Cafe Lidia has long carved out a place for itself in the Marikina food scene, but it has one in my heart for an entirely different reason. It was the first restaurant the wife and I had visited that kicked off our love of food as a couple. A friend had told us about it, recommending that we try their Pasta with Tuna and Bacon, as well as their Buffalo Wings. We’ve been regulars ever since.
Unfortunately, that friend is no longer with us. But she lives on in our memories and every time we visit Cafe Lidia, we say a little prayer for her.
Cafe Lidia is located along F. Calderon St. in Calumpang Marikina. It’s a pretty busy side street since it’s along the Pasig-Marikina jeepney route, which is probably why they’ve managed to garner a following despite being located on the other side of Marikina from the Lilac St. food scene.
Parking is plentiful, thanks to having their own mini parking lot across the street, not to mention being able to park alongside the street as well if you’re not maarte. Of course, there’s some risk to this, but you won’t have much choice on the weekends when the bulk of their traffic comes in.
What It’s Like Inside
If you happen to come in on a busy day, the waiting area is where you’ll be spending your first few minutes at Cafe Lidia. There’s ample seating inside, so you won’t often find yourself here, but every now and then, those benches find their use.
Upon entering, you’ll first be greeted by the counter, which serves as the prep area for most beverages and desserts, as well as the rest of your order when it’s on its way out to your table. Behind it is the kitchen, which allows just a peek into the magic going on inside.
There’s a cake display fridge beside the counter where you can preview the cakes from their menu.
There’s also a wine display, although I didn’t check if it’s the same selection found in their menu.
For most restaurants, the dining area in front would be enough.
Not at Cafe Lidia though, where the crowds can get really big. There’s additional seating in an adjacent room and some tables have been positioned to provide enough seating for more than the average family. That’s not all though, as there’s even more seating in the back, not to mention a few function rooms. No, I don’t have photos.
Cafe Lidia has a varied selection of Italian-American dishes, ranging from appetizers, entrees, pizzas, pastas, desserts, and a few things in between. They’re pretty affordable too, with most appetizers and pastas coming in at below Php200 and entrees hovering at just around that mark.
We usually go with their Buffalo Wings (Php180) for our side, but on this occasion we went with the Fish and Chips (Php185), which is cream dory covered and fried in batter, served with potato wedges and tartar sauce on the side. To me, the dish is a bit of a letdown because it relies too much on the tartar sauce for flavor. The fish sticks, while light on the inside and crunchy on the outside, don’t have a lot of flavor on their own. It doesn’t help that the potato wedges seemed like an afterthought. They were sliced too thinly and there weren’t a lot of wedges to complement the fish.
Something we always order is their Pasta with Tuna and Bacon (Php195), which is basically fusilli pasta topped with tuna and bacon, swimming in a creamy white sauce. The choice of pasta for this dish is perfect because the corkscrew shape manages to hold a lot of the creamy sauce, ensuring each bit is full of flavor. Tuna and bacon seems like a weird combination to a few of my friends, but it works well and helps provide contrasting flavor against the already rich sauce. Hopefully, you get a slice of garlic french bread with a lot of butter slathered on it because it’s the perfect pair to this pasta.
Beef Salpicao is among my favorite things to order wherever I go and Cafe Lidia’s (Php215) is among the better ones that I’ve tasted. Beef can often be tough, but theirs was fairly tender and absorbed the flavorful garlic sauce well. I’m a big fan of button mushrooms, so I’m happy they used it here and in large chunks too. Served with garlic rice and a side of salad to refresh the palate, it was almost perfect. My only complaint is that compared to some of their other dishes, the serving seemed a little small.
The wife and I were feeling pretty good about our respective meals, so we decided to top it all off with one of the favorite desserts: Chocolate Lava Cake. It’s a chocolate cake with a molten center that oozes chocolate once you start cutting into it. It’s topped with a choice of vanilla or chocolate ice cream with a drizzle of more chocolate sauce on top.
Chocolate Lava Cake is often a rich and decadent dessert. Having tried Cafe Lidia’s version though, there was certainly a lot of chocolate, but the quality of the cake and ice cream left me a bit wanting. It was okay. Just enough to get our chocolate lava cake fix, but nothing more.
So Is It Worth Coming Back For?
Cafe Lidia has earned its place as a mainstay in the Marikina food scene. There are quite a few “gems” in the menu, as well as a lot of reasonably good dishes. Of course, there can be just as many mediocre dishes, which can be disappointing if you’re one of those who got wrapped up in the Cafe Lidia hype. Still, for the quality of the food you’re getting, the pricing is consistently 30-40% less than you would typically pay in some more trendy restaurants at better locations. For the Pasta with Tuna and Bacon alone, I would keep coming back here.