There are a hundred reasons to dine in the South Side, but an unfortunate number of dissuading factors, the traffic congestion on E. Carson Street and lack of on-street parking being the prime offenders. There’s also the pervading notion that the South Side, at least on the weekends, is overrun by drunks, skanks, and drunk skanks. Can this be fully denied? No, but there is more to the neighborhood than barflies and party girls, especially if you’re hungry.
If you’re wary of a Friday or Saturday night on E. Carson Street, try heading down on a Wednesday or Thursday night, or try one of the numerous places for a weekend breakfast or brunch.
– Mexico City – In the last few years, Mexican restaurants have been popping up in the South Side, from the tame and expected (Emiliano’s) to the authentic but overpriced (sorry, Taco Loco) to the intriguing and trendy (Yo Ritas). Starting in Downtown, Mexico City has taken its invasion into South Side, and it’s a welcome competitor. Authentic, delicious, and fairly inexpensive too, and they even provide guacamole with several of the entrees, so you don’t have to pay ridiculously expensive side charges for the stuff. (2212 E Carson St)
– The Zenith Tea Room – Ever go into an antique store and see a really cute table and chairs and wish that you could just sit down and have someone serve you a meal? Maybe not, but that scenario is reality at the Zenith. It’s the Sunday brunch that is the star here: $10 gets you coffee, tea, or iced tea, an entree (weekly selections), and access to the fabulous buffet of cold salads, dips, breads, and desserts. I dream about the macaroni salad. The Zenith also has weeknight lunch and dinner, which can be a great way to introduce yourself to this neat little place without having to fight the Sunday crowd. If you do go on a quiet night, use it to peruse all the wonders of the front showroom. Remember, everything is for sale, so keep a sharp eye out for retro household items, artwork, and vintage clothing of your dreams. (86 South 26th Street)
– Over-the-Bar Bicycle Cafe – I was still working in the South Side Works when OTB opened up on E. Carson between 24th St. and 25th St. When me and my fellow staff member, Maureen, desperately needed a respite from work tediums, we’d seek refuge at this down to earth cafe and bar. A biker place all about peddle power, not horsepower. The theme is carried from the tandem bicycle hanging on the ceiling to the bike-and-trail themed menu. The cafe also boasts some of the best vegetarian and vegan friendly grub in the area, as well as a great selection of beers, a casual atmosphere, and an array of specials and events. Oh man, now I really want a veggie Urban Velo burger and a Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald. Mmm…. (2518 East Carson)
– Piper’s Pub – Football (no, not that kind, the soccer-kind) fans need look no further than Piper’s Pub, a terrific bar and restaurant. The menu and brew list are concise and specific to the British Isles, and there is always a game on… to the point where spending a full day at Piper’s eating, drinking, and watching a few matches is entirely too easy. Hey, it’s even veggie friendly too! Who wants to join me for a pint and the Chelsea-Arsenal match? (1828 East Carson Street)
– Gypsy Cafe – It makes a lot of sense that Gypsy Cafe is so close to Pittsburgh’s City Theatre. It’s dining both elegant and subtly theatrical, European cuisine offered in carefully, thoughtfull planned seasonal menus. Sundays boast a Prix Fixe menu, as well as ala carte options, all reasonably priced. The themed Sunday brunches are often unqiue and suprising and always delicious. Completing their flair for the dramatic are an on-site tarot card reader and weekly performances by the Gypsy Strings. (1330 Bingham Street)
– Cafe Du Jour – Despite it being right on E. Carson Street, you might never have noticed this unassuming little place. But hurry up and make a visit to Cafe Du Jour because it has one of the nicer outdoor seating spaces in the area. The menu is California-French cuisine, simple and lovely, featuring plenty of pastas, fresh vegetables, and creamy soft cheeses. It’s BYOB, so bring a bottle, a romantic guest, and cash (because I don’t think they accept cards). Just make sure to call in advance to check hours of operation. (1107 E Carson St)
– Cambod-ican Kitchen – As you’re walking down E. Carson Street, kepp a close watch for Cambod-ican Kitchen. A lack of proper storefront signage doesn’t deter the crowds from making the late night rounds to this famous food truck turned institution. There’s nothing quite like Cambod-ican – the food is a fusion of Cambodian (itself a mash of French and Asian cooking styles) and American, resulting in an orgy of taste few first-timers are prepared for. The maestro for this symphony of deliciousness is Dan, aka The Cat Man, celebrated for his friendliness, raucous sense of humor, and ever-present cowboy hat. The eats are reasonably priced for the high quality and the atmosphere is nice, but relaxed. Try the shrimp toast (I’ve never eaten anything like it), Moeun’s Crispy Chicken (droool), the Pad Thai, the Cambodian Noodle Soup… oh god, just try anything. Make sure to get an extra cup of Moon Sauce (or two), and finish everything off with a cool glass of Iced “Moon” Tea. And now I’m salivating… (1701 East Carson St.)
– Double Wide Bar and Grill – To be fair, there are a lot of places that serve similar food to the Double Wide, but none have quite the menu, nor the character that this place boasts. This place is an excellent compromise for groups of varied eaters, because it’s likely that there is something for everyone. It has a nice, large outdoor seating area, corn hole, weekly events, and one of the more vegetarian and vegan friendly menus in the city. The service is only so-so, and I think it’s maybe a wee bit overpriced, but it’s a small upcharge to pay for a place where all can get a quality meal. (2339 East Carson St.)
Whew, I’m exhausted. If you’re reading this and you’re local, then you know how this is a tiny fraction of the eating options in the South Side. I encourage those of you willfully stuck on the East End to occasionally make the trip across the Mon.