Since 1933, Primanti Brothers has been one of Pittsburgh’s most famous food places. With its original location in the historic Strip District neighborhood, Primanti Brothers serves sandwiches stuffed with Cole slaw and fries with a variety of accompanying meats and foods. Casual and no-frills, the historic restaurant which once served Strip District dock workers and laborers now serves Pittsburgh residents in 17 locations across the greater city region, with three more locations in Florida. Among the many media mentions Primanti Brothers has received is an appearance in Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food.
Any Pittsburgher will tell you to visit Primanti Brothers before you eat anywhere else in town; it’s a city institution. When your sandwich comes to you, you’ll see why.
- The Pitts-Burger: The “No. 2 best seller” (No. 1, being, naturally, beer) this stuffed burger comes best with onions on top. Doesn’t need ketchup or any sauce. That greasy beef patty is rich, and it’s perfect with the salty toppings.
- Pastrami & cheese sandwich: This was, according to the workers, the most popular choice downtown and it came to me in about five minutes buried under a mountain of french fries and cole slaw between Italian bread. The sandwich is best with an egg (a 50-cent up-charge.)
- Bacon, egg & cheese sandwich: A stuffed sandwich with thick cut bacon and a fried egg. This breakfast sandwich is a bit less filling than a lot of the saltier, meatier sandwiches, but no less good.
- Cappicola & egg: Another meat that is perfect with an egg, this one is a bit saltier but still great.
- Bacon: Simple and very crunchy! This is the best sandwich in Pittsburgh.
- Kielbasa: A very salty red meat is typically needed to even the fries, bread and cole slaw in this famous sandwich. Nothing a good kielbasa can’t handle.
- Flatbread: Only available at some of the suburban locations, the version I tried is topped with green peppers, onions and mushrooms. Great!
I’ve eaten stuffed sandwiches before, but this one is uniquely good. The secret is in the cole slaw which brings everything together. Unlike traditional stuff other places serve, this slaw is a mix of sweet and vinegary and has a very peppery consistency. It’s definitely unusual but it just tastes good. Over the salty and crunchy fries, the two items come together to put the entire meal in the sandwich.
The variety of meats you’ll find on the menu are great. The sandwiches are definitely the restaurant’s main attraction, and they are done so well you won’t find space in your stomach for desert.
Service is great. I had my first taste of Primanti Brothers at the original Strip District location, and there’s something very fulfilling about the environment there. The service comes quickly and tends to your every need. The big, old-fashioned menus posted on the walls evoke a simpler feel, but at the same time, the walls are packed with images of Pittsburgh athletes ingrained in the city’s psyche; Steelers, Pirates and Penguins alike. Even Dan Marino’s likeness is painted onto the wall, which he apparently signed during a visit for a sandwich. This place is about more than just the food; there’s a special feeling when you walk in. You’re getting a piece of the culture of Pittsburgh with you.
Primanti Brothers is the first place people told me to try when I set foot into Pittsburgh, and now I see why. So much of what the city is can be seen in the unassuming little gem at the end of 18th Street. Pass the word on; no matter why you’re in town, come here first.
- Come hungry. The sandwiches are very filling.
- Avoid coming during peak rush hours, as the popular Primanti Brothers dining room can get very crowded.
- The Strip District location takes cash only, so don’t forget to bring some when you come to eat.