What Makes Pittsburgh's Primanti Bros. Sandwich A Must-Try?

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a city to be reckoned with. Known for its sports teams, gritty steel industry past, and blue-collar background, it also has become a desired living destination for young adults and families. The City of Bridges is home to top universities, large tech corporations, top-notch healthcare, and a bustling arts and dining scene, yet it remains an area where the cost of living is well below the national average. The city once cloaked in a reputation consisting of steel industry titans, football, and Mister Rogers has grown into a modern, bustling metropolis.

But don't for one moment think Pittsburghers have forgotten their past because it's one they are fiercely proud and protective of. The appealing mix of old and new Pittsburgh is seen all over the city, notably in the historic Strip District, an area just outside of downtown that was once a major industrial hub. Today it is a blend of diverse shops, markets, and restaurants, and remains the home of Primanti Bros., an eatery established in 1933. Surrounded by newer, notable restaurants, Primanti Bros. has never lost its luster and draws in locals and tourists in droves who come for their famous, unique, and timeless sandwiches.

How it all started

Many would agree that the Great Depression probably wasn't the best time to open a business. But that didn't deter Joe Primanti who saw an opportunity to do just that in Pittsburgh's Strip District in 1933. Even in the midst of the country's financial ruin, this area remained a bustling quarter of activity all day and night, full of truck drivers passing through and hungry, local blue-collar workers. Primanti opened a small sandwich cart to feed the night masses from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sales were so strong that he was able to open an actual storefront there in the strip during that same year.

What made this sandwich so popular? In a nutshell, it was potatoes. One cold winter day a truck driver passing through was concerned his load of potatoes had frozen, so he asked Primanti to see if they were still okay to use. He fried some up on the spot and when some customers noticed, they asked if they could have some. So, Primanti put the fried potatoes onto their sandwiches to the raving reviews of his guests. The word spread and, soon, workers in the Strip were buying the sandwiches left and right. Part of the appeal was that these busy workers were able to enjoy a full meal that they could eat with one hand, and continue working with the other.

The famous Primanti Bros. sandwich

Clearly, not all sandwiches are the same. When it comes to Primanti Bros., their signature dish isn't simply two pieces of bread with some meat and cheese. It's one that professional athletes, celebrities, tourists, and locals clamor for. Primanti Bros. sandwiches consist of two slices of fresh Italian bread encompassing house-made sweet and tangy coleslaw, tomatoes, fresh french fries, a meat of choice, and melted provolone cheese. 

At the original Strip District location, don't expect your lunch to come on a plate, but rather, a piece of butcher paper that catches the inevitable mess that falls from the back of the bread. More importantly, when your server comes by to clean up, they simply fold up the paper and toss it away. Diners can opt for a hamburger patty, salami, capicola, ham, roast beef, tuna, fried baloney, kielbasa, and many more options for their sandwiches.

Yes, the sandwiches are messy and, to be honest, we're still not sure how one eats them with one hand, so don't be shy about using both. They are definitely meals unto themselves and have remained a Pittsburgh institution for almost 100 years. The original Strip location is open 24 hours a day, a practice that began in the 1970s to cater to hungry night owls, and still does. While this location will give you the most taste of history, the company now boasts 40 restaurants across six states, giving millions the opportunity to have a glorious taste of Steel City.