The Best Burgers and Hot Dogs in Pittsburgh
Whether it's challenging times that has people craving the food of their youth or the fact that the summer grilling season is upon us, burgers 'n dogs have never been more popular in the 'burgh. Some local eateries are making a business around these humble eats while others are showcasing them on fine-dining menus. It helps to know where to go, though, since the best of the best may not be where you'd expect.
At D's Six Pax & Dogz
in Regent Square, owner Dino De Flavio's ten-year-old beer concession stocks about a thousand bottles (the Pranqster from North Coast Brewing is a personal fave) and sales were aided with the addition of dogz several years ago. The signature Vienna all-beef frank is nicely sized and surprisingly good naked, snug against a poppyseed bun. While the Chicago (relish, onions, pickles and then some) is top dog, the Big Ben is #2 and ain't that the truth, dawg. My advice: skip 'em both and order a plain beef dog with a small side of the otherworldly chili-cheese fries. Put a few fries on each hot dog bite and transport yourself to foodie heaven.
On a quiet street in Dormont, Captain Barnes (yep, that's his name) and his wife, Rachel Dudley, opened Dormont Dogs two years ago. "It's kind of like our business college," says Dudley of the small storefront helmed by her husband, a former executive chef at Sonoma Grille. Safe to say they're earning high grades. The Reuben is a mash-up of melted cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing atop a slender dog (beef or veggie options available) and the light-as-air buns are baked daily by Kribel's in Brookline. The Connecticut Avenue is a picnic in every bite thanks to the baked beans and cole slaw astride but the thing to order is an off-the-menu chili-cheese dog with onions and dill pickles. Trust me, it's good.
Leading the way on these dog days is Franktuary
, tucked under an Episcopal church in downtown Pittsburgh. Co-owner Megan Lindsay lends charm to the functional space and the many magazines strung on a cord insure that no one eats alone. The New Yorker is piled high with kraut, homemade Vidalia onion sauce and brown mustard whereas the Pittsburgh comes with not one but two pierogies and a pile o'slaw. Take that, Noo Yawk! You can get a beef, tofu veggie or locavore (local organic) dog and every one of the over a dozen different combinations is a beautiful presentation. Dearest to my heart is a locavore topped with chopped onions and Miller's Mustard, the latter a neon-orange goo that is the pride of Gibsonia, PA.
It was three years ago that I first had the burger at Bistro 19
in Mt. Lebanon and I could never quite get it out of my head. The presentation was simple enough but the flavors, oh my! A recent visit was proof positive that my memory wasn't failing me. In a brown-on-brown room filled with happy people, my burger arrives open-faced, a glistening hunk of sirloin topped with cheddar cheese, bacon and thinly-sliced pickles. I top it with the accompanying lettuce, tomato and red onion and dig in and, to my surprise, it's the homemade pickles that make this burger click. A tad sweet and thin enough so they won't slide off the meat, I waste no time in ordering extra pickles so I can have some with every bite. A side of sweet potato fries seal the deal.
in the Strip District, subtlety has left the building and in its place arrives brassy, sassy food befitting the restaurant's Caribbean roots. The Kaya Burger is more like Mount Kaya, a towering creation composed of Angus beef, bacon, tomatoes, avocado, pickles and a secret sauce and topped with a sunny-side-up egg. It's near impossible to wrap your hands around it all and if you do, the egg oozes and then the special sauce oozes... face it, this is a ten-napkin affair. I finally throw in the towel, er, napkin and pick up my fork and knife. The good news is the burger is delicious and kids will adore the blessed mess. "I'd come back here just to eat that burger!" exclaims my well-traveled eight-year-old. Nine on Nine
in the Cultural District is, by comparison, a paragon of understatement. In an shimmery silver-meets-blue dining room, the BBQ Burger is tender Kobe beef anointed with flavor-fused barbeque ribs, a slick of cheddar cheese and a not-quite-spicy fried Jalapeno mash. Pommes frites, fries to you and me, are fried in peanut oil and positively addictive. The sum total is perfection and, rest assured, you'll be planning your next lunch date before you leave.Sign up
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Pictures: Kaya Burger; Captain Barnes and Rachel Dudley; Franktuary's Locavore.Photographs copyright Brian Cohen