Pittsburgh salad with Buffalo chicken. Photo by Sally Quinn.

Pittsburgh loves French fries so much that we eat them with everything from gravy to cheese sauce to big fat sandwiches.

Enter the Pittsburgh Salad: In its purest form, a steak salad loaded with fries.

Those new to town might raise their eyebrows at the idea. But before long, they, too, acknowledge that salty crunchy fries add texture, flavor and heartiness to a cold, bare salad. The layer of greens and chopped vegetables topped with cheese is a nice beginning. Adding hot fries and grilled steak pulls it all together in a delicious melty mess of tantalizing satisfaction.

Some nutritionists might debate the healthiness of such a dish. But can’t we agree to the idea of all things in moderation?

According to folklore, the Pittsburgh salad first appeared on Western Pennsylvania menus in the early 1960s. Debatable claims to its creation come from Jerry’s Curb Service in Bridgewater and Hilltop Grill in Rochester. Or maybe it was a natural progression to a less carb-heavy Primanti’s sandwich.

Since then, many cooks have adapted the salad by switching out ingredients. Tots might replace fries. Salmon, chicken or shrimp can stand in for the steak. Seasoning, dressing and a wealth of other ingredients contribute to the mathematical possibilities that can be combined in a Pittsburgh Salad.

While you are likely to find one on the menu of most neighborhood pubs, these Pittsburgh Salads elevate the experience.

Steak & Greens at The Urban Tap. Photo by Sally Quinn.

The Urban Tap, South Side and Shadyside

The Urban Tap takes the “tap” part of its name seriously. The lineup of 140-some taps over its two locations includes local and imported drafts, wine, cider and even a cold brew coffee. Urban Tap’s food menu veers to trendy with dishes like Orange Miso Poke, General Tso’s Cauliflower and free-range Bison Burgers. Salads range from Burrata & Kale to Grilled Pear and the Classic Caesar.

You’ll find a Pittsburgh Salad, too, under the name Steak & Greens. Peppered filet tips are the protein, served over mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, Danish blue cheese and herbed ranch dressing. The magic touch comes from the house tots. These perfect potato cubes are formed from grated potatoes with a crunch on the outside and delicately delicious insides. It’s worth ordering extra as a side dish.

Stack’d Custom Burgers & Craft Beer, multiple locations

Stack’d is known for its build-your-own burgers. Order from a checklist of nine proteins, eight breads and cheeses, plus 40 toppings that include fun stuff like mac and cheese, grilled pineapple and peanut butter.

Salads require less brainwork beyond choosing the dressing. There’s a California Cobb, Berry Walnut and Greek Salad. Two others meet the qualifications of Pittsburgh salads. Both the Buffalo Chicken and the Grilled Chicken (plain or Cajun) include mixed greens, cool cucumbers and tomatoes with hot crispy fries over grated cheese.

We cheer for the Buffalo version. The breaded and fried chicken breast is tossed in a zesty buffalo sauce, then sliced into bite-sized pieces. Blue cheese dressing ties it all together.

Steak Salad at Tessaro’s American Bar & Hardwood Grill. Photo by Sally Quinn.
Steak Salad at Tessaro’s American Bar & Hardwood Grill. Photo by Sally Quinn.

Tessaro’s American Bar & Hardwood Grill, 4601 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield

The home for some of our favorite steaks and stacked gourmet burgers, Tessaro’s American Bar & Hardwood Grill is a leader in the Pittsburgh salad category, too. The Bloomfield institution has been satisfying our more carnivorous appetites for decades. Its Pittsburgh-style salad continues that gastronomic tradition.

Your Steak Salad order begins with a request of how you’d like your New York strip steak grilled. A medium-rare steak arrives from the kitchen with the perfect balance of pink in the middle to fragrant char on the edge. Sliced into big chunks, the steak is set atop mixed greens, grilled onions and mushrooms. The potatoes here are deliciously crunchy, dark-fried home fries. Pimentos add a touch of extra color and flavor.

Pittsburgh Salad with blackened salmon at Sunny Jim’s Tavern. Photo by Sally Quinn.
Pittsburgh Salad with blackened salmon at Sunny Jim’s Tavern. Photo by Sally Quinn.

