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Coraopolis and Western Hills residents usually pick restaurants closer to home to avoid traffic, parking problems and higher prices. When they do go into Pittsburgh, they usually pick a restaurant along Station Square, Carson Street, The Waterfront, the North Side and Mt. Washington, since those are the easiest to get to. However, Pittsburgh has many outstanding restaurants, well worth the 30 minute drive. We don't have a good Indian, Thai, Spanish, German, Hungarian or Brazilian restaurant anywhere in the West Hills, and Pittsburgh has some of the best in the nation in those categories. So we're big fans of the city's restaurants and like to drive in as often as possible.
|If you want a culinary adventure, you need to meet Alex Jozsa Bodnar. Alex was born and raised in Hungary and became a Freedom Fighter during the Soviet Invasion. Trapped, he escaped across a minefield into Austria, then to England and on to America. After a corporate career, he bought an 1880 hotel & tavern building in the Hazelwood section of Pittsburgh to save it as the entire neighborhood was being demolished. He converted the top floor to his own residence, three middle floors into facilities for making sausage, bread and pasta, and the ground floor into a restaurant. One unlike any you've seen. Most of the ground floor is the kitchen. There's a small lobby and a small dining room with two long tables. Alex serves one party at a time by appointment only (412-422-1886). You are as a guest in his home. With dinner you get his conversation. Alex has also built Jozsa's Corner into the Pittsburgh Center for Hungarian Culture and Resources, which extends to music, dance, folklore, art and history. But Hazlewood has been a neighborhood in decline for decades, and when Alex moved in, his lone building amid blocks of rubble and vacant lots became a target of an urban gang. After several nights of broken windows, gunfire and calls to the police going ignored, he opened his trunk of Hungarian Freedom Fighter equipment and propped himself in a lawn chair on the sidewalk at dusk. When the gang moved in, Alex opened fire with his Soviet machine gun. They carried several gang members off, but he hasn't been bothered once in the 20 years since.|
|Jozsa's Corner is at Hazlewood and Second Avenues, the only building standing on the 4800 block. From Coraopolis, drive up Neville and McKees Rocks, cross the Fort Pitt Bridge and follow I-379 (Parkway East) to the Homestead/Squirrel Hill Exit. Take Beechwood Avenue up the hill, turn right on Hazlewood, go to the top of the hill and down the other side to the restaurant on your left along the railroad tracks. Jozsa's has no menu. You eat what Alex fixes. You need four for a reservation, and you'll pay about $20 each. But it will be a feast, and the food is wonderful. Every item is made from scratch on site that day. You start with Langos, a fire bread made from special dough, quick dipped in hot oil until crispy golden brown, topped with garlic salt, spices and grated cheese. With it comes a tray of cheese and various vegetable sticks. Soup includes fresh vegetables and beef, chicken, or pork. Salad usually includes Marinated Red Cabbage and Onions. The Warmup Entree is Noodles & Mushrooms, a delicious concoction which in any other restaurant would be an award winner. The two main courses are usually Transylvania Gulyas (Goulash) and Chicken Paprikas. The Gulyas is the star of the show. There's not an item on a menu anywhere in America which beats Alex's Gulyas. His Sauerkraut is milder and sweeter than the German version and the pork is slow cooked all day until it falls apart in your mouth. The noodles in the Paprikas are superb, made upstairs just that afternoon. There's Braided Bread; refills on any bowl you empty, and dessert chosen from Nut Rolls, Apricot Rolls, Kiflis or Palacsinta. Alex does not have a liquor license so you need to bring a bottle of your favorite wine. With only one party at a time and him being the only employee, dishwashing is a problem. To solve it, he serves on paper plates. So you get food fit for a king served picnic style. Jozsa's Corner is cash only. If you're into ethnic cuisine, this eccentric little place is an absolute must.|
|If you take in a Pirate game, while you're on the Northside, you should go early (for a night game) or stay late (after an afternoon game) and eat at Max's Allegheny Tavern. It's on Suissmon Street, a long walk or short drive from the stadium. (Find East Ohio Street, follow it north (upriver) toward Etna, turn left on Middle Street, and left on Suissmon.) Max's is a treasure that goes all the way back to the 1800s, before Old Allegheny was part of Pittsburgh. Max's doesn't look too impressive from the outside---this is the original 1800s location---but inside the place is a wonderland of polished wood. The bar is the most impressive in Pittsburgh. The solid oak icebox has been keeping fine German beers cold since 1891. The cast iron stove and brass and stained glass chandaliers trace back to when this neighborhood was called Dutchtown. This was actually the original Max & Erma's. The national chain took the name, became famous, then sued this restaurant to make them remove the Erma's. They did, but kept the authentic German food. There are sausages, schnitzels, cabbages, spatzle, dumplings, sauerkrauts and potato pancakes. If you go, at least one of your party MUST order the Hasenpfeffer (braised rabbit in spicy pepper sauce) and somebody else has to order the Ghoulash. The German Potato Side has the great mustard bite you expect. Don't overdo it, because you have to leave room for Strudel, Pittsburgh's most famous dessert for 150 years. As a matter of fact, it would be worth stopping in after a game just for the Strudel. Max's offers some very good German wines, but of course the pride and joy of any good German restaurant is its beers. Max's has an impressive array of German beers. Our beer conneisseur, who runs the American Beer Museum, says the dark varieties are Max's best.|
