Eating the right way: cheap, quick, and fried

Were diners made for college students? Sometimes it seems like it. We don’t have any money; we get odd cravings for things like maple syrup and cheeseburgers; and we’re definitely not organized enough to make dinner reservations. If you’ve had enough of the meal plan (or the trucks) and are desperate for an affordable, high-quality meal, don’t call Vocelli’s for the fifth time this week. The Tartan is here to help. Here’s a list of five diners in Pittsburgh and what they have to offer.

Eat ’n Park: Eat ’n Park is the ultimate chain of Pittsburgh diners. It’s legendary: over 55 years old and located in 80 places throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. But Eat ’n Park is most intimately connected to the city of Pittsburgh. It’s hard to say which is more true — that Pittsburgh loves Eat ’n Park or that Eat ’n Park loves Pittsburgh.

“Most of my high school friends who go to school far away say that they miss Eat ’n Park more than their parents,” said first-year Nicole Hallinen, a psychology and French major and Pittsburgh resident. The appeal is not limited to college-aged individuals; Eat ’n Park is primarily a family-style restaurant. The menu is entirely alcohol-free and many of its items are appropriate for children. When it comes to chains and smaller restaurants, Eat ’n Park is the best of both worlds. It’s dependable and affordable, but it still has a cozy, friendly environment. Check out the one on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill if you want to put your DineXtra to good use.

Frank & Shirley’s: Some of the other diners in Pittsburgh are actually former Eat ’n Parks, including Frank & Shirley’s Restaurant. It’s a small space, which is at best a mixed blessing. You might enjoy having the place nearly to yourself, but it comes at a price: bizarre hours (they close at 7 on weeknights, but are open 24/7 over the weekend), and frequent lines. Frank & Shirley’s is also hard to get to by bus. However, the place is known for its breakfasts and burgers, which are cheap and served quickly. It’s worth a try, so visit Saw Mill Run Boulevard in the South Hills.

Tom’s Diner: You’ll also want to check out Tom’s Diner. There are three locations: one on the South Side (on East Carson Street), one in Homestead (on West Eighth Avenue), and one in Dormont (on West Liberty Avenue). They’re open 24 hours a day, and the food is very Pittsburgh — almost all of it is fried. Tom’s also has something called a Gyro Omelet, which is a rather brilliant way of taking an ordinary breakfast and turning it Greek. The most exceptional part of Tom’s Diner is the service; there are a multitude of reviews praising the wait staff for their manner, speed, and near-flawlessness.

Pamela’s: When you think Pamela’s, you probably think of a line stretching outside of the restaurant and into the street. It’s loaded with Pittsburgh spirit. Earlier this year, Eat n Park’s black and yellow smiley-face cookies paled in comparison to Pamela’s Steelers-themed decor, which included strips of “Steelers fans only” caution tape across the front door and on the walls. And just as Pamela’s embodies the city of Pittsburgh, a Pamela’s breakfast embodies the weekend. “I don’t consider it a weekend if Pamela’s brunch isn’t involved,” said first-year biology and psychology major Becky Ascher. Pamela’s is known for having the best pancakes in Pittsburgh — not only are they thin, but they can come stuffed with strawberries, apples, bananas, or blueberries. There are two locations on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill and Oakland, a third in Shadyside on Walnut Street, and a fourth on 21st Street in the Strip District.
Ritter’s Diner Resturant: Ritter’s Diner Restaurant is an excellent choice if you’re interested in flashing back while you eat. Comfortable booths, ’70s-style decoration, and music via vinyl 45s contribute to a soothing, classic atmosphere. They serve breakfast 24/7, and you’ll want to order a bagel breakfast sandwich, which is their most popular dish. They also serve feta cheese omelets and excellent deserts, including banana cream pie. Ritter’s has an extremely loyal following and often — like Pamela’s — has an extremely long line. Visit Ritter’s on Baum Boulevard in Shadyside.

Whether you’re sipping an Eat ’n Park milkshake or enjoying French toast from Pamela’s, if you’re at a diner in Pittsburgh, you’re probably having a good time.

“I think the thing about all of them is that they have Pittsburgh pride and they promote that ‘hometown feeling,’ ” said Hallinen. All five of the diners cater to every age group and have excellent menus you can depend on that include classy diner dishes like grilled cheese and breakfast foods. Most are open 24/7, so be sure to walk — or stumble — into any of them whenever you’re craving the diner experience.