We love to tell you about all the wonderful restaurants in Irving, and with so many great places to eat, there’s a lot to talk about. Sometimes, all we can think about is the food, but sometimes it’s nice to know more about what goes on behind the scenes and get to know a local chef.
David Lamberti is the chef and owner of Lamberti’s Ristorante and Wine Bar, and he grew up right here in Irving. We thought you might like to get to know him, so he took some time out and answered our (many) questions.
You grew up in Irving. Do you have any favorite memories or places to share?
DL: I was born in Irving and lived on Scarlet Oaks until I was five when we moved out to East Texas and then outside of Ft. Worth. I moved back to Irving when I attended University of Dallas (UD).
As a kid I loved going to Fritz Park, walking without a shirt or shoes (maybe that policy was made after us growing up!) to L&M in front of Nimitz High School to get candy, and making trips to the Shady Grove Feed store. At UD, we loved going to Joe’s Coffee Shop and Whataburger off of Britain and 183. We would walk on the railroad tracks there at least once every weekend.
Tell us about your family.
DL: The Lamberti family originated in the town of Torella dei Lombardi and came to the United States through Ellis Island in the 1910s. In the 1960s, a branch of the family moved to Irving and the Lamberti’s have been in the local community ever since. My wife Rachel and I have five children and one grandchild. We are very blessed!
When did you first discover that you loved to cook?
DL: I am the middle child of 11 siblings. My parents were always cooking. My mother is the baker, and my father was the cook. I was always in the kitchen helping to prep and cook food.
Growing up, we lived on a farm. We gardened and had many livestock animals that we raised, including pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits, cows and horses. We were sustainable and organic as a way of life rather than a marketing term used to promote a way of life. From an early age, we learned the reality of slaughtering our own animals and growing our own produce. We used every bit of the fruit of the land to make the food we ate. That fueled my passion for food.
The i Fratelli Years and the Transition to Lamberti’s
While attending the University of Dallas, Lamberti began working at i Fratelli, eventually working his way up to the general manager of i Fratelli’s Ristorante and Wine Bar, the only restaurant venue in the local pizza chain. Lamberti became an honorary little brother to George, David, Darrell and Mike Cole, the family owners of i Fratelli. When they were looking to close the restaurant to focus on their pizza business, Lamberti purchased it and changed the name to Lamberti’s.
What are some of the things you learned at i Fratelli restaurant?
DL: The Cole brothers are the paradigm of entrepreneurship. They started out with very humble beginnings and have, over the last 30 plus years, become very successful with the i Fratelli pizza brand. Each of the four brothers taught me different parts of the business along the way, including the most important one of building a culture. All sustained success comes from that initial principle.
How have things changed since you bought the restaurant and it became Lamberti's?
DL: We have continued the project that began under Lamberti’s. People may remember that i Fratelli changed over the years. I began with them as a server in 1996 and ended as their director of development in 2014. As part of my journey, we added a more varied menu, increased our meat and seafood options and added the distinct layer of “Wine Bar” to the solid foundation of pizza and pasta dishes. When we became Lamberti’s, we added in some family recipes that go all the way back to our family in Campagna, Italy. We also upgraded the wine and craft cocktail selections to include all 20 wine regions of Italy and craft cocktail flavors that come from recognizable favorites, like our Sicilian Crush modeled after an Aperol spritz. Each year since 2018, we have received a Wine Spectator award for our wine program.
Part of the role of an executive chef is managing other cooks. How many cooks/chefs are on the line at Lamberti's? What's a busy night like in the kitchen?
DL: We have multiple stations at the restaurant on the line. On busy nights we have six cooks working hard to keep up with the demand. We are super thankful for the incredible support of the community. Without local support, we would not have made it this far! Our busiest nights are Thursday through Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m. The dine-in, take-out and delivery business during those hours make for an intense and fun environment.
What do you consider to be your "signature" dish?
DL: We consider our signature dishes to be those items that we make from scratch, the old-world way. My favorite dish is the sausage & peppers. We make our sausage from scratch and the slow-cooked Sunday sugo (Italian for "sauce") in this dish makes for an awesome layering of flavor. Other dishes I love include our world-famous fettuccine Alfredo and the lamb osso bucco.
David Lamberti When He’s Not Working
Chefs and restaurant owners tend to work a lot, and since Lamberti is both, you know he spends a lot of hours at one task or another. But we wanted to know what he does away from work. He was happy to share his fun side with us too.
Do you ever cook for yourself at home?
DL: One true measure of passion is how you spend your time. When I’m not at the restaurant, I am usually entertaining friends and family at my home or cooking with my kids. We love to cook and explore different ways to enjoy old staples.
What's your absolute favorite dish to cook? And your favorite to eat?
DL: My absolute favorite dish to cook is also the same that I love to eat: a hand-cut ribeye steak served with a side of spaghetti with Sunday sugo. I like my ribeye rare to medium-rare, charred on the outside with nothing but grilling salt. In our family, we also use large amounts of “gusto sauce” which is a signature sauce of ours, combining a garlic aioli and chimichurri.
When you go out to eat yourself, where do you like to go?
DL: This is always a long discussion in our home on the rare occasion we get to eat out. If we don’t eat at our restaurant, we always support the local and independent restaurants. We love Po’ Melvin’s and the tacos from El Ranchero Meat Market.
What do you like to do when you're not working?
DL: I spend time with family and friends, cooking and enjoying each other’s company. With our busy lives at the restaurant, we try to keep our time away simple and do things we love. Our entire family loves to travel and we take any opportunity we can to go and experience other places’ food and culture.
What's your favorite guilty pleasure?
DL: I love rocky road ice cream and hazelnut gelato.
What is the last book you read/movie or tv show you enjoyed?
DL: I read Albert Camus’ “The Plague” during the pandemic and I have been watching “The Crown” with my wife, as we can.
What's your favorite pasta? Your favorite sauce?
DL: Maccoronara pasta from Torella. It’s a little thicker than spaghetti, but square in shape. It holds the sauce amazingly. I love our Sunday sugo, which is a slow-cooked red sauce with tomatoes, wine, basil, oregano, beef and pork.
What person, living or dead, do you most admire?
DL: I admire my parents. To have had 11 children and many grandchildren is almost unimaginable these days. They made us who we all are today.
Is there anything else you'd want Visit Irving Blog readers to know about you and about Lamberti's Ristorante?
DL: We listen to you. We are part of the community. We sincerely want to serve the community. We will never be a finished product, but a reflection of how we believe we can best serve those around us. Thank you for your support and we look forward to many more years together.
For your next meal, be sure to visit Lamberti's at 7701 N MacArthur Blvd. Their delicious menu is available through dining in, grabbing it curbside or calling (972) 506-3000 for delivery options. Enjoy 1/2 off all wine bottles $70 and under, all day Saturday and Sunday.