Not too long ago, Downtown Pittsburgh was seen as a daytime-only kind of place. You worked there, ate lunch there and then you left. But in the past few years, times have changed. Downtown is still filled to the brim with great lunch cafes and restaurants as a result of the still buzzing diurnal businesses, but it’s also home to tourism, schools, a new grocery store, several art galleries, bars and strips of classy restaurants that might all knock your socks off. And best of all, it’s the epicenter of our public transportation; the T will take you right into town.
What to do? The options are endless, though some stand above the rest, shouting for attention. The Wood Street station in downtown Pittsburgh is approximately 20-25 minutes from the Mt. Lebanon station.
Some places just scream Pittsburgh, and S. W. Randall’s Toyes & Giftes is one of those very special places. For 45 years, this shop has specialized in unique, whimsical, strange, interesting and beautiful gifts and—you guessed it—toys. The walls are stacked and walking inside can be a bit overwhelming in the best kind of way. Bring your kids at your own risk; you might end up needing a suitcase to take all the things they want home. Their downtown location on Smithfield and Strawberry Way also hosts a yo-yo club (remember those?) on the first Saturday of the month between 1 and 3 p.m.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
…for a good cause. The Dream Cream Ice Cream store on Liberty and Fifth isn’t just ridiculously good ice cream with far-fetched flavors, but portions of the sales go to a different cause each month. Individuals apply for their fundraiser, choose which flavors they want, dedicate a few volunteer hours and spread the word among family and friends. At the end of their four weeks, they’re given a check to help finance their dream. The ice cream store has raised money to adopt children, repair buildings and research cures, to name a few causes, and with flavors like movie popcorn, strawberry cheesecake, peanut butter s’mores, apple pie and countless more, it’s tough not to stop by for a scoop or four.
For those more interested in chocolate covered bacon, cake pops and supporting a hometown chocolatier, stopping by Sinful Sweets Chocolate Company on Penn and Ninth is always the right answer. Buy a box or, if you have superhuman self-control, just a bite. Milkshakes, chocolate covered everything (even pierogies!), an impressive fudge collection and that chocolaty smell that will follow you into the street or lure you in before you can stop yourself.
A Bunch of Lunch
If you just want to grab lunch, downtown is the place to do it. For starters, there’s a Mexican hole-in-the-wall named Bea’s Taco Town on Smithfield and Seventh, that’s decently cheap and oh so spicy. Carne asada, chorizo, carnitas and beyond are all made to order and give your taste buds what the chains can’t: authenticity. Bea’s Taco Town is also open on Saturday. For those looking for breakfast in the middle of the work day (or in the morning—they open at 5 a.m.) and have cash on hand (they don’t take plastic), Keystone Café & Deli, on Sixth between Smithfield and Coffey Way, delivers all kinds of AM foods, like bacon and egg on wheat, bagels with cream cheese and English muffin creations as well as a full menu of soups, sandwiches and salads that won’t break the bank or disappoint. For
Primanti’s enthusiasts who want to expand their palates, Peppi’s, on Smithfield and First, serves up epic specialty subs. The Roethlisburgher includes sausage, burger and egg; they make a quintessential cheese steak that customers rave about and classics like turkey and Italian subs. When the going gets tough and you need a serious salad or healthy option, Simple Ingredients will provide and make you question any previous animosity
you might have had for greens. Located on Liberty and Tito Way, there’s no place to sit inside, so grab it to go and park yourself on one of the city’s benches. For workers who can’t get away for too long, even a sad desk lunch doesn’t have to be so sad when any of these meals are coming back to the office with you.
Walk It Off
Become a tourist in your own city and take a walking tour with the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. Every Thursday is a “downtown’s best” guided tour and on Fridays they also offer a free walking tour at noon, which meets in Market Square, in addition to various self-guided walks. Tours cover various parts of the city and docents discuss the way Pittsburgh’s past shaped its current physical shape, architecturally and otherwise. You can also schedule tours of Pittsburgh with Robert Morris University or do one of the various self-guided tours available from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. A tour is a great way to take advantage of our relatively small downtown area and see our familiar streets in a brand new light.
Several art galleries downtown will set you back this much: nada, zip, or zero. The free exhibitions are open on weekends, during your lunch break and sometimes into the evening, during Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s lively gallery crawls. Check out the Wood Street Galleries, just above the Light Rail Transit station (though you’ll need to walk outside) and SPACE down the street. The cultural district often holds other small exhibitions that come and go, so visit the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership’s website for updated information or simply go for a stroll and see what you find.
Wine and Dine
The lights fade, daytime commuters return home and stomachs all over Pittsburgh rumble; it’s dinnertime. But residents now have more reason than ever to stick around after work and visit any of the fantastic, sometimes ritzy restaurants on Penn and Liberty Avenue, and beyond. Butcher and the Rye, Grit & Grace, Meat and Potatoes, Nine on Nine, Seviche, Sienna Mercato and Ten Penny all put up a good fight for the top, serving a variety of great food, specialty cocktails and the buzzing downtown aura Pittsburgh residents have wanted for ages. But it’s a newcomer, located on Sixth across from Heinz Hall, that’s recently had people talking: täko. A higher end, Mexican inspired menu includes food like Mexican corn, grilled octopus tacos, a make-your-own-guacamole option, fish sauce wings, and a sizable cocktail list to prevent you from making your visit a one-time thing. Diners may choose outdoor seating and a front-row view of the kitchen, which you can see from the street, or a traditional indoor dining experience, if you consider a top-notch dining experience “traditional.”
This is the last installment in our “Three More Stops” series. Read the others: