RE: Going under the knife
There are some interesting things to see. The Warhol museum is a good bet. The U.S. National Aviary (read:smithsonian) is on the North Side as well, near the 'mexican war streets'. As I'm sure you are aware, U of Pittsburgh has some of the best Philo grad students in one of the nation's best grad programs.
The Carnegie museum complex is excellent; best dinosaur collection in the world. They've also got a nice art museum. And, the moths from 'silence of the lambs'...
Squirrel Hill and Shadyside provide a bit of culture and urban feeling in a very neighborhood-oriented city. Squirrel Hill (Murray Ave)has a large Jewish community, so the markets, stores, etc. take on that flavor. Shadyside is where the reasonably wealthy pittsburghers go to shop, but there are yummy restaurants there beside the Pottery Barn. (Walnut St.)
There are a couple of the world's only surviving 'inclines'; cable cars travelling on 40 degree slopes.
The tallest academic building in the world (or at least used to be) is between Forbes and 5th in Oakland; the Cathedral of Learning at Pitt.
That building, along with many around the city, make for a very diverse architecture lesson should that interest you. Don't miss the new convention center, PPG Place (a glass castle) if you go looking for interesting buildings.
If the Steelers win the AFC Championship game today, you'll be surrounded by insane football everything.
For food, I like Mad Mex (especially the chick-pea chili), a former dive turned local chain. The location at Bates and Atwood Street in Oakland near Pitt is my favorite. The 'O' (Original Hot Dog Shop) has the best hand-cut french fries on the planet- on Forbes in Oakland... near Primanti Brothers, who will serve you the classic Pittsburgh caplcola and cheese sandwich with fries right ON the sandwich. Pittsburgh has large Polish and Italian community, and boasts AMAZING italian food. Atlanta is devoid of such... Try Dell's in Bloomfield, or the poorly named 'Pleasure Bar', just up the hill from Dell's. Coffee should be secured at the Beehive; bohemian hangout on the southside for years... Play a pick-up game of scrabble with a stranger.
If you really want to get with the locals, get your hands on a 'chipped ham' sandwich. Wash it down with an Iron City beer. *shudder*
There is a great curb market called the 'strip district', which is just across a bridge from the North Side where you'll be staying. Small groceries, fish markets, italian sausage plants, and patiseries share time with knock-off sports jersey street vendors. Cold keeps no one away.
But, be sure not to fall asleep on your way from the airport to downtown. You'll pass through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, which emerges onto the Fort Pitt Bridge, halfway up 'mt. washington', and directly over the monongahela river. You'll be instantly exposed to the entire skyline, and it's still the best entrance to any city I've ever seen, especially at night.
There are some history lessons to be had, and I've always been interested in the Carnegie/Frick stories. The Homestead riots involving Pinkerton guards used to be celebrated, but now there is a great sweeping retail development on the site of the steel mill in question. All that remains in an ingot car at the edge of the bridge bringing you into Homestead.
Pittsburgh does have a subway, and you should take a gander just to do something no pittsburghers ever do. It is useful to park at the civic arena (mellon arena), get on the T, and go to station square for the Incline ride. That's about it's only benefit... it does not go anywhere helpful, and is seldom used.
Linguists will find plenty of interesting regional phrases to keep them busy. The Pittsburgh accent is very robust and distinctive. It took dedicated effort to be sure I was not evidencing my redneck past... Take a listen to 102.5 WDVE in the morning for some self-depricating 'burgh humor, and then just listen to the locals talk. It's amazing. This website does a pretty good job of explainging some of it- http://english.cmu.edu/pittsburghspeech/ This is NOT a spoof.
Lastly, take in the bridges. There are more in Pittsburgh than any other city in the world save for Venice. Several are quite old as far as things american are concered, including the Smithfield Street bridge, which is my favorite. It leads from downtown to the south side.
I can't believe you'll fit all of this in... but just some thoughts. In general, you can avoid chain eating and be quite pleased. Hope it goes well!
Let us know what you did, besides the 'rebuild'...
'85 300TD Pastel Beige
361,500 miles and counting