Sunny Jim’s Tavern, 255 Camp Horne Road, Kilbuck

Sunny Jim’s Tavern has been in operation since 1934, with the current owners running the show for more than 40 years. Renovations and expansion of the original building, kitchen and menu keep customers showing up for great grub. Graze through shareable apps like stuffed banana peppers, Buffalo chicken dip and flatbreads. Classic, made-from-scratch eats go from hoagies and signature 10-ounce burgers to Turkey Devonshire and the Giant Fish Sandwich.

Another classic, the Pittsburgh salad, gives diners a range of toppers to choose from that raise the dish beyond expectations. The salad starts with a bed of greens tossed with grape tomatoes, red onion rings, cucumbers, green peppers and radishes. The next layer is a mix of grated provolone and cheddar, happily melting under hot fries. Next, select a hardwood grilled, fried or blackened protein — chicken, shrimp, steak or salmon — for a personal best Pittsburgh salad. The blackened salmon adds just the right touch.

Arsenal Chicken Salad at Industry Public House. Photo by Sally Quinn.

Industry Public House, Lawrenceville and North Fayette

Both the menu and décor at Industry Public House lean heavily on America’s manufacturing past. The gastropub features vintage architectural touches, metal seating and caged Edison lights hanging over tables. Dishes reach into local history with names like Filament Fries, Pig Iron Candy Bacon and Steam Engine Pierogies. Artisanal cocktails include the Smokestack (smoke-infused bourbon) and the Tungsten 74 made with Maggie’s Farm pineapple rum.

Alongside other comfort cuisine stands Industry’s adaptation of the Pittsburgh Salad. The Arsenal Chicken Salad adds sliced hardboiled egg and grape tomatoes to the standard mixed greens, red onion rings and cucumbers. Cheddar cheese and hot fries are piled on top along with the sliced grilled chicken. We believe the classic ranch dressing works best with this classic dish.

Pittsburgh Salad with blackened chicken at Union Grill. Photo by Sally Quinn.

Union Grill, 413 South Craig St., Oakland

Union Grill has been around for a long, long time — and for good reason. Located on the edge of the Pitt and CMU campuses, a block from Carnegie Museum of Art, the tavern offers great service and a diverse menu. Matzoh Ball Soup, Five-Hour Pot Roast and Buttermilk Chicken Tenders are some of the mom-inspired dishes we can’t resist.

Bargains abound with $10 bottles of wine, $5 copper mug mules and $4 local craft beer from the likes of Dancing Gnome, Hitchhiker and Sly Fox.

The Union Grill offers one of the best Pittsburgh salads around. Toppers include a blackened or grilled half-pound salmon filet or chicken breast, chargrilled sirloin steak and Buffalo Chicken. Lots of tantalizing extras are heaped on the greens: sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, diced tomatoes and cucumbers, plus excellent seasoned fries and shredded cheddar. Homemade honey mustard dressing adds the perfect finish to the blackened chicken version.

Autumn Salad at Shady Grove. Photo by Sally Quinn.

Shady Grove, 5500 Walnut St., Shadyside

In the heart of Shadyside’s business district, Shady Grove bar and restaurant offers patrons two floors of joy. Browse the menu of handheld offerings, gourmet pizza and tacos, plus specialty cocktails like a Blackberry Mojito and the Punchin’ Bag, a rotating cocktail pouch. DJ Nights on Wednesdays with half-price wine and Sunday Karaoke Nights with $3 beer are part of the attraction. Find other specials and events on Shady Grove’s social media feed.

Shady Grove shakes up Pittsburgh’s faves with a twist. The Pittsburgh Salad tosses together Romaine and iceberg lettuce, carrots and cucumbers. Grilled chicken, coleslaw, grated cheddar and waffle fries add the Burgh touch we love so much.

An even more creative translation of a Pittsburgh Salad can be found in the Autumn Salad, served in a deep stainless-steel bowl. Mixed greens are topped with sliced turkey breast. The usual cheddar is replaced with bleu cheese. And sweet potato tots take the place of fries. Dried cranberries, sunflower seeds and a tangy-sweet maple cider vinaigrette enhance flavor and texture.

Hungry for more? Watch for a new Shady Grove location coming to East Liberty.

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Sally Quinn

Sally Quinn is a Pittsburgh-based editor and writer who writes about food, entertainment, kid stuff, pop culture, cocktails!