Thai Gourmet, Bloomfield
This tiny Bloomfield storefront is a sentimental favorite, for its simple, delicious Thai comfort food: stir-fries, curries, fried rice, noodle dishes, all delivered expertly. The shop is tiny, the menu is enormous, the portions are ample–this place gets it all right. Some day, I’m going to branch out and get the Duck Curry with roasted duck and pineapple, instead of the things I know I love already.
Instead of sushi or steak, this informal spot specializes in Japanese comfort food, especially things grilled on a teppanyaki iron griddle. It’s got a boisterous grill area and a quiet dining area with lots of dark wood and lanterns. Okonomiyaki pancakes are the not-so-secret star of the show here, made with shredded cabbage, wheat flour and egg–and a range of fillings, from corn to egg to kimchi–and topped with spicy mayonnaise. The Hiroshimayaki takes that a step further and layers it with yakisoba noodles and a fried egg.
Ineffable Ca Phe, Bloomfield
This Vietnamese coffee and banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) shop does a lot of things extremely well, particularly the pho. The Pho Ga is a chicken-stock soup, with rice noodles, bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro, and jalapeno and lime on the side. There’s also a veggie version with big pieces of tofu and a vegetarian broth. If you get pho to-go, they thoughtfully put the broth and noodles in separate containers, so you can make the magic combination at your leisure, and it stays fresh.
How Lee, Squirrel Hill
This spot on the corner of Forbes and Shady began as pretty standard Chinese-American spot–then a few years ago, they changed into a super-authentic, super-hot Sichuan spot, for things like Chonqing Dumplings, Pickled Chicken Feet, and Diced Rabbit with Roasted Chili Vinaigrette. They also kept the old, classic Chinese-American dishes, so this is a great place to eat for people who don’t like surprises.
Tram’s Kitchen, Bloomfield
Newer is not necessarily better–sometimes, standing the test of time is even more impressive. This vegetarian-friendly Vietnamese spot has held down this odd, out-of-the-way spot in Bloomfield for more than a decade (maybe much more). It’s kind of impressive how little effort goes into the decor–nothing fancy here–and how much goes into the food. Tram’s has been slinging bowls of pho since long before it became fashionable around here, and at prices that still seem like a bargain.
Sichuan Gourmet, Squirrel Hill
It’s a culinary mystery how a place with this large a menu can actually stock all of these items, and still be this good. Sichuan Gourmet has a full “Pittsburgh” menu of Chinese-American classics, and fiery, authentic Sichuan dishes. The Szechuan clay pot dishes served in a flaming bowl are particularly great, like the hearty Spicy Beef with Tofu Skin. It’s also a great spot for vegetarians, with items like Mapo Tofu that aren’t always available without meat.
Nak Won Garden, Shadyside
This charming and laidback family-owned restaurant in Shadyside specializes in traditional Korean dishes. It always seems packed with students–many of them Korean, looking for the flavors of home. Those flavors include Dubu Kimchi, of course, with sliced pork and tofu. A favorite appetizer is Ddukbokki–chewy Korean rice cakes stir fried in a sweet and spicy sauce with sweet potato noodles, egg and fish cakes. Another classic dish is the Ddukbaegi Bulgogi, Korean BBQ beef, in a savory beef broth, served in a hot stone pot.
Night Market Gourmet, Oakland
The night markets of Taiwan happen to be one of my favorite places to eat in the world (I still dream about the BBQ squid on a stick), so anything that gets close to those flavors is of great interest to me. This newcomer in Oakland is from the team behind Everyday Noodles in Squirrel Hill, which bodes well. The appetizers, like Hakka Salted Pork and Shaoxing Drunken Chicken, are a strong way to start, before moving on to entrees like Pan-Fried Egg with Dried Radish and Taiwanese Meat Ball Noodle Soup.