Lombardi’s is naturally a big tourist destination. It was the first pizzeria in the country. Genaro Lombardi brought his tomato pies to Little Italy in 1905 and the rest is history. The restaurant has since moved to a new location a block away and is now owned by a family friend of the Lombardi clan. But it still holds claim to the birthplace of American pizza. And I knew full well what I was getting myself into when I decided to go for lunch on a crisp chilly Saturday shortly after noon.
I was pleasantly surprised how quickly the waiting list moved. It took only about 10 or 15 minutes for them to call my name. We were led through one room after another, passing families and couples enjoying pizza. The enormity of this maze-like restaurant was a little surreal. One false turn and you’d end up in the kitchen.
The restaurant has undergone a major expansion (a whole new bar and front area) in the last few years, which is good because it means they have more space to turn their tables quicker (which means a shorter wait for us), but could be bad because each pizza can’t get quite get the same attention as before. We all know that when companies grow, quality often suffers in the process.
Now this was my first ever visit to Lombardi’s so I can’t say how or if the quality has changed, but I can confidently say that they still have fantastic pizza. We ordered the original, which is your traditional margherita and we had to try their famous (and quite expensive) clam pie, which has no tomato sauce, but plenty of olive oil, cheese, garlic, and freshly shucked clams.
I started with the margherita, which noticeably had more tomato than anything else. It’s clear that this pizza (and therefore all pizza) is a direct descendant of what was originally called a tomato pie. There were nicely distributed perfectly melted globs of fresh mozzarella and some garnishes of fresh basil.
The crust was nicely charred, although some slices were crispier than others, and had a slight smoky flavor. The abundant tomato sauce was fresh and well-seasoned with just a hint of sweetness. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a more generous serving of basil, but the tomato sauce was so perfectly seasoned that it really wasn’t necessary aside from aesthetics.
The clam pie (which somehow sounds dirty) was worth the $26.95 spent on the 14 inches. The pie was crowded with fresh clams (I was pleasantly surprised that these didn’t come from a can) and garnished with a lemon. The clams were chewy and delicious and all the flavors came together like an Italian masterpiece. This could have been incredibly heavy and decadent since it features all the ingredients for a nice linguini white sauce. But it was really just right. And I was amazed that the light thin crust held up the weight of those beautiful bivalves.
As we left the restaurant (with our to go boxes in tow), I really felt like I was one of the few locals. Everybody was snapping photos of celebrities on the walls and of the beautiful thin crust pizzas. Only tourists do that. How embarrassing! Oh, by the way, check out this picture I took of the famous coal-oven at Lombardi’s. Isn’t that great?
Is Lombardi’s the best pizza in the city? It’s certainly the oldest and paved the way for future coal-oven pies. I’m excited to report the pizza still stands up and impresses with all its balanced flavors and perfect textures. It’s definitely one of the best, and my rating of 9 out of 10, makes it a safe recommendation for visiting tourists and locals alike.