Hardly a day goes by that you’re not working hard to be healthy. You’ve made it a point to snack smarter and sweat more. It’s paying off too. We’re just going to come right out and say it, you look pretty great!
But even the most committed health nut needs a break every now and again. It’s a little something known as the cheat day. A time for you to completely disregard every health-related care in the world so that you may treat yo’ self.
There’s just one interesting problem. Our city is PACKED with food. That means you have to choose what type of food you want to splurge on. Yeah, pierogis, pancakes, and Primanti’s. But we also have some saucy BBQ, tasty tacos, and noodles for days.
With that in mind, we created this by-the-craving guide to designing an epic cheat day experience. Let the planning begin!
Where at? Pittsburgh Popcorn Company (multiple locations)
Pop a few handfuls of Pittsburgh Popcorn Company’s Chunky Chocolate Caramel mix and you’ll be hooked. Not quite a meal, look for this caramel popcorn drizzled with milk chocolate to fill in the spaces as dessert or midday snack. Grab a bag downtown, the Strip District, Oakland, or online! Yeah, they’ll ship it right to you. !
What does cheat day look like? Well if you’re a BBQ fan, it probably looks like messy fingers and a smile slathered with sauce. And Pittsburgh’s barbecue scene is heating up. Start with South Side BBQ’s Bar-Ba-Cone, a southern mash-up for the ages. Southern-style, slow-cooked pulled pork topped with a pile of mac & cheese and North Carolina Coleslaw…all in a waffle cone. Too exotic? Saddle up at Brookline’s Smoq Pitt, where they’re smoking locally-sourced meats in-house and saucing it up with their original recipe. Though if you’re a true carnivore, try Union Pig & Chicken for your rib, meatloaf, brisket, or even tofu fix!
Where at? Prantl’s Bakery (multiple locations)
Carrying the title “the best cake America has ever made” is no joke. But Pittsburgher’s know that they’ll be party-MVP for any birthday, family reunion, or small get-together if they bring Burnt Almond Torte. In a way, a day with a cheat meal is like a party. So we suggest getting yourself to Prantl’s Bakery in Shadyside or Market Square. The vanilla cake with buttercream and candied almonds will call to you, though we don’t recommend eating a whole cake by yourself…so take some friends.
When you’re looking to satisfy an all-American cheat meal, many look to find an all-American burger. But you don’t need to settle for just a patty on a bun. Here in Pittsburgh, we’ve got all the fresh takes on the ground round. Start by settling in to the Strip District for a wood-fired steak burger on thick slices of toasted ciabatta courtesy of Gaucho Parilla Argentina. Manage your hunger with Industry Public House’s Management Burgher, a fixture with wild boar bacon and caramelized onion. Keep it simple with Meat & Potatoes’ Plain Jane, a beautifully basic burger on a homemade bun. Or if you’re more “veggie-saurus” than meat-eater, hit up OTB Bicycle Cafe for a veggie burger cooked into one of this South Side spot’s signature handhelds.
If you plan cheat meals ahead of time, you may wake up with a hankering for pancakes. Look no further than the Dor-Stop in Dormont, where generous helpings of Banana and Apple Walnut Pancakes landed them on Food Network. Though, they’re not the only famous pancake in Pittsburgh. Across 5 city locations, Pamela’s Diner is slinging crepe-style hotcakes stuffed with fresh fruit, nuts, and more. If you’ve overslept, rest easy knowing that you’ve got Square Cafe on the horizon. They serve breakfast all day, including their seasonal pancakes from the griddle and stacks of savory crepes.
When approaching a much-needed cheat meal, many go for carbs. Pasta is probably high atop the list of carb cravings. But why not try another kind of noodle? Like Noodlehead in Shadyside. They’re famous for their $9 noodles, inspired by the street markets of Thailand. But they’re not the only ones that know Thai; Pusadee’s Garden and Nicky’s Thai Kitchen will sit you down with a heap of traditional Thai noodle dishes. Though if you’re looking for dinner AND a show, sit at the bar of Everyday Noodles in Squirrel Hill. There, you’ll watch homemade noodles in action as experienced chefs jockey your would-be meal around the open kitchen.
