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Judging by the wealth of Italian-inspired restaurants in the Mile High City—some old, many new—Denverites can’t get enough Italian food. But who’s serving the best of the best? We ate our way across metro Denver to determine which spots have the most al dente pasta, the creamiest risotto, the punchiest saltimbocca, and much more. Here, 5280’s list of the most delicious Italian fare in town. Buon Appetito!
Editor’s Note: This is a living list of the best Italian restaurants, listed in alphabetical order, that was last updated on May 4, 2022. Did we miss your favorite? Email us at [email protected]
If this six-year-old Highland restaurant were a cocktail, it would be a spritz: The sparkling, trendy quaff befits Bar Dough’s celebratory, convivial nature. (The fun factor also isn’t surprising considering that Culinary Creative Group, the team behind Bar Dough, has also given us the quirky, always delicious Señor Bear, A5, and Forget Me Not.) Executive chef Russell Stippich—formerly of Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine, RiNo’s now-closed Acorn, and the Nickel—mans the kitchen, turning out a rotating lineup of stellar pastas, vegetable dishes, pizzas, and larger entrées. Our go-tos: The Berkshire pork Milanese and one of the seasonal pastas (right now, we recommend the almond-pesto-slicked strozzapreti with artichokes). Whatever you choose to eat from the modern menu, pair it with—what else?—your choice of five spritzes. 2227 W. 32nd Ave.
Barolo GrillThe off-menu mushroom tagliatelle at Barolo Grill. Photo by Riane Menardi Morrison
While Barolo Grill has been a Cherry Creek bastion for its rotating, seasonal Italian tasting menu for 30 years, we gravitate toward the simple, off-menu dishes at this fine-dining eatery. Visit on a weekday to order dishes à la carte—the weekend menu is prix fixe only—such as the meaty house Bolognese or the earthy mushroom tagliatelle, in which homemade, thick-cut pasta strands are tossed with a rich butter, cheese, and olive oil sauce and sautéed fungi. The result is a familiarly comforting yet entirely upscale version of a classic that is worth returning for again and again. Pasta dishes are also available in half portions so you can try several for less than $20 each. Let the team suggest a pairing from their expertly curated and extensive wine menu, and don’t miss the cherry semifreddo for dessert. 3030 E. Sixth Ave.
BastaGnocco with lamb at Basta. Photo by Patricia Kaowthumrong
Chef-owner Kelly Whitaker grinds heritage grains into fresh flours at Dry Storage (his artisan mill and bakery, located next door) for 12-year-old Basta’s pastas, breads, and pizzas. Inside the simply furnished, white-walled neighborhood spot—tucked in the luxe Peloton West condominium complex off Boulder’s Arapahoe Avenue—the comforting smell of char wafts through the air as diners feast on spreads of specialties prepared in the restaurant’s single wood-fired oven. That includes exquisitely plated seasonal pastas and vegetable dishes, perfectly blistered pies, and protein-centered sharable entrées. Look for the gnocco, a soft semolina dumpling nestled on a bed of tender shredded lamb topped with marcona almond aillade (a rich, nutty sauce with origins in France). And don’t skip the ultra-fluffy piada, Basta’s famed Italian-style flatbread, or the ricotta, malted bran, and hazelnut cheesecake. 3601 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
Established by Dean and Aimee Valdez—also the owners of the adjacent Old Capitol Grill & Smokehouse and Miners Saloon)—in 2019, this tiny eatery with only a dozen or so tables is an ode to Dean’s maternal great-grandparents who moved to Colorado from Italy in the early 20th century. The menu has regional Italian cuisine, including recipes from the country’s southern Calabria region, with wonderful preparations of meat and seafood. Go for the culurgiones, plump dumplings stuffed with velvety potatoes and pecorino and set on a pool of crushed tomato sauce, and polpo, grilled octopus served with a citrus-vinaigrette-kissed salad of frisée, fennel, watermelon radish, and Calabrian chiles. The pastas are also not to be missed; we like the sweet potato gnocchi with braised oxtail and the spicy clam spaghetti with ’nduja sausage. 812 12th St., Golden
Cafe JordanoRigatoni Bolognese with meatballs at Cafe Jordano. Photo by Riane Menardi Morrison
Lakewood’s 30-year-old Cafe Jordano has just the right amount of old-school charm. The bright and airy dining room is cozy and romantic; the wine list is incredibly affordable; and the warm bread is free-flowing. Napoli-born Elisa Heitman’s home-style recipes have cultivated a devoted following over the years; regulars have been known to line up outside before dinner service to snag seats before the restaurant expanded four years ago. And it’s no wonder: Entrées such as Bob’s Favorite (chicken breast and asparagus smothered in cream sauce with mozzarella and parmesan) and tortellini alla panna (tortellini, cream sauce, peas, mushrooms, and prosciutto) are the epitome of over-the-top comfort. Pro tip: Go for lunch, when the still-massive portions are even cheaper ($12–$14). 11068 W. Jewell Ave., Lakewood
