Uncovering Squirrel Hill: A Morning Walk Through Pittsburgh's Most Populated Neighborhood
Name a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, and you'll probably identify it by a meal you've had there.
It's my mission to eat my way through every neighborhood in the city. Many of the checkmarks on my list can be found next to restaurants in the East End gem known as Squirrel Hill. The number of eateries there is impressive, but a morning walk along Forbes and Murray avenues can reveal much more than what meets the mouth.
I understand the importance of friendly customer service that a family-owned "Mom and Pop" store can offer. You'll find examples of this at longstanding establishments such as the Squirrel Hill Flower Shop, where the employees will assist the most novice decorator beautify his home.
If it's your sole that is troubled, stop by Little's Shoes for a solution. I'm not much of a shoe shopper, but the sense of friendliness with which I was greeted made me want to take home a pair.
I felt like I took a detour from my trip through Squirrel Hill when I walked into Ten Thousand Villages. I was instantly transported across the globe, where the fair trade inventory was created by fair trade artisans from a variety of countries. Far from your average business, I was initially intrigued by the aesthetics of the jewelry, gifts and accessories before learning more and becoming moved by the mission of the non-profit company and its beneficial impact on the world.
I should mention that I didn't peruse the neighborhood on my own. Natalie Kovacic, coordinator for the community organization known as Uncover Squirrel Hill, served as my tour guide, introducing me to several of the business owners who we encountered. I listened intently as they shared stories about the recent success of the first Squirrel Hill Wine Walk and made plans for the return of The Night Market this summer.
Always a bit of a "foodie," I can confidently say that Squirrel Hill plays a part in why Zagat ranked Pittsburgh No. 1 in The Top 17 Food Cities of 2015.
If you're hungry for pizza, the debate between Aiello's and Mineo's is well-documented. The bar scene features Murray Avenue Grill, Silky's Sports Bar & Grille and Independent Brewing Company, showcasing beers made in Western PA. And Asian cuisine is an easy find, whether you're looking for Chinese (Chengdu Gourmet), Japanese (Sakura), Vietnamese (Tan Lac Vien) or Thai (Bangkok Balcony and Silk Elephant).
There are many others, but those are the locations that I can personally vouch for because I have eaten there. The rest still await my first visit (including the ever elusive Everyday Noodles, which has been near the top of my list for the past couple of years).
As an added bonus to our morning journey, my colleague (Christine Musial) and I had a true "Pittsburgh moment" when we encountered a local celebrity. In preparation for my move to the Steel City, I learned a lot while watching several WQED documentaries created and narrated by Rick Sebak. So, I couldn't resist the urge to approach him after he paid for his morning coffee at The Coffee Tree Roasters.
Pittsburgh is truly a city of diverse communities, each one with a unique story to tell. If you're a visitor to the area, I encourage you to explore as many of them as possible. If you're a local who hasn't ventured too far from the place you call home, what are you waiting for? Write down the names of the 90 neighborhoods, find out where they're located and visit each and every one of them. You'll then have a better understanding of the people you share an area code with and why they are so passionate about the places in which they settled. Most likely it has something to do with the food you'll find there.
Previously a lifelong resident of south central PA, Scott Hershberger has a deep passion for his new hometown of Pittsburgh. He particularly enjoys cheering on the city’s sport teams, exploring attractions with his family and attempting to eat at every restaurant in Allegheny County. Contact him at via email or follow him on Twitter.