Tacos are a cheat meal staple. Meat and cheese conveniently wrapped for you to destroy. Well Pittsburgh’s got ’em like you’ve never tried before. Start street-side with Las Palmas in Brookline or Oakland. They’ve got a traditional taco stand where you’ll be treated to spicy chorizo, chicken, rib-eye, or roasted pork tacos – 2 tacos for $5.50. For a little twist, head to Smoke BBQ Taqueria or flag down the PGH Taco Truck for the tastiest, most tricked out tortillas around. For a big twist (and a little tequila), make a reservation at downtown hotspot täkō for some SoCal hospitality and an octopus taco.
Say you want a sandwich. The type of sandwich that’s definitely a two-hander. Then walk your two feet to Lawrenceville, where The Vandal is sandwiching fried chicken with carrot slaw and chili honey. Woooo-weee. Move over, Colonel. But if your sandwich quest isn’t over, flock to Gaucho Parilla Argentina for rosemary braised beef con pan (that’s “with bread”). It’s a sammich revelation.
You can’t mess up grilled cheese, right? Truth. But you can take it to a whole new level. The Mac Attack is bringing all the boys and girls to The Yard. It’s a diabolical creation of homemade cheddar sauce, spiral pasta, and bacon. But if that wasn’t enough for a cheesy fix, the Big Bad Wolf at Cafe IO in Mt. Lebanon will blow you away – country ham, pulled pork, and bacon smashed between toast with gouda and cheddar.
You better hope that your cheat day falls on Tuesday. Because Tuesday is bacon night at Harris Grill and Shiloh Grill. Your dreams are coming true. You can buy baskets of bacon for a buck. And at Harris, it’s all you can eat. No questions asked. See you Tuesday.
Let’s talk about donuts. *Wipes drool from mouth* Most days of the week, don’t even tempt us. But cheat day? Bring ’em on. And Peace, Love & Little Donuts is happy to share their Groovy, Far Out, Funkadelic, and well, little donuts with all of Pittsburgh. Them being little means you can eat a massive amount of them, right? We’ll go with that. But if you like donuts from this decade, try the Italian-inspired goodness of chocolate pistachio or lemon rosemary from e2 in Highland Park.
What comes to mind when you hear the word patisserie? If you thought macarons, eclairs, and tarts, you’re in for a treat. La Gourmandine in Lawrenceville and Mt. Lebanon will wow you with traditional French baking in the form of danishes, lemon and apple tarts, mousses, sponge cakes, and more. Though if you’re a macaron nut, go to Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery in Millvale and feast your eyes (and fill your stomach) on their colorful assortment. Pick a color, any color!
How do we even begin? Ice Cream. We all scream for it. And picking just one style of frozen treat on cheat day is gonna be tough. Because Pittsburgh’s got it all, with a cherry on top. 1) Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches has a coffee/donut creation and other unique flavors of ice cream sammies using locally-sourced dairy and ingredients. 2) Burgatory is all over the Burgh and touting heavenly shakes. Try a Campfire S’mores, or show your ID for a Burnt Almond Torte (inspired by Prantl’s famous cakes, spun with vodka and amaretto. 3) Dave and Andy’s has 200 flavors and homemade waffle cones. Enough said. 4) Page Dairy Mart has been the cranking out the best soft serve since the steel days. 5.) Millie’s Homemade in Shadyside is the newest, and tastiest ice cream spot that’s vying for the top ice cream spot in the Burth.
Some refer to Pittsburgh as a football town with a drinking problem. If you’ve ever been to the South Side it’s hard to argue otherwise. Typically, consuming alcohol isn’t considered to be very healthy. But neither is cheat day. So if you’re going to enjoy an adult beverage, go ahead and buy local. Score a daily ration of hard apple cider, wines, or mead from Arsenal Cider House. Or if cider isn’t your thing, schedule a tasting at Wigle Whiskey Distillery.
If you prefer beer, you’re in luck. All across the city, craft brewers are bringing their best to bars and backyard barbecues. Try Brew Gentlemen in Braddock, East End Brewing, or Draai Laag, a Belgian-inspired brewer in Millvale.
We’ll keep you up to date on all things health, fitness and local food in Pittsburgh.