There is one food item that is quintessentially Pittsburgh—and the best place to get it is the original Primanti Brothers location in the Strip District.
Pittsburgh has the best reveal of any major city I’ve ever been to.
I grew up nearby, I’ve been through the Fort Pitt Tunnel many times over the years. We’d hold our breath (or at least we’d try) until we reached the end of the tunnel. Total darkness, the radio fades away, and then – BOOM! – the radio crackles back to life and the buildings of Pittsburgh appear.
The Strip District
Pittsburgh is known as a blue-collar town, and no neighborhood better represents that than the Strip District. It’s just a short drive northeast from the Fort Pitt Tunnel and across town.
Not only is this neighborhood home to the Orginal Primanti Brothers, but it was also the source of many Union cannons for the civil war, plus US Steel, ALCOA, and Heinz all got their early starts here.
Today most of the industry has left the area, and those spaces are now occupied by produce markets, specialty stores, bars, and restaurants.
All this walking around has made me hungry—let’s get into this legendary sandwich.
The Original Primanti Brothers Location
Located just off Smallman street on 18th, the location is more alley than arterial. In case you might miss it, there are not one, not two but at least three large signs letting you know Primanti Bros. is right here.
This has been the spot for the original Primanti sandwich since 1933. Joe Primanti started out selling sandwiches from a cart. He found success and teamed up with his two brothers to open the brick and mortar location we’re visiting today.
The charming interior seats maybe 50 people, with one long counter and tables and chairs taking up the rest of the space.
The walls are filled with murals by Dave Klüg depicting notable Pittsburgh natives, citizens, and sports stars.
On this wall, I spy Michael Keaton, Frank Gorshin, Henry Mancini, Honus Wagner, Johnny Unitas, Pittsburgh Pirates Jim Leyland and Roberto Clemente, Steelers Mean Joe Greene, Franco Harris, Terry Bradshaw (and Myron Cope), NHL great Mario Lemieux (with two coffee “Stanley” cups), and wrestler Bruno Sammartino.
Other walls feature more obscure celebrities and the full menu painted there as well. On the menu, this famous sandwich is called the “#2 seller.” The #1 seller? Beer!
About that sandwich
Grilled meat, melted cheese, oil & vinegar coleslaw, tomato, and French fries piled high between two thick slices of soft Italian bread.
Fries on a sandwich? According to Joe Primanti’s cousin John DiPriter: “One winter, a fella drove in with a load of potatoes. He brought a few of ’em over to the restaurant to see if they were frozen. I fried the potatoes on our grill and they looked pretty good. A few of our customers asked for them, so I put the potatoes on their sandwiches.”
Well good on you, John.
The sandwich was good enough to power the early morning workers of the Strip District so it should be enough to keep me going through my visits to the Duquesne Incline and the Phipps Conservatory.
Until next time, Primanti’s!
Visit the Original Primanti Brothers
You can find Primanti locations all over Western Pennsylvania (including all the Pittsburgh major sports venues), and in nearby states—even as far south as Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
For my money, nothing beats the original location here in the Strip District. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and only closes on some holidays. Check their website for more details.