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Madonna’s – Downtown

madonna's

Quesadilla, $3.30 & Pinto Beans, $1.49

I love Mexican food.

Okay, let me rephrase that. I love Taco Bell. I love flour tortillas and nacho cheese and refried (and re-hydrated) beans. Unfortunately, with my grave distaste for tomatoes/peppers/cilantro, I tend to have bad luck with real Mexican restaurants. This afternoon I was eating on budgeted time and money, so I stopped in Madonna’s Authentic Mexican on Smithfield St. to see what all the fuss was about.

The owner took my order and begged me to order something more adventurous. I insisted that a plain flour quesadilla and side of Pinto beans was all I needed. It was obvious that I was breaking his heart by ordering something so bland, but he was very sweet and gave me many smiles; possibly to make up for my disconcerting lack of flavor.

The quesadilla was small, but I did order the “chico” size, so I blame myself. It tasted just like my Mexican ex-boyfriend’s mom’s quesadillas – extremely yummy and certainly authentic. The beans were delicious as well.

Based solely on this small lunch, I deem Madonna’s an 8/10 on Pam’s Awesome Scale. Cue the infographic, please:

YEAH

I swear I’ll get a burrito next time.

 

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The Cage – Squirrel Hill

Squirrel Hill Cafe

Is it The Squirrel Hill Cafe? The Cage? The Squirrel Cage? Ask five people and you’ll get five different answers. But by any name, this place is the home of many things I love: cheap Yuengling pitchers, Dracula pinball, and quite possibly the best cheeseburger in the city.

I ventured out to The Cage for last night’s Penguins game against the Mighty Ducks (Disney TM lolol) with my friend Andy. They generally don’t get busy until after 8:00, and business can lead to them running out of important things — like hamburger buns. Luckily, we made it early enough for the full bun effect. We shared a pitcher of Yuengling and each got a burger with fries. There’s been a lot of talk of “the best burger in town” lately, with gourmet burger joints popping up everywhere you look. Wingharts is pretty good. Burgatory is better. But nothing compares to The Cage.

cheezberg

Cheeseburger, $3.75 & Fries, $1.50

Just look at it. And don’t worry, they do have lettuce/tomato/pickle/etc toppings, but I hate all of those. I got my burger with American cheese. They have swiss, provolone, and pepperjack as well. And let there be no confusion – $3.75 is not a “special” or “happy hour” price. IT IS $3.75 ALL DAY. EVERYDAY. I hate to harp on the price, but I could have easily paid $10-$15 for this meal anywhere else, and I still would have been elated. I decided to shell out the extra $1.50 for fries because the burger’s default side is potato chips. The fries are pretty much identical to Primanti Bros, except better.

The bun was soft and fresh, and toasted a little on the inside to avoid that godawful soggy thing that happens with other buns sometimes. The burger itself was cooked perfectly, medium-well,  and was about 1.5″ thick, which I think is perfect. It was also smothered in melted cheese. I made sure to fashion a large ketchup pond on my plate for optimal dipping of both the burger and fries.

Sip of beer. Bite of burger. Fry. Repeat.

I’ve never done Ecstasy, but I can’t imagine it’s better than this meal. 10/10 BECAUSE I SAID SO. Also “Best Burger”, in my opinion. And that’s all this blog is – PAM’S AWESOME OPINION. And you all love it.

haha

Haha.

-P

Squirrel Hill Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sun Penang – Squirrel Hill

Sun Penang

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Hot Plate

When I think of Pittsburgh neighborhoods with the best Asian food, Squirrel Hill is at the top of the list. Both Forbes and Murray are stacked with dozens of options, with varying styles and price ranges. Sun Penang, until recently, had gone under my radar. But after hearing a rave review from a friend, I just haaaad to try it.

As a picky eater, I’m the first to admit that I tend to go for the safest bet at a new restaurant. With all my might, I held back and did not order the General Tso’s like I normally would. For a restaurant like Sun Penang, I wanted to try something new. They have several different menus, offering some of your more traditional Chinese and Thai fare, but the real draw is the dim sum menu. Dim sum refers to bite-size dishes typically served in a steamer or on a small plate (thanks, Wiki). Personally, I would classify it as “weird-ass dumplings and fried stuff”, which somehow seems less eloquent.

