When Yo Rita shut down in early 2014, the trendy taco joint left a hole in the South Side’s culinary scene. If you wanted a shot and a beer, or a late-night sandwich or gyro, you had choices. If you wanted good food, sourced locally and prepared fresh, absent a few standouts such as Dish, there were considerably fewer choices to choose from.
That was the thought process of Matthew Christie and Lauren Leon, the husband and wife team behind Streets on Carson, a new, street food inspired restaurant that opened last week in the former Yo Rita location, at 1120 East Carson Street.
“We were at Jack’s on Easter Sunday,” says Christie, “enjoying the free buffet, when we saw the ‘For Sale’ sign across the street. We literally called the next day.”
Christie, a Beaver Falls native, serves as the restaurant’s executive chef and co-owner. He honed his chops at the now-shuttered Folino’s Ristorante, where he was a two-time winner of the South Side Soup Contest. He then moved to Philadelphia and worked as a private chef for Philadelphia Eagles owner, Jeffrey Lurie, before heading back to Pittsburgh to cook at Bridge Ten Brasserie.
The pair initially had plans to open a food truck but decided against it when faced with current city food truck regulations. They then took the concept indoors and expanded it to showcase not just one cuisine but the best of street food globally.
“We did research on all the major markets and bazaars across the world,” says Christie, “and our thing was there’s always a ton of people serving one item. What’s that one item?”
The menu at Streets features 15 of those signature items, all of them riffs on street fare ranging from huarache (Mexico City) and arancini (Sicily) to lobster crepes (Montparnasse) and chicken wings (good old Pittsburgh). Chef Christie says to expect the items to rotate, as he has a binder with many more recipes he wants to include.
Christie and Leon say that everything is prepared fresh and made in-house, from the roast pork and pancetta that comes from quartered hogs to the house-made simple syrup in cocktails.
The space itself is intimate, with a max capacity of 50. The entire back wall is covered by a kaleidoscopic street art piece by Jules Antonio, and brightly colored cityscapes painted by Dante Lombardi punctuate the space surrounding the poured concrete bar.
The pair lament that the East End has been seen to take over Pittsburgh’s food scene in recent years, but they recognize that the perception remains that it is much easier to get fresh, quality food at restaurants in Lawrenceville than in the South Side.
“There’s no reason that South Siders should have to go to the East End for a good meal,” says Christie.
So far, they say, in just three days of operation the reception from the neighborhood has been “incredible,” and they consider it an affirmation of what they set out to create. It’s not that people want good food, they say. It’s that people deserve it—even in the South Side.
“We’re hoping to inspire more people and more businesses to come to the South Side,” says Leon, who also serves as the restaurant’s general manager. “There’s no reason South Side can’t be as booming as Lawrenceville, or have as nice of a food scene as Downtown.”
“The beauty of the South Side is that you can have more and more businesses and it’s not a competition,” she continues. “The more foot traffic there is and the more awesome places there are to come see, the more people are going to come visit.”
Streets on Carson is located at 1120 East Carson St., in the South Side. Tues-Fri 11:30 a.m. – 1 a.m.; Sat 5 p.m. – 1 a.m.; Sun 12 p.m. -11 p.m.