Lunch

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 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 Place

8701 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).

Hobby Shops

Hobby Express

1713 PA-228, Cranberry Twp, PA 16066

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 Hobbies and Games

Pine Plaza Barber Shop, 1130 Perry Hwy, Pittsburgh, PA 15237

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.

Grand Central Hobby

20555 U.S. 19, Cranberry Twp, PA 16066

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.

Esther's Hobby

219 North Ave, Millvale, PA 15209

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 USA

1996 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.

Specialty Shops

Half Price Books

4932 McKnight Rd, Pittsburgh, PA 15237

Just a few miles from the TRICON site, this a used/remaindered book and music store where you never know what you might find.

Eide's Entertainment

1121 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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 Simpson's Comic Book Guy character. If you go, don't take any crap.

Shopping Malls

Ross Park Mall

1000 Ross Park Mall Dr. Pittsburgh, PA 15237

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.

The Water Front

149 West Bridge St, Homestead, PA 15120

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).

Monroeville Mall

200 Monroeville Mall Monroeville, PA 15146

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

125 W Station Square Dr, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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.

Robinson Town Centre

Park Manor Blvd, Pittsburgh, PA 15205

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

Cool Stuff

Trains

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 bomb. 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 all ages.

Pinball PA

2284 Brodhead Rd #10b, Hopewell Township PA 15001

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 an 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.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History

4400 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15213

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.

Phipps Conservatory

1 Schenley Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

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.

Pittsburgh Zoo

7340 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

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.

Carnegie Science Center (and USS Requin Submarine)

1 Allegheny Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

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.

The Warhol Museum

117 Sandusky St, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

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 of the 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 even beautiful.

The Mattress Factory

500 Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

A modern art museum that has lots of room-size works. A lot of the art has 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 blocks apart.

National Aviary

700 Arch St, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

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.

The Strip District

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 Heinz History Center

1212 Smallman St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

The History Center is a mid-size museum dedicated mostly to Pittsburgh area history, and sometimes world history with a Pittsburhg slant. The exhibits come and go so check their website to see what's there.

Dinner

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.

    North Park Lounge

    8701 Babcock Blvd Pittsburgh, PA 15237

    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).

    Cheesecake Factory

    Ross Park Mall, 1000 Ross Park Mall Dr, Pittsburgh, PA 15237

    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.

    TGI Fridays

    5300 Corporate Dr Pittsburgh, PA 15237

    Turn left out of the TRICON location and drive two miles; the turn off to TGIF is on the right just before the big intersection at McKnight Road. You know what a Fridays is like; this one can get super crowded on weekends, but it is one of the places that can handle a big crowd of hungry modelers.

    Sesame Inn

    711 Browns Lane, Pittsburgh PA 15237

    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.

    Bonefish Grill

    8950 Covenant Ave, McCandless PA 15237

    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.

    Primanti Brothers

    200 Executive Dr, Cranberry Twp, PA 16066

    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).

    Juniper Grill

    2030 McKenzie Way, Cranberry Township, PA 16066

    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.

    Jimmy Wan's Restaurant

    1686 Route 228, Cranberry Twp PA 16066

    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.

    Gaucho

    1601 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15222

    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).

    Church Brew Works

    3525 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15201

    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".

    Penn Brewery

    800 Vinial St Pittsburgh, PA 15212

    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.

    Grand Concourse

    100 West Station Square Dr, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

    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.

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