Like the city itself, Pittsburgh's immigrant cooking has polished up a bit—but connections to the past are never hard to come by.
Pittsburgh long ago shook off its image as the capital of steel, smog, and soot. Still, there's at least one reminder (other than the Steelers) of the city's gritty past: the food. Many of the people who worked in the coal mines and steel mills emigrated from Central Europe, and their hearty cooking was the ultimate comfort food after a dangerous day on the job. Today's Slavic and German cuisine is every bit as satisfying as the bratwursts of yore, but you'll often find it prettied up a bit, too—not unlike Pittsburgh itself.
—Mary Miller, The Fork and the Road blog (theforkandtheroad.com)
Braddock's American Brasserie and Bar
Amid the upscale menu at this New American brasserie are sophisticated nods to Central European classics such as braised short-rib pierogies with leeks. At brunch, try the Braddock's Benedict, which subs in griddled kielbasa for the classic Canadian bacon. 107 6th St., Pittsburgh, 412/992-2005, braddocksrestaurant.com, short-rib pierogies $8.
Reservations are crucial at this cash-only spot, where Alexander Bodnar cooks intimate, no-menu Hungarian meals. What the place lacks in space (you'll squeeze between a piano and mixed tchotchkes), it makes up for in charm, such as the plastic forks needed in a place too tiny for a dishwasher. 4804 2nd Ave., Pittsburgh, 412/422-1886, $10–$15 per person.
Max's Allegheny Tavern
The multicolored tile floors and beveled glass mirrors still glisten as they did more than a century ago when this was a hotel for wagon drivers delivering produce and wares to the city. The spaetzle, wurst, and sauerbraten can't be beat. 537 Suismon St., Pittsburgh, 412/231-1899, maxsalleghenytavern.com, sauerbraten and sides $15.
Housed in a renovated gas station, Pierogies Plus dishes out made-from-scratch dumplings. The Slavic voices behind the counter aren't faking it—they're direct from Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. In addition to traditional flavors like potato and sauerkraut, Polish owner Helen Mannarino crafts unusual (and tasty) fillings like jalapeño and apricot. 342 Island Ave., McKees Rocks, 412/331-2224, pierogiesplus.com, pierogies from $4 for 6.
Bardine's Country Smokehouse
Kielbasa, klobas, kubasa—whatever you call it, this country smokehouse is the place to buy it. The proof: Gary Bardine won six gold medals at the International Quality Sausage Competition, beating, among others, the Germans. Pick up some bread and grainy mustard, and go eat with the cows outside. 224 Bardine Rd., Crabtree, 724/837-7089, bardinemeats.com, kielbasa $4/lb.