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Update 9/6/15: Paisan's is closed after a fire.

In a word: Crowd-pleasing in an odd way.

The specs: #0466  
Address, hours & details via Isthmus;reviews at Yelp, Madison Dining Online, Isthmus, 77 Square, QSC, Favorite Places to Eat in Madison, official web site, Paisan's on Urbanspoon

Latest Paisan's news and reviews

Beckah ate the meatball sub with a white sangria.
JM ate the beef ravioli with a Caesar salad and a lemonade.
Nichole ate the spinach fettuccine in mushroom sauce with a Porto salad.
Tiffany (and Clint, lucky recipient of planned leftovers) ate the sausage and banana pepper pizza with a white sangria.
The bill was $76, or $19/person, plus tip.
JM gave Paisan's an A-; Nichole gave Paisan's a B+ (see our grading rubric).

There's a quality of Paisan's we couldn't quite put a finger on. Like the upscale Food Fight venues, it's too spendy to be a comfort spot and not quite special enough to be a destination (but maybe that's our blind spot). Unlike many younger Madison venues, Paisan's is comfortable being itself, and we have to respect it for that.

We sat on the patio and started off with cool, fruity sangria, an old-school bread basket, and salads. The trademarked Porta salad (named after Paisan's partner restaurant Porta Bella) is craveworthy: basically a cheese plate on a bed of lettuce. Shredded mozzarella and cheddar, salami, ham, and garbanzo beans are enough for a meal unto themselves, and need no dressing whatsoever.

Porta saladCaesar salad

Now here was a meatball sub that commanded attention. It was a high maintenance sandwich the eating of which was fraught with the threat of drips from above. In the end, however, it just made Beckah happy.

Meatball sandwich

JM and Nichole's homemade pastas were fine. The red sauce was red, the noodles tender and fresh. There were plenty of mushrooms with the spinach fettuccine and the ravioli was hearty but somewhat forgettable.

Ravioli (in red sauce)Spinach pasta

The deluxe pizza - sausage, banana peppers, and mushrooms on a thin crust - definitely outshone the pasta. In fact, it's Tiffany's standard order. The sausage was particularly good, being none too greasy yet full of spicy, fennel-seeded goodness.


As we leaned back in our patio chairs, stuffed, Beckah related the story of how her parents had their first date at Paisan's, and how it has since become a family tradition. Looking around at the other patrons, we could easily imagine this being the case for many of them. The tablecloths outside are faded vinyl and more often than not held down by clothespins. The paneling inside is dark but not oppressive. There are still Andes candies for a coin at the register. It's these timeless qualities that make Paisan's so nice.

Though the newer location traded a bit of history for a gorgeous view over the lake, Paisan's still has a good deal of charm.

View from Paisan's deck


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The porta salad and pizza are flat-out fabulous! Other things not quite so much. It seems like mostly standard 1950's Italian-American fare. But we do love the pizza and the portas!!!

Porta salads rock my world!!! I just get the large one, and that's my meal.

I don't get Paisan's. I find their food average. It's not cheap enough for me to get over the average taste. I know so many people who love to go there. They liked going there before Paisan's moved so it isn't the lovely view that entices them.

All I've found noteworthy is that Porta Salad. The pasta/sauces that I've tried have all been rather bland/boring. I'm with Elizabeth and also don't really understand this place's popularity. The old school Italian is better at Cafe La Bellitalia, IMO.

Ownership of a UW alum license plate and likeliness of an appreciation for Paisan's are in direct correlation.

Can't remember the exact name, but they have a pizza with a sweet, sloppy joe-like topping and cheese. It's delicious!!!

When I went there the first time, my friends encouraged me to get the porta salad. I got a small one and was bowled over by its awesomeness (can't remember what I got for an entree, but not memorable). Now it's worth going there for a large porta salad - it's highly addictive. Thanks for this review though - I had no idea the "porta" salad was of their own invention. Kitchen Hearth also sells a porta salad (same ingrediants) so I thought it was a type of Italian salad.

no one has mentioned the pesto pizza. truly out of this world. LOTS of pesto, plus ample black olives, tomatoes and mushrooms... but the crust stays firm, which is a true wonder. The sourdough bread in the breadbasket is great... we're always sure to tell them to leave out the regular 'italian' bread. Tis true, tho, that the pasta dishes are merely ok. Promise me you'll try the pesto pizza next time, Nicole.

Thanks, but we don't repeat, and pesto makes me barf.

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