Istanbul Sofra in Regent Square

The authentic food at Istanbul Sofra. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Further aloft at the intersection of Forbes Avenue and S. Braddock, Istanbul Sofra opened in 2013, and “it just boomed,” says Kelsey Williams of the Regent Square Civic Association. With the owner, chefs and much of the staff hailing from Turkey, their Mediterranean fare is the real deal.

The Sofra Mixed Grill is a feast of lamb and chicken kebabs, grilled lamb chops and grilled veggies, with plenty of vegetarian options, such as Turkish dumplings, stuffed grape leaves and, of course, falafel. While the restaurant is BYOB, note that both the sweet Turkish coffee (served in a demitasse cup) and strong tea (poured piping hot into a tulip-shaped glass) are worthy of celebration. Colorful mosaic chandeliers and textiles create an authentic atmosphere.

Next door, Park Pizza & Cream serves regionally-made Kerber ice cream.

For coffee on Braddock, in the space that Katerbean used to occupy, the 61B Cafe—sister to the long-established 61C Cafe in Squirrel Hill—provides a warm and comfortable place to hang, with half-garage doors that open to the street.

Coming soon is Ease, which will take the space of the former Dunning’s, a destination that recently closed shop after a decades-long run. Opening later this year, the plan is to serve high-end comfort food. When another town favorite—the Green Mango—moved away in 2012, the Thai Cottage quickly and admirably filled the Thai food void.

Another long-standing institution and destination is Regent Square Theater, one of the last single-screen theaters in the region—run by Pittsburgh Filmmakers—that features indies, documentaries, foreign films and Sunday night classics with offerings such as the recent Alfred Hitchcock series.

It’s a gem located near another venue that draws art lovers, Concept Art Gallery.

Across from the baseball fields, Glenn Greene opens his colorful stained glass studio to the public where he creates custom pieces, restores older stained glass, and sells small—and affordable—signed originals. Be sure to call before a visit to make sure he’s there.

Things to do in Regent Square

Regent Square Theater. Photo by Erika Gidley

Where everybody knows your name

On the bar scene, The Map Room serves East End Brewery beers on tap and food that’s a step above pub fare with a baked brie appetizer and smoked salmon flatbread. A few doors away, Murphy’s Tap Room offers darts, pool tables and shuffleboard. Closer to Forbes and Braddock, Ryan’s Pub & Grill gets crowds for sports, karaoke and the pub food.

Just a few blocks from the main business district, Joe Davis opened a coffee shop tucked away amidst houses and tall trees. “People told me it was doomed to fail—nobody would ever find it.” But Biddle’s Escape is a hit. “It’s not a shop where people come in, sit on their laptops and don’t talk to anybody. It’s a place where people communicate,” he says.

Biddle’s hosts many fun events: food truck Wednesdays, drum circles in the summer on their large deck, gatherings of the Steel City Ukes, open mic nights, poetry readings, book clubs and Sunday brunches featuring dishes such as basmati rice bowl with roasted veggies.

Davis started a Water Balloon Pelting Fest three years ago the same day as Run Around the Square, the annual 5K. “They fill an insane amount of water balloons that week leading up to it—thousands and thousands,” says Williams.

Look for the town-side yard sale in May, where Biddle’s hosts a food-truck roundup.

Resale is big in Regent Square. Fashion Fix sells upscale consignment: a recent visit turned up Manolo Blahnik shoes and Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses. “We have great consigners who buy their clothes outside of Pittsburgh and their wardrobes revolve frequently,” says owner Kelly Pezze.

Le Mix specializes in mid-century items such as bar ware, vintage holiday decorations and various and fun kitsch.

Housed in a former gas station, with its former bays lit with hundreds of lights, Typhoon Lighting sells new upscale and antique fixtures, specializing in bringing life—and light—back to old fixtures.

Next door, the bakery Vanilla Pastry wins awards for their cupcakes and serves up whimsical sweets like chocolate-dipped Ho-Ho lollypops.

Regent Square is first a neighborhood—so there’s a dry cleaners with seamstress, an exceptional florist in Hepatica, an eye doctor and dentist, dog groomer, yoga studio and three hair salons. Not to mention a corner newsstand, Braddock Ave. Express. On the outside of the newsstand, a Sprout Fund-financed mural depicts the neighborhood from a bird’s eye view —and the mural is true-to-life with the actual street grid and rooftop views.

“Regent Square is diverse, pretty, political, safe,” says Davis. “The neighbors are warm and welcoming—it’s just really a brilliant area.”