Last Updated on March 19, 2020 by Jeremy
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When we get visitors to Pittsburgh, one of the most popular questions that we hear is “what are famous Pittsburgh foods?”
The first one is easy- everyone knows Primanti Brothers. From there, what we would call iconic food in Pittsburgh can vary substantially based on who you ask. Is a pierogi a Pittsburgh food? What about Beto's pizza? Or how about something more unusual like chipped chopped ham? Or how about famous desserts, breakfast spots, and more?
When we sat down to think of it, we came up with a list of 15 definitive Pittsburgh foods. Some are famous because they were created here. Some are adopted foods from other cultures that are widely integrated into our local diet. Some are in specific categories that have die-hard followings (like our local famous chocolate shop- every city has one). Others still were created in nearby states but popularized in Pittsburgh as its first major market.
While this list is not comprehensive to hit everything that could be considered popular food in Pittsburgh, we did opt to select what we believe are the most well known and are unique to the region all the same.
For more of our opinion from restaurants mentioned below, click the respective links to learn more!
As far as Pittsburgh food is concerned, none would be more emblematic than that of Primanti Brothers. This sandwich chain started in 1933 in the Strip District and was designed to help feed truckers who were making deliveries in the neighborhood. They often only had one hand available when driving, so the restaurant put their sides (fries and coleslaw) on the sandwich to have an entire meal in one bite!
This one has been expanding to many states in recent years, but no location is more popular than their original Strip District spot. It is 24 hours and an icon of Pittsburgh. When you go, no matter what sandwich you get, be sure to put a fried egg on top. You won't regret it!
Since the success of Primanti Brothers, Pittsburgh has had a bit of a reputation of putting fries on, well, just about everything. But there is one that stands out above all others- the Pittsburgh salad!
You may think that a salad should simply be lettuce, vegetables, and occasionally a protein source, but in Pittsburgh you can quite frequently find fries on top as well! Primanti Brothers really did start something when they put fries on their sandwich.
But rather than continue of this trend of “fries on [food],” we're going to shift gears into other food types that could be considered Pittsburgh cuisine!
Pittsburgh received a rather large influx of Eastern Europeans during its steelmaking days, and naturally the region's cuisine has integrated itself into the regular diets of Pittsburghers over the years. So while we could say that this kind of food in general would be a Pittsburgh food, one item stands out as being a favorite- the piergoi.
This dumpling has a popular following in Pittsburgh and can be ordered at high-end restaurants, food trucks, to church basements, and even as a topping on sandwiches (again, the Primanti effect). So when eating your way around the city, having a few pierogies is a must!
Looking for great pierogies in Pittsburgh? Grab an order from Apteka, seek out Gosia's pierogies at events, or place your seasonal Lent or Christmas order at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church for some of our favorites!
Most cities in the country have an iconic chocolate shop, and in Pittsburgh that store is Sarris Candies (based in Canonsburg). This specialty store opened in 1960 and has grown tremendously over the years to produce chocolate, candies, ice cream, and has increased its distribution network to over a thousand stores throughout PA and nearby states.
So, if chocolate is on your radar, the local favorite of Sarris Candies is a must. You can find them in most stores, but a trip to their main store in Canonsburg is a must for the full experience.
Prantl's Burnt Almond Torte
Much like chocolate, every city has its own local favorite pastry. Pittsburgh's comes from the bakery known as Prantl's who operates three stores in the region.
Their prized creation is the burnt almond torte, a white cake covered in icing and generously topped with almonds on every square inch. The story goes that Henry Prantl took a trip to California during a year of an almond surplus and got the idea for the dessert as a unique way to use the ingredient. It was a hit, and hungry Pittsburghers go for it by the slice, as wedding cakes, or in other unique formats popping up- both at Prantl's and other bakeries around the city!
Did you know the world's most iconic condiments was created in Pittsburgh?
H. J. Heinz started in the food industry in the mid-1800s with the production of horseradish and introduced their now iconic product, Heinz tomato ketchup, in 1875. The famous “57 varieties” slogan was introduced in 1896, and in the 20th century expanded production where it grew to the icon status as it is known today.
While production of Heinz Ketchup is no longer in Pittsburgh, the history remains, and if you visit a restaurant, friend, or other foodservice spots in the city serving anything but Heinz, no one will fault you if you tell them they're wrong.
Other famous foods created in Pittsburgh include the Big Mac (check out the Big Mac Museum nearby) and the Clark Bar!
In the world of breakfast foods, there are many restaurants vying for being a Pittsburgh icon. While we recognize that so many places have a die-hard following behind it, to us the standout item is without a doubt Pamela's hotcakes.
This one is a large, crepe-like pancake that is known for being quite thin and cooked crispy on the edges and is a simple yet decadent breakfast. While you would do well in ordering these on their own, we think that these are best served with one of the fruit fillings made with fruit, brown sugar, sour cream (with select fruits), and topped with whipped cream.
Throw on a side of the restaurant's famous Lyonnaise potatoes and you've got the makings of a Pittsburgh breakfast you won't soon forget.
When visiting Pamela's, it is also worth noting that you should expect a line during conventional breakfast hours at every single location. We often take to eating at this one for an early lunch (but with breakfast food) just to not have to worry about the line. Likewise, note that Pamela's is cash only.
Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey
Kentucky may be famous for its bourbon, but whiskey's popularity in the USA can be traced back to western Pennsylvania with the Monongahela Rye.
