It’s Lenten time once again! I don’t know what this time of year is like in other cities, but in Pittsburgh, even if you’re not remotely religious, you’re bound to notice when Lent comes around. All of a sudden fish is available in every size and preparation, from church-held Friday night fish fries to fish and mac’n'cheese specials at nearly every bar and restaurant in the area.
One of my most frequented Mexican restaurants, Cocina Mendoza, is serving up my favorite of the Friday fish specials: Fish tacos. I didn’t have the chance to try the tacos last Spring, but struck by a need to get in on the fish fun this past Friday, the first Friday of Lent, I wandered over to the restaurant on my lunch break and grabbed a lunch special to-go.
Cocina Mendoza is tucked away inconspicuously in the Mt. Lebanon Shops. It’s not my favorite place to grab a taco – that would be Las Palmas in Brookline – but it’s still pretty terrific: fresh, authentic Mexican cuisine at decent prices for good portions. I’ve mostly taken advantage of the lunch specials, which for five or six dollars a piece resemble a full dinner portion more than a light lunch option. As I have trying in the last few months to a) save money and b) eat healthier and lighter options for lunch and dinner, I’ve not walked down to the restaurant nearly as much.
I’m glad I did this past Friday. The tacos were delicious. They were two flour tortillas wrapped around several thick slices of fish that were dressed by a fresh salsa. The whitefish was lightly floured and seasoned and fried, a thin, crisp skin giving it prominence even as it was buried under a mound of Pico de Gallo. The bite of the tomato and onion against the mildness of the fish was refreshing, as was the lack of heavier additions, such as cheese or jalapeno or beans. A completely satisfying meal, but far lighter than any of the other lunch options at Cocina Mendoza.
Like many fish specials, it was the sort of thing I wished was around all year. Then again, I suppose I’d take it for granted eventually, when the novelty and anticipation wore off completely. Better to have it contained to just this time of year, when I can look forward to that special every Friday, making this March and April trudge toward a reluctant Spring a little more joyful.
Posted in Dining Out, Food, Lunchtime!
Tagged castle shannon, cocina mendoza, dining, fish, fish tacos, food, friday fish special, fried fish, lent, local, lunch, lunch specials, mexican, mexican restaurant, mt. lebanon, ordering out, pico de gallo, pittsburgh, south hills, taco, tacos, take out, whitefish
Featured in this picture: A large cup of Kona-blend coffee and a blueberry muffin, both from Graham’s Bakery in the Mt. Lebanon Shops. The picture was taken at my desk, thus the slightly depressing cubicle colors in the background (and the stapler and tape dispenser).
I had written last week that I had never had a truly good muffin from a bakery, but I may have been too hasty. This muffin from Graham’s, for instance, was delicious. Like Proust’s Madeleine, it transported me to another time and place in my life, to other muffins I had enjoyed. Something about a blueberry muffin always tastes the same, even when the recipes are radically different, and it’s not just the shared titular ingredient. There’s a sameness that make them comforting far beyond the normal breakfast pastry.
That being said, there’s still something about a bakery or store-bought muffin that doesn’t jive so well with me. I think it’s the size. When I make muffins at home, they’re a good hand size, substantial but not overwhelming. Bakery muffins, in particular, tend to have a more-is-better type of approach, which always leaves me with about half-too much muffin. I’m left full of muffin but not satisfied.
The Graham’s muffin had one big positive aspect and that was its relatively mild flavor. It was moist and not sickly sweet (although you can get that variation by buying a muffin with icing or sugar crumbs – I opted to take my muffin naked as the day it popped out of the oven, which judging by the taste of it had only been mere hours before), and it didn’t leave me with the vague sick feeling that most store-bought muffins inflict. It was definitely a quality muffin experience, but I’m coming to terms with the possibility that I just don’t like muffins all that much. I refuse to fully submit to that belief, but it’s something to think about.
Anyway, if you’re in the Mount Lebanon area, do yourself a favor and stop by Graham’s for a sweet snack. In addition to the muffins, I can recommend the cheese-stuffed croissant (sigh…), the pecan bun, their “French” donuts (crullers… they’re crullers, dammit), and, of course, their heavenly Paczki.
Posted in Dining Out, Food, Good Morning
Tagged bake shop, bakeries, blueberry muffin, breakfast, brunch, coffee, dining, food, graham's, graham's bakery, mt. lebanon, mt. lebanon bakery, muffins, pastries, pittsburgh, south hills
Two of the better restaurants on the cluttered business district of Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon are small, regional chains. I’ve already mentioned Aladdin’s in my Neighborhood Quick Picks: Mt. Lebanon, but I left out Molly Brannigans, mostly due to length issues (each of those Neighborhood Quick Picks could list twice as many restaurants, but you have to draw the line somewhere), but also because I never really considered the restaurant worth making a special trip. I had been there a few times, mostly for dinner and drinks, once for lunch, and I had enjoyed my visit each time, but I still somehow wrote the place off.
But after our trip to Piper’s Pub, I was in the mood to reconsider. Continue reading
Posted in Dining Out, Dinnertime!, Food
Tagged appetizers, British Isles, guinness, Irish, molly brannigans, mt. lebanon, pittsburgh, pub, PUMP, Restaurant, shepherd's pie, washington road
If you don’t live in the South Hills, it might never occur to you to pay a visit to Mt. Lebanon, but I definitely suggest giving it an afternoon of your time. Washington Road is a good starting point. The Mount Lebanon trolley stop lets you off right across the street from several good restaurants, not to mention various shops and boutiques offering an array of goods, from specialty textiles, organic food and nutritional supplements, to fine art, fashionable second-hand clothing, and paper goods. All in all, the business district is only a few blocks, easily encountered in a Saturday afternoon, or split the time between Washington Road and Beverly Road, another business section that features a similar mix of dining and small independent shops.
Mt. Lebanon has no shortage of upscale restaurants, but visitors and nearby residents can often mistake its high-income reputation for a lack of lower-priced options, a misconception that when proven false can lead to a delicious and economical dining experience. You just have to know where to go.
Posted in Dining Out, Dinnertime!, Food, Lunchtime!
Tagged aladdin's, cocina mendoza, dining, food, il pizzaiolo, luma, mt. lebanon, neighborhood quick picks, restaurants, south hills, sushi three, tamarind