Kaleidoscopic Egyptian tapestries hang on the stone walls of both Sphinx Cafe locations, while tendrils of jasmine- and mango-scented smoke drift up to high, vaulted ceilings. Though it was once a church, the space now exudes an aura of opulence and leisure that matches the warmth of the coffee houses in Egyptian owner Remy and Syrian Amera's native homes. “Hookah bars are different from the norm [in the U.S.], which is either a restaurant or a bar. It slows you down. You just relax here.”
Plush cushions help patrons relax at both of Sphinx Pittsburgh locations, as do more than 30 imported tobacco flavors that servers can enhance with creative add-ons such as wine, fruit syrups, and talking caterpillars. On some nights, belly dancers, fire eaters, and live musicians wind their way between hookahs. On quieter nights, Ms. Andrawes says you can find people playing card games, chatting, and sampling platters of homemade hummus and kibbeh.
Named "Best Deli" by Pittsburgh City Paper and "Best in City" by Pittsburgh Magazine, Carson Street Deli owns up to its accolades with a menu full of fresh, locally sourced ingredients. New York-style sandwiches ($6–$8) throw plenty of elbows alongside more mild-mannered sides ($1–$3.50), salads ($4–$7), and conversational lunch-goers (free after administering a low-five handslap). Ramp up meat locker training efforts with help from the Balboa—piles of sopressata, imported Di Lusso Genoa salami, prosciutto, spicy capicola and hard salami on a French baguette ($8)—or the slightly spicier diversion, Montezuma's revenge, which melds grilled buffalo chicken breast, green and red peppers, onions, melted cheeses and hot sauce into a warm pita ($7). Vegetarians appease appetites with buffalo mozzarella layered within the handheld veggie Roma ($6).
Carson City Saloon dishes up plates full of Americana and glasses full of sharable libations within a three-story, four-bar entree emporium. Housed in the building of a late 19th-century bank, the saloon now trades in edible equities, such as the real estate of the reuben, where the dressings of a thousand-islands spread over mountains of corned beef, sauerkraut, and swiss cheese ($8.99). Sink incisors into a house specialty, including the Titan Toothpicks, an entourage of tortillas stuffed with spicy chicken and cheese, deep fried to a golden brown, and served with a dollop of sour cream and barbecue sauce ($8.59). Satisfying every level of the male homo sapiens's food pyramid—made up of protein, protein, and spicy stuff—the Bada-Bing burger amasses a conglomeration of provolone, salami, capicola, fried egg, banana peppers, and italian dressing ($8.99).
Local Bar + Kitchen serves up a menu of American grill fare crafted from locally sourced breads, vegetables, and meats that earned the restaurant the title of Best New Bar in Pittsburgh Magazine's 2011 Best of the 'Burgh poll. Before embarking on feasts, diners can warm up appetites with pierogies ($9) that are hand-stuffed in McKees Rocks by disembodied mittens. The signature Geno's meatball linguini flaunts house-made tomato-basil sauce ($12), and the barbecue pulled-pork sandwich adds a zesty edge to its tender filling with fried shallots ($9). Chefs craft the buffalo-chicken pizza by loading a hand-tossed crust with french fries sourced in Somerset and cheese from Monroeville's Turner Dairy Farms before slipping the pie into a wood-fired oven ($13.50 for an entree size). On weekends from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the restaurant slings eclectic brunch fare, such as coffee-dusted flatiron steak accompanied by eggs ($9) or french toast ($8.50), which is stuffed with caramelized banana to weed out baboons disguised as wait staff.
Most of the action in Pi Coal Fired’s kitchen centers on the oven. At 900 degrees, it imparts a smoky, charred flavor to everything from the Neapolitan-style pizzas to the chicken wings and calzones. This flavor pairs well with the chefs' sauces and ingredients, from the San Marzano tomato sauce to the fresh mozzarella, romano, and olive oil sprinkled on every pie. The chefs tend to stick to traditional Italian combinations, using spiced sausage, roasted red pepper, and a variety of cheeses to create simple yet satisfying plates. These pies are served along with other classics such as hand-pressed paninis, offering guests a chance to experience the true essence of Europe without roasting baguettes over a burning gondola.
Villa Southside attracts diners and dancers alike with its two-floor layout, happy-hour specials on drinks and small plates, and minimalist décor. Chefs craft small-plate dioramas showing crisp fresh-cut fries searching for their reflections in malt vinegar ($4), Villa wings pursued by an angry mob of hot sauces ($8), and lightly breaded calamari ($10) dancing on the edge of a marinara volcano. An extensive drink list includes Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Sam Adams' seasonal selection on draft, and eight wines by the glass. Specialty cocktails include the banana-cream-pie martini, which melds the abandon of drive-by pie-tossing with the elegance of a sippable dessert ($9–$14).