Part of this is by its history, thanks to the Whiskey Rebellion that took place at the end of the 1700s (where the government wanted to tax whiskey producers) and part of it is for the mash bill- this one is made with mostly rye and other grains, has no corn, and uses a sweet mash processing technique. One sip of this and you'll know you're tasting something just a bit different that has its origin right here in the Pittsburgh region!
Looking for some to try? Old Overhold is one of America's longest-running whiskeys (founded in 1810 and once owned by Henry Clay Frick) and local producers Wigle Whiskey and Liberty Pole have made some pretty impressive spirits using historic recipes!
Eat'n Park Smiley Cookies
Why is a smiley-faced cookie so popular? It really is hard to say. After this one was introduced to Eat'n Parks many locations in 1986, the city of Pittsburgh has been unable to get enough of them. Part of this could be that Eat'n Park restaurants have on-site bakeries to make these treats. Another idea is that a smiling cookie can't help but make you grin before you eat it.
How this one took off in popularity may never be known for sure, but as far as the Smiley Cookie is concerned, it is distinctly Pittsburgh.
Kennywood's Potato Patch Fries
Pittsburgh's historic amusement park, Kennywood, is home to a food that guests order time and time again- potato patch fries. While this is simply an order of monster fries topped with cheese (and our favorite additional topping, bacon), the nostalgia aspect of this one ensures repeat consumption with every visit to the park.
Other Popular Foods from the Region
While the above ten items are what we would consider distinctly Pittsburgh either in origin (like Heinz Ketchup or Sarris Candy) or due to popularity (pierogies and potato patch fries), there are actually many more foods that people often consider to be tried and true Pittsburgh foods.
While the following are often considered to be a Pittsburgh food and often are prominently featured in lists such as these, their origin is technically outside of Pittsburgh. But for completion's sake, we have to mention them here. So onward to a few bonus foods!
Isaly's Chipped Chopped Ham
Virtually every Pittsburgher will agree that Isaly's chipped chopped ham is a local food, but we have to separate this one out on this list because it was technically invented in Ohio (Pittsburgh simply became a large consumer shortly after it came out).
Chipped chopped ham is an interesting one because it is a bit hard to define. This shaved meat is created by blending ham chunks, trimmings, and other seasonings, molding it into a loaf and shaving into a very thin cut of meat with a distinctive flavor. While you can get this meat on its own, it is most commonly served with barbecue sauce in between a bun (go for Isaly's spicy BBQ sauce if you can).
This meat became popular post-WWII as a lunchmeat, it has been slowly dying out in Pittsburgh culture in part due to the slow decline in Isaly's stores around the city (ours doesn't even sell the meat anymore). But the meat can be found at other delis like Penn Mac in the Strip District so you can have a nostalgic sandwich (or sammich) whenever you want!
Ohio Valley Style Pizza
Another food that is often considered to be a Pittsburgh style is putting cold toppings on square pizza cuts (a la Beto's Pizza). The only thing that is cooked here is the crust and sauce, and mounds of toppings are added on afterward. This can then be enjoyed immediately for a unique temperature contrast, left to sit momentarily for the base layer of cheese to melt, or put back in the oven to be warmed up even longer (often not recommended for this particular style).
While this is indeed a popular style of pizza in Pittsburgh, it is actually known as Ohio Valley or Steubenville style where it was said to have been created in the early 1900s. While only just across the border in Ohio, and still technically in a region that some would consider the Pittsburgh metro, it is still worth mentioning here.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Pittsburgh is said to have the 2nd highest number of pizza places per capita in the USA (just behind Orlando)? So while the Ohio Valley Style may be considered to be a Pittsburgh food, we may want to go ahead and just give the city all pizza. We have enough of it!
Heinz Ketchup and the Clark Bar are not the only mass-produced food items that Pittsburgh is known for. The metro region is also known as the birthplace of the Klondike Bar after being introduced by the Isaly Dairy Company in 1922- yes the same company known for its chipped chopped ham from above!
But like chip chopped ham, this one was technically created in Ohio and adopted as a Pittsburgh food shortly after being introduced into the market.
Nothing beats a good pepperoni roll from the Strip District on a nice summer day and depending on where you get these from they can be quite large and enough to feed several people!
The origin of these is quite similar to Primanti Brothers in that they were introduced to feed hungry coal miners in the early 1900s. Pepperoni (and sometimes cheese, peppers, or other ingredients) are wrapped in dough and baked, making for an easy-to-transport food that is slightly reminiscent of a calzone.
The only reason they're not 100% Pittsburgh? Well, this one was technically created in West Virginia and quickly came into the Pittsburgh food scene as a popular meal all the same.
The Banana Split
We finally end this list on a sweet note with the banana split! This iconic ice cream dish features three scoops of ice cream placed between a split banana and topped with various sauces, crushed nuts, whipped cream, and a maraschino cherry on top.
This one is said to be created in Latrobe, PA, at Tassel Pharmacy in 1904 (although a disputing store in Ohio claims ownership in the same year). Thankfully, the National Ice Cream Retailers Association certified Latrobe as the birthplace, adding yet another sweet treat onto the Pittsburgh metro's repertoire!
What iconic Pittsburgh foods do you love? Comment below to share your thoughts!
Looking to check out famous Pittsburgh institutions? We have numerous great options at the previous link that have die-hard followings that have stood the test of time!