Fast Food on McKnight Road
Turn left out of the Beattie Career Center
Parking lot, drive 2 miles and turn left at
the light onto McKnight Road to find
American fast food overload. Your first
option, about a mile after turning onto
McKnight is the Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant
- not a chain - which has a good although
typical Americanized Indian lunch buffet. If
that is too exotic for your tastes, in the
next mile there is a McDonalds, a Denny's, a
Chick-Fil-A, Bob Evans, Chilli's, two Eat-n-Parks
(a local Pittsburgh chain similar to Denny's),
a Wendy's, Panera Bread, Chipotle and
an Arby's. If you want to venture into the Ross
Park Mall food court, there is a Five Guys
burger joint (probably the best of the lot),
a Chick-Fil-A and the usual food court selection.
I've probably left a couple out. Try this map,
note that the restaurants on
Ross Park Mall
Drive are in the mall.
Chub's Place8701 Babcock Blvd Pittsburgh, PA 15237
If you sit in the Beattie parking lot and use Google maps to look for restaurants, you will most likely see Chub's appear a stone-throw away. Let's not beat around the bush: Chub's is a dive. Not one of those quirky places that Guy Fieri joker visits on his TV show, but a real honest to God greasy spoon like the places your mom told you to stay out of. Everything is cooked on a big flat-top grill that looks to have been cranking out bacon and eggs and burgers continuously since some time in the Eisenhower administration. The coffee can be used to strip lacquer. If I haven't scared you off, I recommend the L-PO breakfast special (no, they won't be offended if you pronounce that alpo).
The proverbial well stocked hobby shop; they have a reasonable selection of import model kits (cars, military, scifi), Tamiya and Valejo paints, modeling tools and supplies, plus RC planes and cars, slot cars, model railroad equipment, board games and other odds and ends. Prices are generally full retail, but the selection is hard to beat. Open Saturday evening till 8pm and Sunday afternoon.
Legions leans heavily towards gaming, but that includes gaming minatures, and they have a lot of tools and supplies that are useful for modeling. And their store is a quick drive from the TRICON site and they are open late.
Another full featured hobby shop; sadly it is not open Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon, so you can't really visit it after the TRICON show.
Millvale is a tiny town just outside the city proper that is literally too small for a big box store or strip-mall. Esther's is an old fashioned main-street type store that has been there forever, and it's worth a visit just for the nostalgia (and the French bakery next door). Known for its N-gauge railroad inventory, it has a little of everything. Again, it is not open Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon.
HobbyTown USA1996 Park Manor Blvd, Pittsburgh, PA 15205
A chain store, but has a decent selection of kits and supplies. Located in the Robinson Town Center shopping center near the Pittsburgh Airport.
Just a few miles from the TRICON site, this a used/remaindered book and music store where you never know what you might find.
A huge downtown store with all sorts of
sci-fi and superhero collectables and more,
Eide's has been a fixture in downtown
Pittsburgh for 30+ years. I hesitated to list
it here because it also has a 30 year
reputation for poor to rude customer
service. Years ago I worked a block away from
Eide's and stopped in regularly to buy the
latest modeling magazines, at a time when you
were lucky to find FineScale at a newsstand,
and I perfected my withering stare to deal
with some of the sales people, a few who
seemed to be the inspiration for the
Comic Book Guy character. If
you go, don't take any crap.
The heart of Pittsburgh's north suburban shopping district, located just off McKnight road (about 3 miles from the TRICON show). A fairly standard collection of mall stores; highlights are an Apple (computer) store, a Nordstroms, an LLBean and a Crate&Barrel. Along with a typical food court, there is a Cheese Cake Factory restaurant just outside the mall.
One of Pittsburgh's newest shopping districts, it is built on land that was once home to the US Steel Homestead Works. It's a big open air shopping area with a number of fairly standard big box and mall chain stores (Best Buy, Lowe's,, etc). Highlights are a really big movie theater and a few interesting and better quality chain restaurants (PF Chang's, Dave&Busters, Rock Bottom, UNO Pizza).
Opened in 1969, Monroeville Mall was Pittsburgh's first big indoor mall, and at the time it was pretty spectacular, with high-end department stores and restaurants and even a skating rink. Over the years the department stores chains bought each other out until all that's left is a Macy's and a JCPenney and the skating rink has been turned into a food court. But yes, this is the mall in George Romero's original Dawn of the Dead movie (the building has changed enough that you would be hard pressed to recognize anything from the film), and hard-core zombie fans show up just to buy something at the JCPenney's and take home a receipt with the Monroeville Mall name on it.
