakland restaurant and bar. I love its current offering, potato and leek soup, because it brings all the comfort of eating a baked potato while, spoonful by spoonful, serving as a frigid night body and soul warmer. The soup ($8) has a lovely, smooth viscosity balanced by quarter-inch pieces of crispy bacon, which adds textural contrast as well as meaty smokiness. The hearty bowl is finished with shards of crispy leeks that offer a vegetal boost to the earthy bass notes of the potato. I paired mine with an endive salad ($8), a blend of pleasantly bitter curly endive and radicchio bolstered by candied walnuts, tart Mutsu apple and pungent blue cheese. That meal paired with a n/a cocktail prepared with chestnut tea, honey, orange and lemon juices, cinnamon and soda and a few chapters of a good book made for a perfect winter night.
214 N. Craig St., Oakland; 412/621-2700, butterjoint.com
Badamo’s Pizza: A Slice and a Cut
I’m always torn between ordering a slice from a 16-inch pie or a cut from a Sicilian when I visit at Badamo’s Pizza on the North Side (it also has a location in Mt. Lebanon). The slice ($2) speaks to my New York childhood — the thin crust has just the right amount of leather pull and a little bit of flop to make me feel nostalgic. But the Sicilian ($3), with its crisp base, airy interior and well-ratioed tart sauce to creamy cheese balance atop, hits a sweet, satisfying spot for me, too. So the other day, I did what I do nearly every time I visit this terrific pizza shop: I get one of each instead of choosing one or the other.
1106 Federal St., North Side; 412/231-1001, badamospizza.com
Masala House: Full Meal Lunch Menu
Masala House in Shadyside offers something a little different from the all-you-can-eat steam-table buffets that are commonplace at many of Pittsburgh’s Indian restaurants. Rather, guests get a set menu featuring a rotating selection of specialties such as palak pappu and gongura chicken from the kitchen ($11.99 weekdays; $12.99 weekends). It’s still all you can eat, which is nice, but whenever I visit, everything tastes as it should; some of the longer cooked dishes such as the warmly spiced goat curry are held in warming trays but don’t have that lingering-for-too-long mouthfeel while others such as the smoky, tangy tandoori chicken come straight from the grill when they are ready. It’s table service, too (servers come around frequently with fresh items, and you can also ask when you’re ready for more), which allows for a more relaxed meal. Full vegetarian meals are available, too.
5102 Baum Blvd., Shadyside; 412/586-7655, mymasalahouse.com
Oishii Bento: Chicken Katsu Bento
Oishii Bento, a small Japanese-Korean restaurant in Oakland, offers a variety of bento boxes, as well as an assortment of udon noodle soups. My go-to is the chicken katsu bento ($11) because of the extra-crispy breading encasing the expertly fried cutlet. I also love the sweet-tart fruity flavor of the establishment’s tonkatsu sauce. Oishii Bento’s boxes are a complete meal, rounded out with fluffy rice, stir-fried vegetables including carrots, onions and cabbage and a few slices of pickled daikon (plus a couple of forgettable dumplings). The same family owns Oishii Donburi in Lawrenceville, which also offers an array of terrific choices for a casual meal.
119 Oakland Ave., Oakland; 412/687-3335, oishiibento.com
Two Sisters Vietnamese Kitchen: Tofu Bún
I craved something a light following a long snowy walk the other night. The tofu bún ($15) at Two Sisters Vietnamese in East Liberty fit the bill perfectly. What I got was a giant bowl of thin rice noodles, pan-fried tofu that has a nice skin outside and a velvety interior, shredded carrots and lettuce, crisp cucumber, chopped scallions, herbs such as Thai basil and cilantro and a topping of toasted rice and peanuts. The key here is to blend it all together with the piquant dressing to create dynamically textured and flavored bites. Speaking of texture — there’s a kicker to this dish: It comes with a small vegetarian spring roll, which offers enough satisfying crunch to give it a crispy indulgence.
216 N. Highland Ave., East Liberty; 412/404-2760; instagram.com/twosisters_pgh