The best of the bunch: Pitt students’ favorite restaurants


Leela Ekambarapu | Staff Photographer

Noodlehead in Shadyside claimed the title of Best Thai in The Pitt News’ “Best Of survey.”

By Diana Velasquez, Staff Writer

Living in a city means there’s a variety of restaurants around every corner. Even Pitt students on a college-student budget treat themselves once in a while to a night out for some good food.

Pitt students voted earlier this month for The Pitt News on their “Best Of” for Pittsburgh. The categories ranged from best tattoo parlor to best spring break spot, but there was no category more popular than food. The employees from some of the winners spoke to us about why they think people come to the restaurants they work at — and what some of the most underrated dishes are.

Best Breakfast — Pamela’s Diner

It’s not a surprise that the best breakfast winner would be a diner. Oakland is one of the five Pittsburgh neighborhoods with a Pamela’s branch. Located just two blocks down from Litchfield Towers and the Schenley Quadrangle, Pamela’s has a lot of Pitt customers.

Maura Mazzella, 28, is the daughter of one of Pamela’s owners and has been at the Oakland location for 15 years. Pamela’s, according to Mazzella, is famous for its hotcakes, which deviate from a traditional American pancake. Their best-selling strawberry hotcakes are made in a crepe style, big as a plate with crispy edges, which Mazzella said is to die for.

“They’re kind of in between a French style crepe and a standard pancake but you can only get them made here this way at Pamela’s. And the strawberry ones are rolled with a layer of brown sugar, sour cream, fresh strawberries, they’re rolled up and then a dollop of whipped cream on top,” she said.

While Mazzella said their breakfast food is always popular, Pamela’s lunch hours are not as busy. Pamela’s lunch menu features more savory options like chicken wraps, homemade egg salad and a wide variety of sandwiches in contrast to their sweeter breakfast menu. Mazzella said she wishes she could make more dishes like these in the kitchen, especially the grilled marinated chicken breast sandwich and the mushroom Swiss burger.

“I’m gonna take it to lunch, cause our lunch is a little underrated,” she said. “The mushroom Swiss burger, it’s a half pound hamburger topped with grilled mushrooms and melted Swiss cheese. It’s huge and delicious and I’d love to make more of them.”

Best Burgers and Wings — Stack’d

Most burger places offer preconstructed burgers and wings directly on their menu. But Stack’d gives customers the power to choose what goes into their dinners themselves.

Michelle Cerra, 29, and the front of house manager for Stack’d said the restaurant is automatically the best place for burgers and wings because of the build-your-own option for burgers through a checklist of bun types and toppings and customizable sauces for wings.

“Well I’d definitely say that we have the best wings around Oakland for sure. And burgers as well, but the bonus of getting a burger here is that you get to build it all yourself,” she said.

But if you’re looking for something beyond the beef and their best-selling Buffalo garlic parmesan wings, Stack’d is happy to provide vegetarian options. Its salads, Cerra said, are the most underrated items on the menu and are made exceptionally well in large portion sizes.

“They’re huge and just really good. Our Buffalo chicken salad is probably our most popular and it’s just a good alternative to the burgers and wings if you want something healthy,” she said.

Best Half Price — Fuel & Fuddle

Fuel & Fuddle serves as a classic kind of bar and restaurant hangout for Pitt students, just a block down from main campus. Like moths to a flame, they come for Fuel & Fuddle’s half prices after classes, especially on drinks. Fuel & Fuddle’s manager Rachel Hirleman, 26, said its reputation is what keeps the customers coming.

“Well they love the discounted price and the food is still just really good quality, so I think that they’re getting a good deal with the food,” she said. “And it’s a really fun atmosphere [that] people have been coming [to] for years.”

With 10 different beers on tap and a rotating list of 100 bottles, Fuel & Fuddle has plenty of drink options to choose from. Hirleman said that though the restaurant rotates through different house drinks frequently, the Kimberly, made with vodka, blackberry syrup, ginger beer and lime, is a fan favorite.

“Drinks kind of vary, we have different kinds of specials throughout the week so we have different house drinks. But I’d say the Kimberly is the best. People just order it a lot. It’s like a berry Moscow Mule — they’re very in right now, it’s a little twist on it,” she said.

In addition to its extensive beer selection and cocktail list, it looks like Fuel & Fuddle might be coming for the Stack’d best burgers crown. In addition to its burgers, like the Havana burger served with grilled ham and a vegetarian option called the Garden of Eat’n, Hirleman said Fuel has its own make-your-own burger option that she hopes people take more advantage of because of the customizability.

“You can really create, like anything, with that option and you can get something new and different there,” she said.

Best Thai — Noodlehead

For a Pitt student without a car, it’s a long wait for a bus ride to Noodlehead in Shadyside, especially during cold, damp January. But this authentically-made Thai restaurant, busy even on a Monday afternoon, is worth it.

Noodlehead is a bit unlike the other restaurants on this list. It boasts a smaller menu and offers a BYOB liquor service. Pam Grandizio, 44, and Noodlehead’s manager said this in no way affects its popularity.

“I think we’re the best because of our concept. Our service is super fast, its BYOB, we’re open the same hours every day and we have this consistency,” she said. “We make our food fresh every day and we deliver the food within 10 or 15 minutes. We also have a very small menu which really allows us to concentrate on the dishes that we do have.”

Because of its small menu, most of what Noodlehead serves customers sells pretty well, but Grandizio said for Pitt students, their favorite is probably the See Yew, a wok dish, and a dish called Street Noodles #1, which is made with made with Thai fried chicken. 

“The thai fried chicken, which is also an appetizer, the chicken, it’s amazing. It’s unlike any kind of chicken I’ve ever had before and with the rice noodles the Pitt students and just everyone loves that the most,” she said.

Though Noodlehead is rather appropriately named for many of its dishes that feature noodles, it does have other kinds of Thai dishes on the menu. Grandizo said some people are worried that they won’t like one of her favorite dishes, the green curry linguine, because it’s a bit different than anything else on the menu. It’s made with semolina noodles, green curry sauce and lots of different vegetables.

“It’s one of my favorites but I think that some people are afraid of green curry,” she said. “I think people are just afraid of the word curry. I think that they get nervous if they don’t like it, or if it’s something that they’re not familiar with.”