Pittsburgh favorites part 2: Asian food

You may have noticed that a significant portion of my diet is made up of Asian food, particularly Chinese and Thai. I’ve been pretty pleased with Pittsburgh when it comes to the Asian food scene, especially after the less-than-stellar selection in DC. I’m sure I haven’t been to all of the great Asian restaurants in the Pittsburgh area, but this is a pretty solid list to start with if you live in the city limits. You may ask: Why no sushi? Because I haven’t had any great sushi here, and honestly I was too cheap to try the supposedly great sushi restaurants in the area. Your suggestions are welcome!

Chinese: China Star (Squirrel Hill)

After living in China and cooking with Chinese friends, I have annoyingly high standards when it comes to genuine Chinese food. I can barely bring myself to eat the American style Chinese food anymore. I preferred to cook it myself…until I went to China Star and tried their “alternative” menu. If you don’t look Chinese, the waiter will first hand you the Americanized menu. Ask for the Chinese menu. If you don’t know what any of the stuff is, ask for recommendations. It’s hard to go wrong. Squirrel Hill is overall the best neighborhood to find legit Chinese food, tea and desserts. Just follow the exchange students.

Vietnamese: Tram’s Kitchen (Bloomfield/Garfield)

While there are many deserving Vietnamese places up and down Penn Avenue, my favorite is Tram’s. It’s got a simple selection of soups and noodles, it’s fresh, it’s fast, and it’s in a tiny storefront. If you’re lucky, you’ll even be seated at a tiny table with tiny chairs. Not as tiny as the chairs in Vietnam, but still. Pretty cool. And of course, the pho is fantastic.

Thai: Thai Cuisine (Bloomfield)

This was a hard choice, because I love the shop down the street, Thai Gourmet, nearly as much. But in reality, I find myself going to Thai Cuisine more and craving their noodles, soups and curries more. But in the end, if you live near Bloomfield, you’re a lucky dog. It’s the best Thai food I’ve had outside of Thailand. It’s reliable, it’s affordable, it’s a happy place.

Korean: Tokyo Steakhouse (Bloomfield)

Yes, it’s called Tokyo, and yes, they have sushi, but I’ve never had the sushi. So I’m just going to talk about the Korean food. This is where we go to indulge. We stuff ourselves with grilled beef and chicken. We go crazy over the little side dishes. It’s rarely busy, but it makes me happy that way. I get really tired of the jazzed-up, Americanized Asian grills. You know the ones I’m talking about. This one is different. You cook your meat. There is a little bridge and a pond in the middle of the restaurant. The people who work there are actually Japanese and Korean. There are Japanese businessmen drinking beers in the corner. And the beef. Oh, the beef…

Asian Market: Lotus Food (Strip District)

Pittsburgh really does have a lot of Asian markets all around, from Oakland to the ‘burbs. But Lotus is the king. Sitting on a corner near the end of the Strip District, Lotus is a great source of cheap rice, noodles, and even vegetables. The cilantro at Lotus just tastes better. The bok choy come in all different sizes. The tofu is freshly cooked. The candy and cookie selection is overwhelming. I still haven’t been able to try all the varieties of dumplings and steamed buns that they offer. And the best part: the Chinese employees actually speak Chinese with me! I can only hope that I find a store as great as Lotus in my next city.

Coming next: Pittsburgh Parks


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