|Mallorca's is the second best Spanish / Portugese restaurant in the U.S, surpassed only by the Lobster Pot in Provincetown out on Cape Cod. But no wonder : the owner and chef are from Portugal and the manager from Spain. Mallorca's is on Carson Street, a red brick building on your right across from the Birmingham Bridge, half a block past South 22nd Street, as you drive toward Kennywood from Station Square. It's been here since 1992. You can eat either inside or out in the courtyard (to the right in the photo at left). Mallorca's has great soups, salads, desserts, fish items and wines, but what they're famous for is their Paella, the national dish of Spain, a saffron seasoned mix of seafood and rice. Our favorite version, Paella Velencia, mixes seafood, chicken and Spanish sausage. When it's available, the Flounder is great. In the Summer, you might try the cold vegetable gazpacho soup. Portions are huge and the food is delicious. They use only olive oil --- no butter. If you're just not a seafood fan, they have excellent veal, chicken and prime rib dishes. Wine Spectator Magazine gives Mallorca's its Award of Excellence for its collection of 300 kinds of wine, mostly Spanish, Portugese and French.|
|Mitchell's Seafood is on The Waterfront. Mitchell's does a great job with seafood considering its location 500 miles from saltwater. They fly everything in fresh everyday from the Chesapeake, Cape Cod, and the Gulf. The menu changes daily. If they have the seafood gumbo, order a cup for an appetizer. If the Georges Bank Scallops or Blue Crab are in, order one for your main course.They fix the scallops with spinach, mushrooms, potatoes and sea salt, and the crab with a simple alfredo sauce. If those are unavailable, try the Chilean Sea Bass or Yellowfin Tuna with stir fry vegetables. We especially like their Combo Platter, which includes shrimp, scallops, cod, fries, hush puppies and coleslaw. We spend a lot of time on the coast, and eat at a lot of seafood restaurants, and this is one of the best. The atmosphere is quiet and relaxing after a hard day at Kennywood : polished wood, soft red leather, glass, and, if you prefer, the patio overlooking the river with plenty of trees. The wine list leans heavily toward whites.|
|Bravo Italian Kitchen (Waterfront) is offers 21st Century Northern Italian cooking. Kids love the Wood Grilled Chicken Pizza with seared peppers, basil, tomatoes, mozzarella and feta cheese. Mama's Lasagna Bolognese has three thick layers and drowns in meat sauce. The best entree is Twin Filets Scampi, topped with shrimp, asparagus, mashed potatoes and scampi butter. Among salads, we like Insalata Mista, a pile of field greens, bacon, tomatoes, gorgonzo and balsam. The Caesar dressing is better than the house Italian. The Italian wine list is excellent.|
|Yokoso's is a Japanese steak house and sushi bar in the center of the Waterfront complex. It is very popular so if you plan to drop in for dinner on a Friday or Saturday reservations would be a good idea. Yokoso's is proud of its policy of using no MSG; it cooks with olive oil and vegetable oil. The extensive Sushi Bar menu includes 84 items, of which the Dynamite Salmon Roll and the Alaskan (smoked salmon, asparagus, avocado and flying fish eggs) are the individual highlights, and the Sashimi Platter (tuna, salmon, whitefish, shrimp, crab and yellow tail) and Vegetable Sushi Medley (asparagus, avocado, tofu skin, and cucumber roll) are the best of the dinners. The Seaweed Salad and Green Onion Soup are great sides. Over on the dinner menu, everything comes with Japanese Green Onion Soup, House Salad, Shrimp Appetizer, Hibachi Vegetables and Fried Rice. We like the Scallops, but the Hibachi Chicken, Twin Salmon, and Vegetable Delight are fine alternatives. There's a five item children's menu and 11 combination dinners, mixing and matching chicken, steak, salmon, scallops, lobster and shrimp. One of the more unusual items you might overlook is tucked over there among the side orders. It's the Tempura Udon (thick noodles in a hot broth with seaweed and shrimp). Try it as an appetizer if nothing else.|
|If you're arriving or departing around lunch, you really should stop at The Double Wide Grill on Carson Street. It will be one of your wackiest eating experiences. The Double Wide is a gas station converted to a restaurant. The outside still looks like the old gas station, but inside they've built the bar around the base of the hoist and left most of the tools and equipment hanging on the walls and a green pickup up on the hoist. They're only open 11-3. Some of the items are just fun, like the Hubcap Potatoes (hand breaded garlic and herb seasoned red potatoes served on a hubcap), Build Your Own TV Dinner, or 7 Up Pancakes. But don't let it fool you. There's some serious cooking here. The Crab Black Bean & Corn Fritters, Brie & Spinach Stuffed Portabello, Avocado Sandwich, Portabello Reuben, Beef Chile Omolette, Rebel Yell Jalapeno, and Tilapia Taco are very creative, unique and delicious. If weather permits, sit outside and soak up the Carson Street ambience, this being one of the great streets of Pittsburgh and America, every bit the equal of the French Quarter, Greenwich Village or the Riverwalk.|