Sun Penang is a little on the pricey side, but the luxury is fully realized in the decor. Long drapes line the dimly-lit walls, and leather and mahogany coat the rest of the interior. The bar was stocked with an alarming amount of whiskey for an Asian restaurant. I love whiskey, but the romantic atmosphere (even though I was dining alone) compelled me to order a glass of Cabernet. After much deliberation and wine-consumption, I chose three dim sum items: the Fried Shrimp Ball, Chive w/ Shrimp (dumpling-type thing), and Lotus Leaf Sweet Rice.

Shrimp Ballz

Fried Shrimp Balls, $3.50 & Sutter Home Cab, $5.50

The shrimp balls (God, I wish they had a more appetizing name) came out first, and were warm and crispy. Fried to perfection.It’s always a little unnerving to eat something simultaneously fishy and puffy. Get over the initial shock, and these little guys can be pretty tasty. Douse them in the accompanying sauce (see photo) for the full flavor effect. Next up, the Chive with Shrimp.

Dumplin'

Chive w/ Shrimp, $3.50

Sorry this photo doesn’t really do these guys justice. These steamed dumplings were filled with a mixture of chive and shrimp in a creamy tartar-sort-of thing. It was kind of a crab rangoon texture, but without cheese. I thought they were totally delicious. I love the squishyness of the outside of the dumplings – yom yommers. Suddenly, I remembered I had more food to eat.

Lotus rice

Lotus Leaf Sweet Rice, $5.25

As I was so kindly informed so as to not make an ass of myself, you are not supposed to eat the leaf! Don’t do it! Instead, peel back the layers of lotus leaf to uncover the steamy mass of food locked within – sticky rice, with chicken, shrimp, shittake mushrooms, I think some kind of pork?, and other miscellaneous goodies. The lotus leaf gave the whole dish a very earthy taste. Different from anything I’ve ever had, and definitely not your everyday American-Asian food. Everything was cooked very well and the sticky rice was sweet and delectable. Sadly, I could not finish it. But never fear!

to-go bag

Cutest doggy bag ever!

I got to take my leftovers home in this handsome bag with a little umbrella poked in the side! It doesn’t get much cuter than tiny umbrellas, folks.

Seeing as how I am still without a good rating system, I’ll divvy out a nice 7.5/10 for Sun Penang. It’ll leave you feeling full, worldly, and totally Kawaii!

SO KAWAII

^_^V

-P

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Thai Gourmet – Bloomfield

Thai Gourmet

It’s February, which means you’re either getting over or getting into an illness. I fall into the latter category – I currently have a pretty nasty cold. I considered just ordering in tonight, since it’s snowing and freezing and I didn’t really feel like leaving my warm cocoon, but the idea of yummy Thai food propelled me out of bed and down to Liberty Avenue.

Thai Gourmet is an adorable little nook sandwiched between a tobacco shop and a laundromat. The dining room is intimate, with a long diner-style counter and bar stools as well as tables. The multicolored twinkly lights are so endearing. The whole vibe of the place is just so pleasant.

Service was prompt and friendly as I popped a squat at the counter. I was the only person eating at the “bar”, but the tables were all full of very happy looking customers. Yes, I was one of those “table for one” people.

Alone

Anyway, I ordered the Nam Prik (or the “N6” if you are uncomfortable saying “Prik”) – coconut w/ curry powder, yellow bean, deep fried broccoli/zucchini and crinkle-cut carrots. I also had Jasmine tea to soothe my throat.

So jazzy!

So jazzy!

Nam Prik

Nam Prik & Jasmine Tea - $10

The Nam Prik is served with your choice of meat. I am generally a meat-eater, but I tend to enjoy this dish with tofu generally. Thai Gourmet utilizes the 1-to-10 scale of spiciness with their menu, so I ordered mine at a 7.

The best way to describe the Nam Prik (curry-looking stuff in the bowl) itself is like a thin, saucy relish. There are tiny bits of peanuts in it, which gives it a very classically “Thai” taste. The spiciness combined with the sweet coconut flavor is absolutely delicious. Some Thai places don’t come through with very good accuracy on the 1-to-10 scale, but mine was definitely a strong 7. Just perfect.

I got a whoooole lot of food for $10, but I wish they gave you more deep-fried veggies. There were four pieces; two of broccoli and two zucchini. I understand that they are more so an accent of the dish than the star of the show. But man, I could eat like a pound of that fried broccoli. It is complimented by the sauce soooo well.

The noodles were cooked very well – maybe a little too soft, but I’m picky about noodles (as we all know from my last post) so I’m not really worried about it. The whole meal was AMAZING. I can’t say enough good things about it. The bed of raw veggies (spinach, really good iceberg lettuce, bean sprouts, crinkle-cut carrots) totally completes the meal, giving you a nice break from the intense spiciness every once in awhile.