Station Square is a touristy collection of shops and restaurants located on Pittsburgh's south side in renovated P&LE Railroad buildings. Many of the restaurants are very good; the "speciality shops" aren't all that special. There is an outdoor amphitheater where they have concerts in the summer.
This is a new development near the Pittsburgh airport; it has a fairly standard selection of mall shops, big box stores and restaurants. The main attractions are an Ikea store, a HobbyTown USA and a Hobby Lobby. The stores are spread out over a big parking area that straddles Interstate 376; the bridge from one side to the other can be a traffic bottleneck
We know a lot of scale modelers are also
secretly model railroaders and railfans; there
are even a few in our club! During the heyday
of big steel Pittsburgh was home to railyards
for all the major lines and quite a few
smaller ones, and while you won't find 4
track mainlines following the rivers into the
city any more, there are still a lot of trains
moving through the area and even the city
itself, including some spectacular railroad
bridges crossing the area rivers. When it
comes to trainspotting, this railfan tour is
The location they recommend in Rochester PA is
about a 40 minute drive from the TRICON
show. The Western
PA Model Railroad Museum has an awesome
(4000 square foot) HO model railroad layout
operated by a club headquartered in Gibsonia
PA, about 15 minutes from the TRICON location,
but it is only open to the public from
mid-November to mid-January. The Carnegie
Science Center (see below) has a big
three rail O-scale layout;
it is pretty toy-like but a big hit with kids of
Tucked away in a worn-down strip mall is a
real gem - a huge collection of vintage
pinball and arcade games open to the
public. This is not a few games in the back of
arcade bar - it's a big clean
storefront with 100s of well maintained games
(I counted about 170 pinball games listed on
their web page and a similar number of arcade
video games). All the games are on free-play,
and it costs $20 for 2 hours or $40 for as long
as your flipper fingers can hold out. Check
their website as they often have specials.
Andrew Carnegie was a robber baron who single handedly built the American steel industry, and when he sold the business in 1901 he was by some measures the richest man in the world. Carnegie spent the last years of his life giving money to good causes (some would say he was buying a ticket to heaven, as he had many past sins to atone for) and many buildings and institutions in Pittsburgh carry his name. The Museum of Natural History is one of the grander: it is a massive and ornate stone building that looks to be built to outlast the pyramids. When the first few dinosaur bones were discovered in the 1890s, Carnegie paid for massive expeditions to collect fossils in Wyoming; the Carnegie would have the first complete dinosaur skeleton and its collection is still one of the biggest in the world. A few years ago the entire dinosaur exhibit was reworked and expanded - its worth a visit for that alone - but that is just a fraction of all the exhibits of rocks, bugs, taxidermy animals, ancient Egyptian artifacts, etc.
A big greenhouse filled with exotic plants and flowers. Much of the building dates to the 1890s, but there has been a recent (very well done) addition. OK - it's hard to get excited about plants - but it is kind of fun to walk through a tropical rain forest in the depths of winter. The conservatory is a really popular family destination on Mother's Day weekend (expect Disneyland sized lines), the rest of the year you can walk right in. The conservatory is an easy walk from the big Carnegie Museum of Natural History building.
The zoo isn't really exceptional in size or collection (it has the usual lions and tigers and elephants and such) but it has been here for 100 years, and many Pittsburghers have fond memories of family visits and school field trips over the years. There is a modest aquarium building (with sharks and penguins) that is part of the zoo. At one time the city ran the zoo and largely neglected it, but in 1994 it was privatized which has allowed the zoo to modernize and expand: most of the animals are in open "natural" habitats and the children's zoo has an elaborate kid's play area. The zoo is located on a rolling hillside, which can quickly wear out little kids and parents pushing strollers. Note that veterans and active duty military personnel get in free with military ID, but not their families; full price adult admission is $16 and kids are $14. Hours vary with the day and season, check the website.