|Primanti Brothers is on the river side of Carson Street halfway up the main business district. It's not a big place but it doesn't need to be. It is one of the city's most famous restaurants and they only serve one thing : a sandwich that has come to be called The Primanti. Joe Primanti and his brothers started the business in 1933 with a wooden lunch stand serving produce workers and truck drivers over in the Strip District across the river. Now there are 16 locations around the city and The Primanti is recognized as an American Culinary Classic by the James Beard Foundation. The famous sandwich recipe is grilled meat, fried potatoes, sliced tomato, coleslaw and provolone cheese between two thick pieces of Italian bread. There are a few options, such as onion or fried egg, but most fans take their Primanti straight. Any deviation and it's not a Primanti. No rye bread, no wheat bread, no other cheese, no lettuce. And the fan base is huge. The Food Channel, Travel Channel and ESPN drop by when they're in town. Native Pittsburghers now living elsewhere drop by for their once a year Primanti when they come home for a visit. Tourists drop by. Kennywood fans consider Primanti's as much a part of their annual visit as the Jackrabbit or Noah's Ark. Even KW staffers frequent the place.|
|Nakama is Pittsburgh's most famous Japanese steak house and sushi bar. Located halfway up Carson Street, it has been named not only the best Asian restaurant in town, but the best overall restaurant, by the Post Gazette, Pittsburgh Magazine, and several airline magazines. The Sushi Bar features the Spider Roll (soft shell crab, avocado, cucumber, kaiware and crabstick) and Hanelai (eel, crab, avocado, cream cheese and tobika). We're not huge sushi fans, but these two items are the best sushi we've ever tasted. Among the appetizers, we like the Onion Soup, Squid Salad, Seaweed Salad, and Tai Maki Rolls (two crispy rolls filled with vegetables and served with duck sauce). Our favorite dinners are the Seafood Combination (lobster, shrimp, scallops), Hibachi Scallops, and Seafood Diablo (shrimp and scallops over udon noodles). Nakama offers six fine steak and three chicken entrees, plus a column of combination dinners, mixing and matching steak, chicken, scallops, shrimp and tuna. It is easy for this menu to focus attention entirely on the food, but in truth, Nakama's is as much about entertainment as about the taste buds. The chefs who perform at your table, fixing your meal right in front of you, are at least half the total experience. Their flamboyance and dexterity with all those knives and flames are worth the visit.|
|Hofbrauhaus is on the river, two blocks from Joseph Beth Bookstore. If you're a beer conneisseur this is The Place, but the food's great, too. Among appetizers, the Soft Dough Pretzels, Fried Pickles, Potato Pancakes and Sauerkraut Balls are the best, although the Southside Combo is almost a meal in itself with four cheeses, cold cuts, basil, tomatoes and chive bread. Hungarian Goulash is a MUST. This is one of Pittsburgh's greatest items. Order only the small bowl. The large is a meal in itself. Entrees are a German lover's Paradise : Mettwurst, Bierwurst, Sauer braten, Schnitzel, Bratwurst and Kasseler Rippchen. We especially recommend the Wurstlteller, a sampler of three wursts with sauerkraut and potatoes. For a couple or party of three there is the Schmankerlplatte, a Bavarian Sampler Plate of schweinbraten, smoked pork chops, three wursts, sauerkraut, fried cabbage and potatoes. There's Oktoberfest Schweinshaxe, a slow roasted pork shank with crackling, sauerkraut and bread dumpling. Sides start with red apple kraut, sptazle with cheese or haxen sauce, and German potato salad. Apfel Strudel is the Dessert de Rigeur, but there's Black Forest Chocolate Cake or Windbeutel.|
For a unique road trip, head for Emil's. It's in Rankin, about half an hour drive. Take the Parkway through downtown to the Swissvale Exit. Follow Monongahela Avenue up and over the hill, turn left on Miller Avenue, right on Harriet, left on Mele, then right on Hawkins. Emil's is on your left one block down. Why go to all this trouble? Because Emil's is one of the great restaurant secrets in Pittsburgh. The place served as a hangout for mill workers for most of the 20th Century. The mills have closed now, but Emil's has its loyal cult following and still thrives under the original owner's daughter. The outside looks sketchy, but don't let that dissuade you. Among other attractions, Emil's offers the greatest Reuben Sandwich in Allegheny County. It's not only delicious, but so big you'll take half of it home with you for lunch tomorrow. The Cabbage Rolls, Fish either as a Sandwich or a Dinner, Chicken n Dumplin Soup, Chicken Parmesan, Catfish, Crab Cakes, Meatloaf, Hoagies and Friday Night Prime Rib are outstanding and worth the trip. The sides are also great, particularly the Mashed Potatoes & Gravy and Cole Slaw. The drinks are overpriced, but the food is very reasonable. Emil's is a time capsule, which looks like you've stepped into 1955. It's closed Mondays and closes at 3 Tuesday, and 8 Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Thursday is Italian Night with great Meatballs.