You might call it dinner theater. Or maybe dinner and a show. I'm talking about places where you may dine and watch as various foods are made right before your eyes. Talk about fresh.
To wit, I give you Pitaland Cafe, Casa Reyna and Everyday Noodles. Mediterranean, Mexican and Chinese. Let's call it an international feast for the senses.
First up is Everyday Noodles in Squirrel Hill. The best seat in the house is front and center of the plate glass window where, behind it, you will see cooks artfully wrestle mounds of dough into noodle delicacies that make my mouth water just thinking about it. The dough is stretched. The dough is slammed. The dough is twisted - right before your eyes - and with lightning-fast hand maneuvers and crimping speed, turned into some of the tastiest morsels of Asian fusion deliciousness that you can taste in this time zone.
The pork soup dumplings are legendary and a must-order. The good news is that you can try them seven days a week, as Everyday Noodles is open, yep, every day. They are not continuously making noodles, however. A few research phone calls in the evening after work to check if they're making them resulted in no dice rice. "We make them when we need them," I'm told over the phone when inquiring about when to come and see the show.
While other seats in the intimate restaurant may be a bit more comfortable, the seats in front of the noodle making window is where the action is. The only thing that beats it is when you pick up your chopsticks and slam dunk (as best non-regular users of chopsticks can slum dunk) one of those delicious dumplings into your mouth. Encore, please.
The next act takes us to tortilla making at Casa Reyna's in the Strip District. Upstairs it's all business – Reyna's retail marketplace business, that is. Downstairs you will find the Mexican hideaway where they serve up tasty margaritas, homemade tortilla chips and salsa and some seriously delicious fajitas among numeroso house specialties...all while sitting on beautiful furniture built in Mexico.
Though they make them fresh every day, lunchtime on Saturdays is the best time to come and watch through the viewing windows. You'll see fresh (no preservatives here, baby) flour tortillas coming off the line. While regulars are used to the activity behind the glass windows, kids and tourists get really excited about it, I'm told. And, for the record, so do locals (read: me) who enjoy those TV shows about how things are made. Or, as in this case, watching the end of the line as dough balls are transformed into several sizes of tortillas.
I learn that local high school Spanish clubs will come here to watch the process and practice their foreign language skills on Spanish-speaking wait staff.
Across town at Pitaland in Brookline you'll find the only bakery in western Pennsylvania that makes that kind of bread - namely pita bread. Oh, but it's so much more than a bakery.
There's the Pitaland Cafe, which seats about 15 or so people around a zig-zagging counter behind which they make authentic Mediterranean foods such as grilled halloumi cheese (served with lemon and pita, of course), chicken shawarma doner and spinach and feta pie (one of their best-selling items). OMG good. The cafe sits inside the nice size grocery store with exotic (to me) dry goods, canned goods and spices. And then there's the window where you can watch them make the pitas.
I first became introduced to Pitaland several years ago on a wonderful 'Burgh Bits and Bites food tour of the neighborhood. Though truth be told it's more than likely that I tasted their pitas prior to this as the delicious bread is served at many Middle Eastern restaurants in and around the 'Burgh. Standing behind the olive bar in front of the nine-foot viewing window, and watching the puffy round bread coming out of the oven only to flatten out as it goes up the conveyor belt was big, big fun. Tasting the warm bread was the baba on the ghannouj.
So the next time you are out to grab a bite, think of seeing one of these tasty shows. No ticket required.