Another piece of the Carnegie Museum system, the Science Center is located on the Pittsburgh riverfront, between the football stadium and casino. The science center is an evolution of the old Buhl Planetarium (the destination of many western PA field trips for the baby-boom generation). It has a modern planetarium and an OmniMAX theater, and lots of interactive science-oriented displays; it is decidedly aimed at 12 year olds. Maybe the coolest thing here is the USS Requin, a late WWII era submarine that is moored outside in the Allegheny River and open for tours.
Not many people realize (and not many
locals like to admit) that pop-artist Andy
Warhol was from Pittsburgh. The Warhol Museum
is located in an old commercial building about
a block from the new baseball field; it
displays both Andy's art and similar works by
other artists. A few blocks away is Warhola
Recycling, a scrap metal yard still run by
members of Andy's family. Total honesty: a lot
art here is just weird, but some is
also cool (last time I was there they had an
exhibit of the Popeil gadgets sold on
late-night-TV during the 70s and 80s) and some
A modern art museum that has lots of
works. A lot of the
an architectural flavor, and some of the
craftsmanship is impressive (and some is just
weird). If you like the stuff at the Warhol Museum
you'll probably like the Mattress Factory too
(and vice versa), and the two are just a few
The aviary is a zoo just for birds. Some of the birds are in cages, but they also have big rooms with birds walking and flying around that you can walk through (that can freak out some little kids). This is the biggest aviary in the country, which has earned it the title of National Aviary, but the government doesn't actually pay for anything, so like everything else there is an admission fee.
Probably not what you're thinking: the Strip District is a few blocks on the edge of downtown Pittsburgh that was once the main warehouse district for fresh food coming into the city by rail and truck. There are still a number of speciality stores here selling fish and cheese and produce and fresh baked bread, but the area has become a hot-spot for trendy restaurants, bars and nightclubs. I'm too old to know about the nightlife, so checkout this link to Yelp. The whole area is only a few blocks so it's not hard to walk around and explore a bit. Some of the other attractions mentioned here are in or near the "Strip" (including Eide's comic book store and the Heinz History Center).
The History Center is a mid-size museum dedicated mostly to Pittsburgh area history, and sometimes world history with a Pittsburgh slant. The exhibits come and go so check their website to see what's there.
These restaurants are broken down into 3 groups:
Reasonably priced restaurants close to the TRICON site that are good places to stop with friends before hitting the road home. Restaurants in nearby Cranberry Township, close to the PA Turnpike and also home to two good hobby shops. Unique, fancy, and somewhat pricey places in the city. These are good places to take a date for a nice dinner out.This is the first batch - restaurants within a few miles of the contest location.
Less than a mile from the TRICON site. First impression is that this is a TGIF clone, but it's more like the kind of slightly rowdy neighborhood restaurant that the TGIF chain was inspired by. Burgers are good and the Cajun Chicken Pasta is a favorite for several Three Rivers IPMS members. Lots of TVs showing sports. It can be crowded on weekends, especially if the Penguins are playing; if you have a multi-table sized group call ahead (412-364-9878).
It's a national chain and if you've seen one you've seen them all, but it is close to the TRICON location and while their food is nothing special, their cheesecake is pretty good (I counted 36 varieties on their menu). If you want to eat somewhere else you can pick up cheesecake to go for later. This location is right outside of the Ross Park shopping mall, and it gets really busy on weekends.
Typical "American-style Chinese" restaurant, just off of McKnight road (strangely it shares a building and parking lot with a Toyota dealership). Food is very good although a little pricier than your average neighborhood Chinese joint. It is not the kind of rowdy place where you can impromptu drag tables together - call ahead if you have a really big group.
A chain seafood restaurant, but a fairly good one; they have steaks and a few other things if not everyone is a seafood fan. There are a few big tables for groups, but it's not a rowdy place. Prices are similar to the other chain restaurants on this list.
This next batch of restaurants are in Cranberry Township, about 12 miles north of the TRICON location, at the intersection of the PA turnpike and I79. It is just across the county line, which means property taxes are lower there, which has spurred lots of development: it is suburban sprawl at its best/worst, and practically every big box store and chain restaurant imaginable are located here, including a Barnes and Noble and two of the better hobby shops in Pittsburgh - Hobby Express and Grand Central Hobbies. Here are a few of the better places for a good meal before hitting the road.
