South Hills emerges as the taco hot spot in Pittsburgh
Right now South Pittsburgh, otherwise known as the South Hills, is going through a food renaissance. For many years the cultural center of Pittsburgh has been in the East End and the same can be said for food. But now South Pittsburgh has been getting more interesting and eclectic over time. With the opening of Casa Rasta in Beechview, Las Palmas Street Tacos on Brookline Blvd and the amazing California Taco Shop in Whitehall, this side of the City is giving the traditional foody East End a run for its dinero.
Las Palmas, Street Tacos – 700 Brookline Blvd, Brookline.
I am just going to come out and say it: One of the best meals you can get in Pittsburgh is at the taco stand outside of Las Palmas (the wonderful Mexican grocery store and butcher shop people swear by) on Brookline Blvd in Brookline. There, I said it.
This standing room only – or stoop if you can find it – taco stand has all the flavor and atmosphere that you would expect to find on, lets say a street in Encinitas on the Baja Peninsula, much less in Brookline. Another plus? The tacos are a bargain. At $2.00 a pop you can forget the fourth meal and stock up on one.
The tortillas are grilled alongside the chorizo, ground meat and steak right in front of you. On weekends, as crowds gather, they cook up amazing potato-based vegetarian tacos that are alone worth the trip, not matter what side of the meat wagon you fall on. The toppings bar is next to the grill, offering a myriad of fresh salsa of all kinds, made in the store, along with avocado cream, lime wedges, onions, chopped chiles and more.
This is truly a great spot, inspiring one rave review after another on Yelp. Whether you are stopping in for a quick bite, or want to show your friends how you know everything about hidden gems in Pittsburgh, stop in and pick up a taco. Or three. You will not be disappointed.
Open daily 11 am to 9 pm. 412-344-1131
California Taco Shop – 2760 Saw Mill Run Boulevard (Route 51), Whitehall. 412-885-5600
For most people In Pittsburgh, Whitehall is a place they have vaguely heard mentioned, but have never been to. Mostly residential, Whitehall has a business side on Route 51 South and this is where you will find the California Taco Shop. Go past the Route 88 intersection and when the road bends you will see it on the right. Brake hard. You don't want to miss it.
We have been led to believe that all burritos are served up in aluminum foil, in an atmosphere that looks like it exists in a Herman Miller catalog. Yes Chiptole is good, but it is not an authentic experience. The California Taco Shop is. This place reminds me of Alberto’s, a burrito shop in San Diego where I used to spend my lunch, minus the bulletproof glass and general malaise that it was known for. The California Taco Shop--or the Taco Shop as my crew calls it--is inviting, clean and generally an awesome place. No frills, no social agenda, just authentic tacos and burritos, chimichangas and and quesadillas, served on paper plates, in a plastic red basket. Toppings sit next to the front counter. I recommend the side of pickled carrots; truly, it is almost unreasonable how much flavor they provide.
For $3.00 you can get a huge and filling bean and cheese burrito. I would opt for that along with a couple of tacos, like the steak, just to get your juices flowing. Order a lot just to try everything. The price is right and next time--and there will be a next time--you'll know better what to get.
Open 11 am to 9 pm Tuesday - Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Casa Rasta – 2102 Broadway Avenue, Beechview
On Broadway Avenue towards the end of Beechview exists some of the best tacos this side of the border. Casa Rasta
has some of the most interesting Mexican, Carribbean fusion food anywhere. When I say anywhere I don’t mean like Pittsburgh, or Pennsylvania, but anywhere.
The owners, Antonio and Laura Fraga are known for the Taco Stand they operated in the Strip District which gained a reputation for introducing flavors we were not experiencing before in Pittsburgh. Earlier this year, the Fragas took their business off the street and plopped it at one end of the slowly changing and ever more interesting South Pittsburgh neighborhood of Beechview.
Known for the T-line running down Broadway, Beechview has served as a pass-through for most commuters. But now Beechview boasts Casa Rasta serving up flour tortillas filled with jerked chicken or Mexican chorizo or cilantro-lime pork. These tacos give you a solid reason to stop in this nabe and stay awhile. More reason? Vegetarians flock here for the Soyrizo and potato and rajas tacos and tofu jerk style and more.
Unlike the Fragas' last venture, Casa Rasta has seating--although limited--on the inside. They also provide quite a few outside tables for al fresco dining under the canopy and you're welcome to BYOB. Either seat gives you a view of Broadway and the T running by which is always a charming Pittsburgh sight. We caught one packed with Steeler fans decked out in black and gold on their way to a pre-season game.
The menu here includes burritos, tacos and tostadas and tortas, along with Jarritos, the Mexican sodas that customers love. The price can’t be beat and the neighborhood is one of the most interesting in Pittsburgh. (Editor's note: during our visit, we had the good fortune of sitting outside next to Philip Injean, of the famous violin shop on Penn Avenue, who swears by Casa Rasta and Beechview in general. Says this nabe is the next Lawrenceville.)
For all of these reasons, Casa Rasta is a hit and a good choice for your next night out.
South Pittsburgh is becoming more of a destination and these establishments are at the heart of it. Whether you are a traditional Pittsburgher who does not like to cross the rivers, or someone who longs for something new to eat on this side of the City, check out any one of these places. You will not be let down.
Jason Kambitsis is the director of economic development for the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation. He also is a principal at Aspect: Data Driven Planning and a freelance journalist with work seen in Wired, ABC News and CNN. He lives in the West End of Pittsburgh and more importantly eats there.
Photos by Tracy Certo except photo of hot sauces by Jennifer Baron.
2102 Broadway Ave, Beechview (619) 227-2377
Open Mon,Wed and Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun. noon-9 p.m.