Even with Pittsburgh’s elevation to a “city for foodies,” no-frills favorites remain popular among locals and visitors. Sure, you can find small plates and signature dishes by James Beard Foundation Award-winning chefs in hip restaurants around the city—but nothing is more "authentically Pittsburgh" than old-fashioned sandwiches, burgers, pierogies, and French fries drenched in gravy or cheese.
Here is a sampling of 10 iconic Pittsburgh foods.
This hometown favorite, called a “sammich” here, starts with two thick slices of Italian bread. Pile on grilled meat, melted cheese, tomato slices, sweet and tangy coleslaw, and fresh-cut French fries and consider it a complete meal. If you want, add a fried egg, onions, or bacon. Primanti Bros., founded in 1933 in the Strip District, has locations across Pennsylvania and five other eastern states, many of them offering late-night deals and some open 24 hours.
The Pittsburgh Salad
You know how healthy eaters warn against ruining a salad by topping it with sprinkled cheese and fatty dressing? Pittsburghers scoff at that, happily loading up their iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers with shredded cheese, crispy French fries, ranch dressing, and grilled chicken or steak strips. Local lore says the Pittsburgh Salad originated at Jerry’s Curb Service, but you can find it on many restaurant menus. You can even ask for the steak to be cooked “Pittsburgh-style:" charred on the outside and very rare in the middle.
Pierogies are quintessentially Pittsburgh, where so many Eastern European immigrants settled that the city has a neighborhood called Polish Hill. Stuffed with potato, cheese, or sauerkraut, these savory dumplings are then cooked in butter with simmering onions. Some of the best pierogies can be found at Cop Out Pierogies, Butterjoint, Pierogies Plus, Stuff’d Pierogi Bar, and Apteka, which offers up a vegan version.
Pamela’s Diner is famous for its oversized yet airy hotcakes, much like a cross between a pancake and a crêpe. These buttery hotcakes come two to a plate, rolled up like burritos and stuffed with your choice of strawberries, blueberries, or sliced bananas. They’re served with sour cream and brown sugar, or you could opt for bananas and chocolate chips instead. With its 1950s décor, Pamela’s is a cash-only restaurant that serves customers in six locations around Pittsburgh.
At Kennywood Park, long lines form at iconic roller coasters such as the Steel Curtain, Thunderbolt, and Jack Rabbit—and also at the Potato Patch, where you can get a basket of fresh-cut fries dressed with malt vinegar, brown gravy, cheddar cheese, bacon, or seasoning salt. The park briefly changed its cheese sauce recipe in 2019, stirring up a social media frenzy that caused Kennywood to revert to its traditional sauce. If amusement parks aren't your jam, you can also find the Potato Patch at Heinz Field.
With its very own in-house butcher, this Bloomfield neighborhood bar/restaurant cooks its half-pound ground chuck burgers over hardwood on a custom-crafted iron grill. Among the choices, there's a fried egg-topped breakfast burger; a deli burger on rye with Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Thousand Island dressing; and the Gourmet Kelly Burger, named after the late owner Kelly Harrington, whose own love of burgers made Tessaro’s a culinary landmark in Pittsburgh.
Debuted by Eat'n Park Restaurants in 1986, the trademarked Smiley Cookie has been such a hit that the restaurant chain has branded itself as "the place for smiles." In fact, the signature iced cookie even has its own website and history on video. They are sold individually or in six- and 12-packs, and come in different colors and shapes for sporting events and holidays.
Part of the joy in visiting Everyday Noodles in Squirrel Hills is watching the cooks behind a plate glass window transform dough into noodles. The menu lists an array of steamed dumplings, noodle soups, dim sum (pot stickers), and dry noodle dishes. Owner Mike Chen handpicks his employees from Taiwan; they’re trained by a master noodle-maker in Taipei.
Mac & Cheese
There’s no comfort food quite like macaroni and cheese, and the varieties are seemingly endless in Pittsburgh. At Industry Public House, try the Assembly Line Mac & Cheese; mixed with extra-sharp cheddar and smoked gouda, the cavatappi is then topped with breadcrumbs and chives. The Yard takes decadence to a new level with its mac & cheese grilled cheese sandwich and deep-fried mac & cheese balls. Meat & Potatoes' ever-changing mac and cheese recipes are always a hit, while Harris Grill has its own version with lobster and crabmeat.
Named the “greatest cake America has ever made,” the burnt almond torte from Prantl’s Bakery is so popular that it’s shipped nationwide. The yellow cake—filled with vanilla custard and topped with buttercream frosting and sugared almonds—comes in four different sizes and can be made in chocolate. And if you love craft brews, Prantl’s teamed up with Cleveland-based Platform Beer Co. to produce a chocolate almond torte stout and burnt almond torte blonde ale.