The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

pittsburgh restaurants, toddler-friendly

Restaurants in Pittsburgh are generally pretty bad, but there are a few that defy that tendency. So the wife and I--restaurant people both, having lived in blue-state kinda places like LA, NYC, Portland, Minneapolis, Austin, etc., where the restaurant standards are high--were brainstorming the other day about good restaurants--those to which we could take out of towners without feeling like we had to tender explanations ("um, yes, the french fries and cole slaw go on the sandwich; yes the french fries also go on the salad"). We came up with a partial list, and as we have a toddler we categorize everything by how toddler-friendly it is:

Point Brugges in Point Breeze: very good Belgian food including mussels and crispy fries, slow service.

Enrico's in the Strip: great Italian food, but only open Saturdays and there are very few, very small tables.

Old Europe on the South Side: heavy Eastern European food; pretty fast service, big tables, fishtank for entertainment.

Tram's Kitchen in Friendship/Garfield: the best pho in town, little English spoken (although I think Mr Le speaks fluent
French as well as, of course, Vietnamese), owner who is very charming with little kids.

Green Mango in Edgewood: takeout only, but good Thai.

Typhoon in Shadyside: fancy nouveau Thai. I wouldn't take the boy.

Trilogy: excellent downtown restaurant, but probably not kid-friendly.

The Church brewpub in Bloomfield/Friendship: nice big room (room? it's a deconsecrated church!), fantastic pizza, pretty good beer. Quick service. With a toddler, get the corner booth tables. Under no circumstances order the vegetarian wrap.

Abay in East Liberty: adequate Ethiopian. Fresh-tasting but with almost no spice. Makes me wonder how one can get the fare authentic-ized. But the remarkably mild food is quite amenable to toddlers.

Kassab's on the South Side: good Lebanese/Middle Eastern, good for kids.

Cafe du Jour on the South Side: good, creative bistro food. Not a place for a two-year-old.

Cafe Zinho in Shadyside: great little place in a cute corner of Shadyside, across from a tile store. Especially pretty in the summer. "Romantic" place, so not a toddler joint.

La Feria in Shadyside: tiny Peruvian place on Walnut. Excellent ropa vieja. A nice place for a little one unless your little one is barely under control--there are a lot of small, fragile, brightly colored objects within arm's reach.

Hot Metal Grille on the South Side: it tries to be a businessman's lunch place, but I don't think there are enough businessmen in that part of the South Side, so I've never seen it all that crowded. It's good, not great. Manly. Not so kid-friendly.

Sharp Edge in East Liberty/Friendship: a beer-snob bar with pretty damn good food--Belgian-influenced. Why are two of the best restaurants in this town Belgian?

What's missing here? Mexican. There's no Mexican I'd recommend in Pittsburgh. The Taco Loco, late of 17th and Carson and now relocated, had pretty good tacos (chilango style) but was quite overpriced--to the degree that we just didn't go back. There was a taqueria on Murray Ave. in Squirrel Hill, that was good, but just overpriced enough that we haven't gone back. (We've stopped going out to eat in Squirrel Hill after realizing that everything--Cucina Flegrea, Mineo's, Pamela's, etc.--is okay but not as good as it probably should be.) Cozumel in Shadyside was much like El Coyote on Beverly in Los Angeles: that's all I'm going to say. There was a place--El Campesino maybe it's called?--with several locations, the one in Monroeville was the one we hit--that was also pretty below average. La Fiesta in Oakland is probably the best, but the regular menu items are unremarkable; the only reason I know they can perform is that I went to a function there geared at Spanish speakers and the food was extremely good. I know there's a place downtown but I haven't tried it yet. And I'm not going to bother with Mad Mex.

Because of this--not exclusively because of this, but in surprisingly large part of this--we are out of town this coming week for ten days in Guanajuato, Mexico. I sometimes lull myself to sleep thinking about it... chilaquiles, tamales, tacos al pastor, tortas de quesillo, jalapeƱos y zanahorias en escabeche, micheladas, sangrita, helado de tamarindo... unfortunately I won't have access to the world's greatest tacos al pastor, which are only served at one of two small stands outside of the first-class bus station in Oaxaca city, but I'm sure the fine guanajuatenses have good tacos of their own.


  • At 7:29 AM, Blogger Anne said…


    The Fajita Grill, in Shadyside. Used to be out here in Pleasant Hills, then found a place to get bigger.

    Is beloved by two New Mexicans -- me and my Mom, and we're Hard To Please. Sam loves it too, but he's from South Carolina, so though he loves good Mexican food, he doesn't have The Awesome Pedigree of people like Me.

  • At 10:42 AM, Blogger zp said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Nice list of restaurants here. Tram is the daughter of the owner, not the owner. You can read thie tear jerking story here:


  • At 12:49 AM, Blogger Toddler Blogger said…

    Hey great site. Check out my blogs at Toddler Activities, and Toddler Games, Panic Attacks, Panic Disorder. Weight Loss, and Quick Weight Loss I hope you like them!

  • At 10:31 AM, Anonymous jjd said…

    Well, interesting that you say "there are no good places to eat" then list a dozen or so of the easy to find ones.

    That being said, Lucca on Craig has pricey but nice offerings.

    Nice Thai in Squirrel Hill too.

  • At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'd give Mi Mexico on Murray Ave. a try for Mexican. Dirt cheap and very good.

    Now, put aside your snobbery, accept that you are in Pittsburgh (with a Hispanic population of like 1%) and try Mad Mex. Just don't go in with expectations of authentic Mexican because the food is actually very good for what it is. And our son, 3yo, loves the atmosphere there (Oakland). The staff is great with him too. Go at an off time, like lunch on a Sunday, if you want to go when it is a bit quieter and less smokey. Try a margarita if you can- and if you have someone responsible to drive as they are usually pretty heavy on the alcohol.

    I would add to your list of good restaurants:
    The Cafe at the Frick- excellent lunches and tea. Try the soup of the day. A bit tough for a toddler and they do not have high chairs (bring a stroller or booster seat) but it is do-able with a kid.

    Udipi Cafe in Monroeville- new lunch prices mean that a mom and her kid can split a good portion of food for $6! My son has always loved Indian food. It is spicier than some of the other local Indian restaurants. The Star of India in Oakland is our pick if we want meat; unfortunately parking there is a PIA.

    D's Six Pax and Dogs is great for cheap food and a casual atmosphere.

    Kaya in the Strip District is good for a kid that likes spicy food. (With the exception of of our Soba outings we have always had good experiences with the Big Burrito restaurants.)

    We get out a lot with our 3yo. Many of our standards are on your list too. Sorry you find most of the food in Pgh so disappointing but at least you found a few good ones. I guess I am not so picky- just give me a dozen good restaurants and I am happy.

  • At 3:53 PM, Blogger LisaBe said…

    green mango just opened an eat-in spot on braddock in regent square's business district as well (i found your blog while looking for its menu online). it's good food just like the take-out place, but when we went, shortly after it opened, the service was HORRIBLY slow. we were there for...i don't know...two, two and a half hours? for a simple dinner, no dessert, no appetizers. it was pretty frustrating, enough that we haven't been back. we like square cafe as our neighborhood haunt, so usually just head there or to d's instead for a quick dinner out.

    we've also recently discovered girasole on copeland street in shadyside and like it a lot. kind of afraid to recommend anything to you :-] but we liked it.

    anyway, we're your neighbors ( and it's fun to have found a neighbor's blog! i'll enjoy following it now.

  • At 11:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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