The best off-campus restaurants

Lulu's on Craig Street offers up great Chinese food. Try their famous Pad Thai. (credit: Kathryn Kukla | Production Manager) Lulu's on Craig Street offers up great Chinese food. Try their famous Pad Thai. (credit: Kathryn Kukla | Production Manager)

When one thinks of Pittsburgh, one usually doesn’t think of food — except, that is, if you’re me. I am convinced that this city is the hidden jewel in America’s crown of cuisine. From downtown to Squirrel Hill and beyond, the diversity of flavors, ambiance, and prices make this American city a real winner in the world of restaurants.

Only have a few minutes between classes to catch an offcampus
meal? No problem. Craig Street is conveniently located close to campus and is packed with food from France to the hippie-land of Kiva Han. And, with the courage and knowledge to venture farther away (by bus!), plenty of delicious venues are located downtown. Don’t be afraid to wear a napkin as a bib and pick up a fork and knife while exploring the aromas and array of choices available in the offcampus food of Pittsburgh.

My first “real” restaurant experience as a first-year at Carnegie Mellon was during parents’ weekend in October with a delicious three-hour Sunday brunch at Station Square at
The Grand Concourse. At various stations set up within the train station-turned-restaurant, smoked salmon followed by eggs Benedict, unlimited cappuccinos, and a dessert of bananas Foster was enough for me to fall into a delicious food coma wherein my worries about my workload at college were soon forgotten. Call ahead for reservations, as the brunch is only on Sundays and is usually packed.

Speaking of breakfast, I’m not afraid to admit that I am addicted to Pamela’s Diner. Inexpensive, convenientlylocated, and unbelievably delicious, this is the breakfast
go-to for Carnegie Mellon students (and, arguably, the entire population of Pittsburgh). With six branches, including Shadyside, Oakland, and Squirrel Hill, there really is no excuse not to go and try the blueberry and brown sugar pancakes, ham and Swiss omelets, or my personal favorite, the corned beef hash and egg special.

If Americana is not your thing, Crêpes Parisiennes on Craig Street is another option for that hearty fi rst meal of the day. And — ooh la la! — the paper-thin pancakes fi lled with savory meats and cheeses or sweet fl avors like Nutella or jam will satisfy every palette. Be sure to go full out French and order a café au lait or cappuccino to accompany your petit déjeuner.

And while we’re on our international tour of food, Lucca Ristorante, also located on Craig Street, is the best Italian around. Even if it is a bit on the pricey side, it’s the perfect location for a Valentine’s Day date or a way to coax your roommate into letting you have the bottom bunk. Gigantic entrees of pasta smothered in pesto or meaty Bolognese can be followed by traditional Italian desserts like tiramisu or gelato. Call ahead to reserve a spot on the outdoor porch, if the weather permits.

Kiva Han is the third and last restaurant I will recommend on Craig Street. Do not be daunted by the hipster baristas or the insane 45-minute wait you will endure to get your food. Kiva Han is a rite of passage at Carnegie Mellon, and every first-year, in my opinion, should be required to spend at least an afternoon with a hazelnut latte or green tea studying in this hippie haven. “The Hangover Cure” offered on the lunch menu is delicious — a rectangular burrito fi lled with hash browns and eggs and served with a side of hot sauce. The pastries and muffi ns offered as snacks are also a good pickme-up and better than anything you’ll get at that Seattlebased coffee chain across the street. Internet outlets and a study-friendly atmosphere make Kiva Han the best choice for eating well while still experiencing that good ol’ campus community.

For inexpensive late-night meals, a half-price food menu is available at Mad Mex, a short walk from campus in Oakland, from 2 to 4 p.m. on weekdays (except Friday), and every night from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Gigantic burritos, tacos, chilis, nachos, and everything in between are available at this favorite spot. Not only is the food good, but the atmosphere is young and vibrant. Be sure to bring your student I.D. to benefit from all the discounts.

For dessert, no pie beats Gullifty’s. Friday and Saturday nights often feature live jazz, and the crowd is always 90 percent locals, which makes for a friendly and fun atmosphere. The pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and turtle cheesecake are all excellent choices. This spot is also fun for a date or a night out with friends, and because of its late hours, it’s usually packed, so expect a wait unless you want to sit at the bar. If you’ve come during absolute rush hour, Eat n Park is only minutes away and also offers sugary treats, but try Gullifty’s first for a real Pittsburgh experience.

Last but not least, I’m afraid to admit I’ve yet to visit Pittsburgh’s famed Primanti Brothers. As it’s known for its gazillion-calorie sandwiches fi lled with the goodness of French fries, coleslaw, cheese, bacon, and other foods scorned by the American Heart Association, I’ll be sure to make this my next stop for a fast food dinner. Located at 3803 Forbes Avenue in Oakland, the lip-smacking entrees range from $5 to $8 per sandwich and the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and until midnight on Sunday. It’s difficult to narrow down my array of favorite Pittsburgh eateries — The Original Fish Market, Ibiza, and tea time at the Frick Art and Historical Center are all fun food experiences I’ve had in this city. For now, take my word — go out and eat!