Tag Archives: asian food

Ramen Bar


Unlike the seeming many of my peers, I don’t have regretful notions of a college era spent subsisting off of a ramen. It was there, of course, those shiny plastic packets stocked next to the microwave-safe containers of Campbell’s, the boxes of Easy Mac (the best/worst thing to happen to college students since Stouffer’s frozen mac’n’cheese), and (always my mainstay, even to this day) the PBJ fixings.

But while I was not immune to the seductive allure of processed, easy and fast, microwaveable junk dinners, I had it better than a lot of other students because my campus was small, the dining options quick to get to, the selection of decent quality, and I was the proud owner of a complete meal pass for three out of four years. Even when I moved to a campus apartment, which was outfitted with a kitchen for the express purpose of self-feeding, I continued near daily visits to the dining hall. My ramen era would have to wait.

I am not so ignorant of the food traditions of various other cultures that the idea of a moderately upscale ramen place was surprising to me. Admittedly, I assumed such a thing was inevitable. Remodeling the street food of other cultures into destination dining is an easy sell in the contemporary culinary landscape. The Ramen Bar has a hook that is both international and innately familiar, making it a perfect complement to its fellow restaurants in the busy Forbes/Murray/Shady corridor of Squirrel Hill.

Ramen Bar on Urbanspoon

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Vietnam’s Pho in the Strip

A few years back, I had a boyfriend who had relocated to the city from Seattle, Washington. He didn’t last a year in Pittsburgh. Among his many complaints: erratic weather (check), lackluster local music scene (when you’re from Seattle you get to make these kind of assessments based on little to no hard data), lack of jobs, the giant hill down Main Street from Penn to Butler (dude seriously hated that hill), and no “decent” or “authentic” pho.

Most of the points are debatable (except for the Main Street hill – that does suck), but my opinion on local Asian cuisine is this: if you haven’t had good Asian food in Pittsburgh, it’s your own damn fault. This place is overflowing with good options, you just have to look around.

The looking around part is key. As is the case with many restaurants, it’s often the hard-to-spot place that is worth the extra effort. In larger cities, Asian restaurants pop up in every nook and cranny, many of them without obvious signage, some without signage at all. The names and exteriors of these places are usually less than memorable, something that does not lure in new customers and may prevent possible returning customers. (Seriously, there is a restaurant in DC’s Chinatown that I have been trying to return to for years.)

Anyway, this is a long rambling way of explaining why I could walk past Vietnam’s Pho in the Strip District for years and never realize it was there. That is, until one hungry night in the Strip found me and a friend wandering about, assessing our options.

It was getting to be close to 8 pm, and I was worried that our window for most food options was getting smaller and smaller. We strolled down Penn Avenue in the opposite direction of most of the nightlife. We were thinking sushi. I knew that there was a place farther down the road that was probably open at least until nine or ten. I also remembered a little hole in the wall that we could possibly try. What we found instead was a bright white sign that lured us in with an inevitable promise: Vietnam’s Pho.

First, let me admit, I trust signs. Probably to an absurd degree. If it bills itself as “authentic” chances are that I will want to try it out. Also, the more straight-forward (i.e. rundown) an exterior, the more likely I am to want to go inside. So while my friend might have opted for the sushi bar down the street, I made a beeline for the double doors and we were soon seated at a table in the modest interior decor of Vietnam’s Pho. Continue reading