Ten years ago, if you wanted to eat outside in Pittsburgh, you practically had to pack a picnic basket. Now it seems like every new place in town—and half of the old ones—offer some sort of outdoor dining and drinking.
Maybe it was the “Paris to Pittsburgh” program for Downtown restaurants—Colcom Foundation-backed grants of up to $30,000 to fix up facades, add tables, awnings and lighting. The recent rebirth of Market Square, after its 2010 makeover, probably helped. Ultimately, though, people love to be outside.
Whatever the reason, if you’re looking to soak up the sun (or the stars) while dining in Pittsburgh, you need to know where to go. Here’s a list of some of the best outdoor dining options in town—the ones you should run to when the summer breeze beckons. We welcome your suggestions in the comments below.
Il Tetto at Sienna Mercato, Downtown. Okay, so all the big cities were doing this already, but here, it’s still a novelty, and this multi-level meatball emporium does it really well. The walls of the adjacent taller buildings give this rooftop bar some shape, and a glass roof and strings of lights give you somewhere to duck in a downpour. This stretch of Penn Avenue has long been one of the most attractive in all of Pittsburgh, and here you can look down on it from above.
Hofbrauhaus, South Side. For a place with so many rivers, it’s a mystery why so few Pittsburgh restaurants seem to use them for anything. (To be fair, they were industrial sewers for 100+ years.) Hofbrauhaus is a major exception, now overlooking the city’s newest marina. Putting an authentic Bavarian beer hall on the water was a smart move, as it turns out. The back deck above the muddy Mon is so nice that the actual food and drink are sort of a bonus, rather than the main event.
Poros, Downtown. Just about every restaurant surrounding Market Square now has tables outside, giving Pittsburgh the pedestrian-friendly piazza it never knew it wanted. To pick just one, the elegant Greek/Mediterranean seafood spot Poros is particularly suited for it. The monolithic, looming black glass of PPG Place has been peeled back a bit at ground level, turning a once-imposing barrier into a permeable portal between inside and out. The dining area is a step above the street, and partially covered, allowing for a nice view of Market Square and the restaurant. It’s not often that you can actually improve upon an architectural icon, but—at street-level at least—this is so much better.
Harris Grill, Shadyside. This is one of the original spots for outdoor drinking and dining, reminiscent of the days when Shadyside was a quasi-bohemian enclave of students, musicians and weirdos (really!). From Harris Grill‘s front patio, it seemed like you could see the whole city parade by—instead of just, you know, rich people. But it’s still the best place to devour baskets of bacon while drunkenly discussing Dostoyevsky, Derrida or the laws of thermodynamics.
Shiloh Grill, Mt. Washington. The Harris Grill’s younger sister is a few blocks away from the tourists on Grandview Street. Shiloh Street has become a pretty lively place on its own, and the Shiloh Grill lets you eat Polish church basement Pierogies, wings and/or “Harris’ Hummus” while watching the parade of nightlife pass by.
Pusadee’s Garden, Lawrenceville. There are quite a few good Thai restaurants in Pittsburgh. This one lets you dine in an actual garden, where a fair amount of what you’ll eat is grown. The foliage surrounding Pusadee’s is so dense with greenery that you’ll forget you’re in one of Lawrenceville’s least picturesque remaining industrial areas. The garden seems intrinsic to the space; the previous tenant, for a long time Pittsburgh’s only Filipino restaurant, used the garden the same way.
Round Corner Cantina, Lawrenceville. The Cantina’s “Cabana” is a strong contender for Pittsburgh’s best back patio. Also, perhaps the city’s premiere place to argue about tacos (who has the best, “most authentic,” etc.)—a contest rapidly overtaking pizza, Pens line changes and the ethics of parking chairs as our favorite thing to argue about. The space is pretty bare bones, with wooden tables lit by strings of tiny lights. But the kitchen serves up Mexican food until midnight on weekends, and there’s often top-shelf DJs spinning records—even though people are mostly there to eat and talk (not dance). A pitcher of sangria on a warm evening sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?