Move over, tiny stretch of 2nd Ave., Pittsburgh’s got a new Chinatown: Squirrel Hill.
Writing for Saveur, Post-Gazette dining critic Melissa McCart explores a Chinese food renaissance happening in Pittsburgh, driven by an influx of Chinese students to local universities.
According to the article, the number of Chinese students in graduate and undergrad programs in Pittsburgh has quintupled in the past five years, from one to five thousand. As the numbers grow, so too does demand for authentic, regional cuisine.
McCart begins in Squirrel Hill, at Everyday Noodles, where chef and restaurateur Mike Chen and a crew of Taiwanese chefs put out traditional Taiwanese starters, “like wood ear mushrooms, tofu skins, and clear batons of jellyfish salad.”
“But the big draws,” says McCart, “are xiao long bao—Shanghai soup dumplings—and bowls of broth full of ropy hand-pulled noodles.”
Across the street, at Sakura Teppanyaki & Sushi, owners Ping Geng and Feng Gao have a separate menu with foods from their native Xi’an, in Northwest China. It’s “filled with classics like hot oil noodles with chile flakes and chile oil, scallions, and wilted bok choy,” says McCart.
Another draw at Sakura is the weekend breakfast, which features “congee and fried you tiao (dough sticks) with sides like soy milk and salty bean curd.”
Finally, McCart stops at Chengdu Gourmet for a dish that calls to her “at least once a week,” Chongqing-style beef.
“The bowl is defined,” she says, “by the seductive ma-la—the combination of chiles and numbing peppercorns—atop cauliflower florets, lotus coins, fronds of enoki mushrooms, thin slices of beef, and triangles of fried tofu.”
With riffs on global migration and exotic (to Pittsburgh) cuisines, the article is every bit as satisfying as the food it details.