If you can’t find something in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, you really should question whether you need it at all. What was once largely a neighborhood of mills and factories, then wholesale warehouses (convenient to both the river and railroad), the Strip District has found new life in recent years, with former warehouses now serving as specialty boutiques, art studios, restaurants, and small grocers. Some of the best shopping, eating, and sightseeing in the Burgh can be found along this roughly half square mile neighborhood between the Allegheny River and Liberty Avenue.
Arrive early for the best parking options and start your visit with the most delicious breakfast in town. I’m partial to Pamela’s (try the chocolate chip banana hotcakes, you won’t be sorry) or Kelly O’s (offering a Pittsburgh version of eggs benedict—with pierogies and Kielbasa), but you can’t go wrong with Café Raymond or DeLuca’s, either. Only want coffee? Stop at Prestogeorge Coffee & Tea, La Prima Espresso Company, or Allegheny Coffee & Tea Exchange for a freshly brewed cup (and be sure to treat yourself to a biscotti or macaroon from Enrico Biscotti Co.).
If you’re coming for groceries (and really, you should be), bring your cooler bags, because you can’t beat the selection, or the quality. Fresh fish from Wholey’s, a Pittsburgh institution. Asian staples from Lotus Food Company (or, at the other end of the Strip, the also excellent WFH Oriental Food Market). Spices from Penzey’s. The tortillas at Reyna Foods are not to be missed—if you’re lucky, they may even still be warm. Sample imported cheeses from Pennsylvania Macaroni Company and take home your favorites. Grab some of the city’s best bread and pepperoni rolls from Mancini’s. Stop at Mon Aimee Chocolat for fabulous gourmet chocolates, and experience the same joy Charlie felt entering Wonka’s factory when you walk through the doors at Grandpa Joe’s.
And that’s only a small fraction of what’s available.
If you’re not too full from snacking on your purchases, stop for lunch at the Smallman Galley, a restaurant incubator featuring four up-and-coming restaurants that change periodically. Relative newcomer Gaucho Parrilla Argentina has proven a popular lunch spot as well, as has family-owned Italian restaurant DiAnoia’s Eatery .
After lunch, those who want to explore non-grocery options have many from which to chose. The Heinz History Center—“the Smithsonian’s home in Pittsburgh”—is a stellar museum in a city known for its exceptional ones—be sure to stop in to get your pickle pin. Or pick up a Steelers shirt from Yinzers, bourbon from Wigle Whiskey, a one-of-a-kind serving bowl from Penn Avenue Pottery, or a gorgeous wreath from Roxanne’s Dried Flowers.
Most of the shops listed above are located on either Smallman Street or Penn Avenue, between 16th and 25th Streets, but if you don’t mind a bit of a walk, favorites like Eide’s Entertainment for comic books and LPs (on Penn near 11th), Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor (on the other end of the Strip, on Penn near 28th), and Salonika Greek Imports (Smallman and 35th, near Lawrenceville) are not to be missed.
For dinner in the Strip, my personal favorites are Big Burrito’s acclaimed Caribbean-inspired Kaya (don’t miss their happy hour), and Penn Avenue Fish Company.
Be aware that many stores keep only daytime hours (most restaurants are open later), and often close early on Sundays. Saturdays can be particularly busy, making parking tough to find, so come early. Some restaurants are closed Mondays.
Expect some areas to be under construction—it’s necessary in what executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Robert Rubinstein, calls the fastest growing neighborhood in the city. The Produce Terminal, a 1920s art deco building that runs along Smallman from 16th to 21st, is one area currently being renovated as part of the Strip District’s ever-evolving nature. When complete, the building will have restaurants and shops (including a market) on the first floor, offices on the upper floors, and will offer parking.
One highly-anticipated construction project is the 21-story glass office tower slated to replace the New Federal Cold Storage Building—the now-empty cement warehouse known for its prominent display of the smiling neon Wholey fish. CBRE, the brokerage firm that will lease the property, has recently begun promoting the project.
If you’re fortunate enough to work in downtown Pittsburgh, the Strip is only a short walk away, and businesses are increasingly recognizing the charms of the area. Both Oxford Realty Services, one of southwestern Pennsylvania’s leading commercial real estate providers, and Serendipity Labs, a nationwide coworking and office space, recently opened locations in the Strip, at 3 Crossings, a 16-acre mixed-use development overlooking the Allegheny River. The location provides easy access to all of the Strip’s excellent restaurants and shops, as well as convenient parking (for cars, bikes, and even kayaks) and access to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.
If you’re planning a trip into Pittsburgh, you’ll be glad to know that the Strip is home to several hotels, including a Homewood Suites, a Hampton Inn & Suites, and an AC Hotel.
Whether you’re new to town or simply a Pittsburgher who hasn’t made a trip to the Strip in a while, it’s worth a stop on a sunny day—or even one of Pittsburgh’s more typically overcast ones. Between the energy and bustle surrounding the neighborhood and its gorgeous view of downtown, it’s a place to lift the hearts of even the most curmudgeonly.
* * *
I know, I know—I missed your favorite place in the Strip! Please post and tell me (and everyone else!) about it. I can’t wait to try it!
Written by: Kim Pierson