Considering the adorable atmosphere, friendly service, and deliciousness of the food Thai Gourmet is getting a big 9/10 rating from this lady. I swear I’m going to come up with a better rating system soon.

Oh! And I got a fortune cookie for dessert.

Fortune

8)

It did! Making the 5-minute trek to Thai Gourmet dramatically improved my mood. I’d recommend it for the healthy and sick alike. Personally, I’m still sick. But at least my tummy is full.

-P

Thai Gourmet on Urbanspoon

good news, everyone!

HELLO. THIS IS PAM.

The Critic

Pam!

I am an aspiring writer, working and living in Pittsburgh. I like writing. I like food. I like Pittsburgh.

Let me take this opportunity to explain my intentions with this blog.

I am no foodie. Don’t expect to find rants about kimchi here. I don’t even like tomatoes. Or onions. BUT the foods I enjoy, I enjoy immensely. The intricacies of a peanut-butter & jelly sandwich make my head spin; in a delicious way.

I guess if I had to have a mission statement (which I don’t, because this is my blog, and I do what I want) it would go something like this:

“To provide well-informed, accurate, and ego-less evaluations and opinions on Pittsburgh restaurants.”

That sounds pretty good.

But yeah. Pittsburgh seems to have a new restaurant pop up every five minutes. They can’t all be the next “Waffallonia” or “Pi“, so I’ve taken it upon myself to give restaurants a trial-run for you all. You can thank me with generous donations and heavy traffic.

MORE UPDATES COMING SOON JUST WATCH OUT! DAMN!

Noodles & Company – Market Square

nude-dells

Photo courtesy of Market Square Pgh

When trying to think of the best restaurant to review for my first entry, I wanted to make sure it was a place completely new to me – you know, for optimal reviewing and stuff. Noodles & Company (which probably spent millions of dollars on the domain name noodles.com) recently opened its big red doors to Pittsburgh’s ever-growing Market Square lineup of upper-middle-class lunch options, and the reception has been really positive. My coworkers have swooned over the place for weeks.

The dining room is pretty spacious and modern looking. The tables and chairs were clean and inviting. But since I took a late lunch today (around 3:00),  I think I may have interrupted their “down time”. The cashier was clearly pissed that she was still at work and barely spoke to me throughout my transaction. Her eyes, the few times she looked at me, screamed “OH, YOU WANT NOODLES TOO? DOESN’T EVERYBODY?! GET OUT”. Regardless, I ordered buttered noodles, a side salad and a fountain drink.

Da Meal

Buttered noodles, side salad, Raspberry Fanta - around $9

Buttered noodles; a cornerstone of my nutrition since preschool. This version comes with “Italian seasonings” and Parmesan cheese. You may criticize me for not ordering a more unique dish; you’re probably right. Noodles & Co. has dozens of noodle-y options ranging from pad thai to pesto cavatappi. Maybe those dishes are better than what I had.

IMO, and as you can probably tell by this picture, there was too much seasoning.

buttered newds

SUP, GREEN STUFF?

Needs less green stuff and MORE BUTTER. But still tasty. The cheese was a nice touch. The noodles themselves were a little tough, which was disappointing. The “regular” size is ooookaaaayyy, for like $6.

The side salad had an awesome peanut-soy-thai-buzzword dressing that will be haunting my dreams…mmm…oh, I can almost taste it right now…

And let’s not forget the main attraction: crazy soda machine!

SODAAAAA

Coca-Cola...from the internet???

Trying to operate this machine makes anyone look like their own grandmother trying to play Playstation. So I didn’t spend a lot of time perusing the different soda options. But they have like EVERY flavor of Fanta, including raspberry. Totally won me over, though the cups they use for their fountain drinks aren’t disposable, so you can’t take them to-go. Bummer.

The coolest thing about Noodles & Co. is the service setup. Placing your order is entirely fast-food oriented, but your food is brought out to your table AND you don’t have to clean up after yourself. All of the staff members that weren’t that one bitchy cashier were super friendly and helpful, so kudos to those people.

Overall, since I don’t have a better rating system yet, I’ll go ahead and give Noodles & Company a 6.5/10 rating. A little better than “okay”, but not somewhere I’d go to treat myself or anything. Maybe next time I’ll try a dish that couldn’t be made by a 5-year-old.

-P