New tacos v. old dogs: Students, alumni compare The O to Viva Los Tacos


Kendall Swift | Staff Writer

Viva Los Tacos, formerly the location of The O, on Forbes Ave in Oakland.

By Bella Markovitz, Staff Writer

Essie’s Original Hot Dog Shop, also known as The O, was a legendary Pittsburgh restaurant that opened in 1960, just in time to see the Pirates win the World Series a block away at Forbes Field. The O closed in April 2020 partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two new restaurants replaced The O in November, Viva Los Tacos and Capriotti’s Subs. 

Current Pitt law student Darren Campuzano grew up in Pittsburgh and knew of The O long before college, but it wasn’t until he started at Pitt that he began making memories there.

“The O was a huge late-night stop because it was just so conveniently on the corner,” Campuzano said. “That greasy bang for your buck that you would know you would get a good portion of food consistently after a late night of partying… that was the go-to spot.”

Now Viva Los Tacos sits on the corner of Forbes and South Bouquet Streets. Viva is quite different from The O, not just in the type of food that they serve but also in age, appearance and atmosphere.

After trying the new restaurant, Campuzano found that visiting Viva Los Tacos was “like a bad breakup… too much to deal with.”

“You still kind of harbor some feelings for what once was,” Campuzano said. “The environment… feels a little bit more artificial, kind of like a chain restaurant type of feel, like a little bit more plastic. It doesn’t have that same raw warm feel to it as The O did, and that’s what brought people into The O.”

Brandon Stirpe, a 2010 Pitt graduate who also graduated from Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation in 2012, said stepping into The O was like stepping into a “time machine.”

“The hand painted advertisements in the windows, the neon lights showing that it’s The Original Hot Dog Shop…even the crappy kind of cafeteria tables and cushion seats that were worn out. They haven’t been replaced in like a decade,” Stripe said. “It prepped me for life in South Oakland, almost. It’s like yeah, this is kind of a little rundown and beat up, but it’s ours. It’s our O and we love it and we’re gonna take care of it.”

Though The O was in the middle of campus, Stirpe said it introduced him and his friends to life outside of Oakland.

“It was mainly a freshman location for us,” Stirpe said. “It was mainly our introduction into life really outside of Oakland. It was people you met that weren’t from Oakland, or they were just people from different parts of Pittsburgh.”

Campuzano began his time at Pitt five years after Stirpe graduated, and he also said The O provided a welcoming Pittsburgh atmosphere.

“You could have this great atmosphere that felt like Pittsburgh, this great atmosphere that felt like Pitt and at the same time, you could get food that was incredibly good,” Campuzano said. “And then it was served by people that treated you like you were family.”

As a Pittsburgh native and the child of two Pitt alumni, junior psychology major Julia Lombardi went to The O as a child. Though she doesn’t recall her childhood memories of The O, she said she misses it.

“I think it was nice to have a restaurant that was known for being at Pitt,” Lombardi said. “I think Viva Los Tacos is like, a good spot and a good place to hang out with friends and meet up with large groups and stuff, but it’s not the same.”

Some Pitt students, like junior sociology and biology major Sagar Vellalath, don’t know the history of Viva’s current location. Vellalath said he enjoys Viva’s ambiance and that although it’s not his favorite restaurant, he enjoys going there with friends and how late the restaurant stays open.

The late-night hours are something that both Vellalath and Lombardi mentioned appreciating about Viva.

“Something I wish other restaurants did was stay open,” Vellalath said. “Like I do like that. And I think that’s the biggest plus. You’re trying to appeal to a college audience. They are gonna want something that’s open really late.”

Lombardi said Viva Los Tacos is a good place to go with groups of friends, especially for those who enjoy late-night dining.

“I like the upper seating area,” Lombardi said. “And the only time that I’ve gone, I’ve gone with like, really big groups and you can push tables together. Like everyone can talk. And yeah, I feel like it’s a good place for large groups to go to and I’m not sure if The O was like that.”