Primantis started in the 1930s as a sandwich shop in the Pittsburgh warehouse district, where truck drivers making late night deliveries could pick up a quick meal. By chance founder Joe Primanti hit on the idea of putting the fries and slaw on the sandwich (probably because they didn't have plates), creating a Pittsburgh tradition. Originally the shop opened at midnight and closed around dawn, but it gathered a following with college students pulling all nighters, and as a final stop for partiers when the bars shutdown at 2AM. In the 80's a new owner expanded - first just clones of the sandwich shop closer to the universities and downtown office buildings - and then bigger sit-down family-style restaurants in the suburbs with an expanded menu, which is what the Cranberry location is. The original Primanti Brothers is still there (at 46 18th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, and still with a smaller menu) and looking a lot better than I remember from those 2AM visits 30 years ago. Now days it is open 24x7, although parking can be a challenge during business hours. Primanti sandwiches are an acquired taste (I recommend adding a good splash of hot-sauce), so the Cranberry location with its bigger menu may be a better choice for first timers. I think all the locations have bars, or at least beer: Iron City is traditional, even though it's not a great beer and they don't even make it in Pittsburgh any more - feel free to order something else (just don't ask them to leave the fries off the sandwich).
The Juniper Grill looks like yet another TGIF wanna-be, but it has some of the better BBQ you'll find in a Pittsburgh strip mall (or most anywhere else in Pittsburgh). I was tempted to call this place "pricey" until my last trip to that other chain BBQ place you'll find around the 'burgh - their prices are just as high and the food and service not as good as Juniper's.
This is a somewhat pricey strip-mall Chinese/Japanese restaurant, but once you're inside it doesn't look like a strip-mall restaurant and the food is good and the bar well stocked (watch the prices on some of the top-shelf drinks). Probably the best place for sushi without driving into the city. This is a take a date or a few friends kind of place, not a drag 10 tables together for a big noisy group kind of place, and it gets pretty busy on date nights - definitely call ahead
Good places to eat if you want to venture into the city proper. I'm limiting this to places that are notably better than what you'll find in the suburbs near the TRICON site and that are worth the trip, and naturally they're a little pricier.
A little place in Pittsburgh's legendary Strip District (a few blocks from the Heinz History Center selling awesome Argentinian BBQ - big servings of meat grilled over a wood fire. It's a casual place where you order at the counter and then sit down at a table while they make your food; if it's not too busy you can drag tables together for a big group, but it can get really busy at times (at lunch hour the line can stretch down the block). Highly recommended, but if you're pressed for time you should have a backup plan (the original Primanti Brother's, Church Brew Works and Penn Brewery are all nearby).
A brew-pub and restaurant located in a big (desanctified) church. A giant polished brass beer machine sits on what was once the altar, and out-of-town visitors can't help but have their pictures taken in front of it. If you can get past the graven-images references, it's a fun place to hang out and drink some beer, although the church acoustics make it a little loud for quiet conversations. The place is divided into a "bar" side (with sandwiches and pizza on the menu) and the "restaurant" side with full entrees; the entrees are good but on the pricey side for a place where the atmosphere screams "this is a bar". Beer selection is limited to their own brews; if you like plain-old beer-flavored beer go for the "Celestial Gold".
One of the first brew pubs in Pittsburgh, Penn Brewery is located in an old brick commercial building with a classic German Biergarten look and feel (and menu). It's not quite as big or loud or photogenic as the Church Brew Works, which may be just what you're looking for.
This is where Pittsburghers go to propose and celebrate anniversaries and graduations and big birthdays. The Concourse is nominally a seafood restaurant, but there are steaks and a few other things on the menu if fish is not your thing. The food is good, but the star of the show is the refurbished 1900s train station the restaurant is located in: there is enough polished wood and brass and marble to furnish a mid-size Italian cathedral. Attached to the restaurant is the Gandy Dancer Saloon, a bar that shares the menu with the restaurant (and adds some sandwiches), and while it is a very nice bar, with leather seats and still more polished wood, the only reason to go there for dinner is if you can't get a reservation in the main restaurant. If you are going and taking that special someone, by all means make a reservation well in advance. This is a pricey meal; expect to pay at least $60 per person and more if you get carried away with appetizers and desserts and top-shelf drinks. If you like breakfast on Sunday mornings the restaurant hosts a brunch buffet that is the thing of eating legends - and it will save you a few bucks compared to dinner - but brunch is really popular so make reservations well in advance.