Lidia's in the Strip District is one of those Pittsburgh institutions that we keep saying we should visit- and we finally did visit a few weeks ago for a Saturday night dinner when the place was buzzing. It's easy to see the appeal of this spot with families and large groups looking for a traditional Italian meal at the namesake restaurant of Lidia Bastianich, a celebrity chef and restaurateur.
The dining room at Lidia's has a huge ceiling and is basically one giant open room, meaning the noise level is quite high- not very conducive to a quiet, romantic night out. But it fits the bill perfectly for celebrations or group dinners. Just ensure you make a reservation.
The Menu is Huge and So Are The Portions
The drink menu at Lidia's is, not surprisingly, full of great Italian wines by the glass and bottle. When we had trouble deciding on a glass, our waitress asked us what we normally like to drink, what we were in the mood for, and expertly recommended the perfect glass. We asked for something full-bodied with a lingering finish, and she recommended the Umberto Cesari Moma Rosso, which delivered just that.
The antipasti selection at Lidia's is irresistible, including the likes of meatballs, housemade burrata, and grilled octopus. We decided on the fritto misto, which turned out to be a massive portion that probably would have been best shared with at least two other friends. Nevertheless, we endured. The fritto misto included calamari, octopus, and an assortment of vegetables. The coating was ever so light and crispy, and there was a tangy tomato sauce for dipping. Our favorite item on the plate was the octopus, which was so fresh and tender.
Along with our appetizer, a bread basket appeared beside a housemade bean and basil pesto spread, an olive spread, and an olive oil for dipping. The spreads were creamy, well-seasoned, and delicious. I particularly enjoyed the pesto spread as it did not contain pine nuts (I'm allergic) and had a very refreshing basil flavor.
The entrees on the menu are mostly very traditional pastas like cannelloni and lasagna, and meat dishes like chicken parmigiana and osso buco. There are seafood options as well like seafood soup, fish of the day, and grilled salmon.
We had to wait quite a while for our entrees, but our waitress was apologetic. And, as it turns out, the wait was worth it.
A Delicious and Traditional Spread
Jeremy ordered the lamb shank, which was rubbed in some very aromatic, earthy spices. The meat itself was extremely tender, juicy, and mouth-watering. It was served with some Swiss chard and a comforting and addicting sweet potato mash.
I decided on the pasta trio, which is an all-you-can-eat sampler of three different housemade pastas that changes daily. Eating this was quite fun, as there are three waiters who roam the dining room, each with one of the pastas, and you just flag them down whenever you want more of something. The selections during our visit were a penne with spicy marinara sauce, a fettucine with veggies in a clam sauce, and a spinach-ricotta ravioli bathed in a thyme butter sauce. The penne was pretty standard and not very memorable, while the fettucine was a little bit more so due to the deliciously al dente noodles. The sauce on the fettucine could have used a touch more seasoning as it fell a bit flat.
But the ravioli- the ravioli was the stuff of dreams. The pasta was so tender and light, the filling creamy and cheesy, and the sauce so rich and buttery but balanced by some lemony acidity. It was the only pasta I asked for seconds of, and I wish I would have had stomach room to get thirds.
We wish we would have saved room for dessert, as the limoncello tiramisu that waiters kept passing by with looked amazing. Next time.
All in all, we were pleased with our meal at Lidia's. The service throughout the meal was fairly attentive, especially considering the dining room was packed. I don't know if I would order the pasta tasting trio again, as it seemed priced a tad high at dinner if you're only going to have one serving of each item. But the thoughtful spreads with the bread basket, the perfect wine recommendation from our waitress, the heavenly ravioli, and the lamb shank made for an all-around memorable night out.
Lidia's is located at 1400 Smallman Street in the Strip District. Note, they are closed for a short period of time between lunch and dinner.
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