While the South Shore in Pittsburgh has traditionally been beat known for its nightlife, many of those popular bars crowded during the weekend also have some of the most interesting restaurant concepts emerging in the city. Steel Cactus, a colorful Tex Mex concept, brings simple, high quality dishes like tacos and burritos to play with excellent ingredients for a delicious result. Steel Cactus might look like a spot you’d only frequent for a drink when the game is on, but it’s got an interesting set of foods to try that should not be ignored.
The menu of the spot is fairly simple, and relies on a series of drinks and traditional Tex Mex staples to make it popular, like tacos, chimichangas, fajitas and the like. The trick is that some of those ingredients might surprise you. Here are a few examples:
- Chipotle Brisket tacos: this one is made spicy take. Interestingly its chief meat is beef brisket: not at all typical of standard Tex Mex fare, which is smothered in a sweet barbecue and slightly tangy chipotle sauce. Really the interesting ingredient is the fried jalapeno peppers which garnish the dish. They add a very modest heat but don’t take away anything in flavor.
- Pulled chicken tacos: Topped with such simple staples as cilantro and onion, lettuce and tomato, what really ties these together is the chicken, seasoned ever so modestly with a savory set of spices and a very slight bite. The texture of the meat is outstanding, fall-apart tender. The customization for this one lets you get “gringo style” simple flavors or the more interesting flavor profiles Cilantro and onion provide.
- 412 Burrito: A hefty serving of steak, creamy cabbage slaw, potato wedges, mixed cheese, and tomatoes. Huge enough to eat with a fork and knife.
- Sweet and Spicy Chipotle Salsa: Smokey and spicy with a slightly sweet front for sure. Some thick salsa with crunchy and salty chips to moderate.
- Margaritas: Served college style in a plastic cup, if you like it on ice and if you like it frosty. Sweet enough that the strength of this one will sneak up on you.
The restaurant has a very modern atmosphere, typically it features a vibrant inside bar and a loud exterior where folks congregate on weekend nights for drinks, but the spot is also pretty frequently busy during sports events. It’s to be expected. That said, the price points are pretty reasonable, and the service was pleasant in my experience. The spot offers some good food, and it’s overall an experience worth at least one try.
- The bar has street parking which can be difficult to come across in South Side. But some of the side streets offer some better options.
- The tacos are great, there are a few options of “specialty tacos” with unusual ingredients like brisket and roasted beets — or you can build your own.
- The bar is a lively sports bar concept. Expect a crowd.