When one thinks of street food, I dare say to ask what he is thinking about: it is usually either lukewarm hotdogs being dispatched from a metal cage on the streets of New York or some very suspicious nuts being moved around a large metallic bowl and disbursed via the smallest Styrofoam cups you’ve ever seen. Conclusion: not at all appetizing and certainly that was the image I had in my head. However, the game has forever been changed with a restaurant located in the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh called Streets on Carson. Quite simply, the restaurant offers street food from around the world, and by that I do not mean any of the potentially graphic images described above. This restaurant is all about a modern take on the world’s classic street food, with exotic yet reassuring flavors and dishes to satisfy any palate. My friend Lydia was kind enough to recommend and invite me to experience this gourmet street food extravaganza, so naturally I had to review it!
Atmosphere and Service: While the venue itself was fairly dark and mysterious from the outside, walking inside you find a quiet, relaxed yet really hip atmosphere. There’s tasteful graffiti and subtle lighting fixtures throughout the space that give a really cozy feeling to the whole place. The mixing of wood and metal furniture took me back to Pittsburgh’s roots, a subtle but meaningful throwback to the Steel City. The service was actually a pretty interesting thing to note, since our server was aware from almost the very beginning of our presence as reviewers. That being said, I think the “pressure” of me critiquing the whole process (I write “pressure” because my review has almost no impact on the restaurant and carries no weight and meaning, other than for my own enjoyment and the enjoyment of my guests), was handled rather well. He joked with us about what I was doing, keeping the interactions light but direct.
Food: There were so many interesting dishes on this menu that it was difficult to narrow our choices down to only four, but we each chose two items that sounded the best and got to sample a little bit of everything from all over the world. I will note that because of the focus on freshness and local ingredients, not all of the menu items will be available all the time, a worthy sacrifice for the sake of superior quality. Let me take you on my food journey around the world:
- Duck Fat Fried Poutine- Cremazie Ouest, Quebec: If this poutine could sing, it would carol a beautiful aria of delicious melodies with every bite. Fanciful language for sure but there is something truly special in anything fried with a strong oil like duck fat. It intensifies the flavor of any food, and using the potatoes as a base, the duck fat can bring out the flavors of the warm gravy and the fresh cheese curd like no other. The dish certainly could have used more gravy, but it was nonetheless entirely satisfying.
- Arancini- Ballaro Street Market, Sicily: The adult version of Macaroni and Cheese bites, these rice balls pack a gooey, cheesy punch in every bite. The tangy and only slightly spicy sauce gives more depth to the dish and allows for a differentiated tasting experience, depending on the quantity of sauce you use.
- Pork Spring Roll- Longhua Road, Shang Hai: This is your basic spring roll, so there isn’t too much to note here in terms of uniqueness. However, you really get a sense for Streets on Carson’s emphasis on freshness here because unlike your typical Chinese restaurant, this spring roll is artfully plated, served atop a sriracha aioli, and has distinct flavors that don’t simply blend together in a bland, lukewarm mush in your mouth. Quite the contrary, these spring rolls are the epitome of fresh cooking and the result is pure happiness.
- Tapioca- Laranieiras Market, Rio de Janeiro: Both Lydia and I have always heard about tapioca, but never really knew what it was. Apparently, tapioca is a starch extracted from the Cassava root and native to northern Brazil. Being the adventurous eaters that we are and wanting to pay tribute to the successful Rio Olympic Games, we ordered these small tapioca cakes with a chipotle aioli drizzle. While not my absolute favorite dish (mostly due to the texture) I can still say that the tapioca takes on other flavors really well while still being a distinct grain with its own taste. Not a bad combination in my book!
- Beverage of Choice: 4 Seasons Brewing Company, 60 Degrees and Snowing: My drink of choice was a blonde Belgium ale from the 4 Seasons Brewing Company, located in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. It is very light and smooth, making it an easy sipping drink and great for in between bites since the taste fades fast.
Price: Altogether, my bill came in at about $25 dollars including the gratuity. I think one of the great aspects of this restaurant is that you can order a bunch of different plates to share and not break the bank. Most menu items are prices around the $7-$10 price range and they are certainly big enough to share.
The Verdict: 8.75/10
Translation: Streets on Carson has all the makings of a truly global restaurant for the Pittsburgh area. It’s a fresh, inspired idea with much to offer Pittsburghers who need to escape the domesticity of Americana fare. The location is a little out of reach for what I think a place of this caliber deserves; in saying that, however, Southside feels like a good match for this place, mixing well with the variety of bars and restaurants that make Southside so unique.
Lydia’s Take: Certainly the quality of the food for the price is unbeatable and the service is fast but not too overwhelming. I actually found nothing immediately wrong with Street too, which is certainly a good sign! This is probably the perfect place for a first date or any event where you need to meet new people because the different dishes offer plenty of topics of conversation.
Lydia is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in neuroscience and minoring in chemistry who lives just outside of Pittsburgh.
Streets on Carson, located on East Carson Street in the Southside Neighborhood of Pittsburgh, has a eclectic menu “comprised of small dishes found in the most frequented markets, streets, and bazaars around the world.” You can find the full menu and location here: http://www.streetsoncarson412.com/