CattivellaCattivella’s gnocchi al forno brunch dish. Photo by Riane Menardi Morrison
At first glance, Cattivella is a chic restaurant serving pizza and pasta to Central Park families. Look a bit deeper, though, and you’ll see that the five-year-old spot is chef-owner Elise Wiggins’ hymn to the whole animals her team sources from farms in Colorado and nearby states and the lesser-seen dishes of Italian cuisine. Consider the lasagna verde al forno, a dish native to the Liguria region layered with fresh pasta, basil pesto, parmesan, provolone, and béchamel sauce. Or consider the brunch menu’s gnocchi al forno, a dish from the Campania region traditionally baked with pomodoro, basil, and mozzarella that Wiggins makes her own with the addition of Milanese potato gnocchi and a poached egg. (She notes, though, that Italians don’t really eat eggs for breakfast, but she wanted to infuse it with some American-style flair.) In fact, educating diners in the ways of true Italian cooking is a huge part of Wiggins’ ethos, as evidenced by the in-depth glossary on the back of the menu and the cooking classes and guided trips to Italy she hosts with small groups (a trip is planned for 2023 after a COVID-19 hiatus). 10195 E. 29th Dr., Ste. 110
When siblings Paul and Aileen Reilly opened Coperta in 2016, they filled a previously less-occupied niche in Denver’s Italian scene by focusing on the cuisines of Rome and southern Italy. The warm, welcoming Uptown space is a relaxed venue for Paul’s gently elevated fare. His spicy pollo alla diavola is an exaltation of Calabria’s signature fiery chiles with a juicy, wood-fire-cooked bird as the backdrop. You’ll also find a silken, textbook version of Rome’s now uber-trendy cacio e pepe and agnolotti peppered with English peas, tarragon, and sunflower seed, which, as with all of Coperta’s pastas, is available in small or large portions. Coperta’s mix of esoteric regional ingredients and superb classics is nicely matched by a wine list full of indigenous Italian grapes and cocktails that favor the bittersweet buzz of amari. 400 E. 20th Ave.
If you’re the type of person who equates Italian food with pasta, then minimalist-hip Dio Mio is your jam: Spencer White, Alex Figura, and LuLu Clair’s five-year-old, counter-service RiNo restaurant is truly all about the noodles. Its seasonal menu changes often, encompassing novel creations such as furikake-topped radiatore with basil pistachio pesto, and classics like cacio e pepe with curly-edged mafaldine, pink peppercorns, and parmesan. And while pasta is the star here, the team always has a rotating roster of non-noodle small plates—including house-marinated artichoke hearts and heavenly house-baked sourdough—that are more than worthy of a visit all on their own. 3264 Larimer St.
Di Franco’sDiFranco’s serves a tasty classic meatball sub.
Though this Capitol Hill restaurant/market has just 30 seats, its flavors—inspired by recipes from owner Ryan DiFranco’s Sicilian grandmother—can only be described as big. The vodka sauce is emboldened with bits of fried prosciutto; the sublimely spicy sausage, locally-sourced from Denver’s own Clyde’s Sausage and Ground Beef, is matched with tangy-spicy pepperoncini in its Italian sausage sandwich; and DiFranco even offers his own brand of house wine, crafted by Bonacquisti Wine Company in Sunnyside. While the food would be at home in a more upscale setting, the counter service is quick and efficient and the atmosphere laid-back. It’s the perfect casual spot to grab a workday lunch or relaxing dinner—if you manage to score a seat, that is. 955 Lincoln St.
Frasca Food and Wine
Since Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson debuted Frasca in 2004, their love letter to the cuisine and gathering places of northern Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, they’ve earned oodles of accolades. The honors include multiple nods from the James Beard Foundation and placements on scores of best restaurant lists (including ours). In 2021, executive chef Rob Hurd took helm of the kitchen, where he combines his passions for working with local farmers and purveyors and preserving the natural flavors of ingredients to produce elegant Friulian show-stoppers. For example, past menus have featured risotto with shaved local truffle and žlikrofi, a delicate, hat-shaped pasta Hurd stuffed with seasonal roasted apples. While your meal may feel like a splurge—$195 for six courses or $125 for four with thoughtfully curated wine pairings for an additional cost—the polished experiences are unlike any other in Colorado. 1738 Pearl St., Boulder
With its Smaldone family mobster backstory and purportedly haunted Sunnyside location, there’s plenty of lore surrounding this long-standing (74 years and counting!) Mile High City institution. But Gaetano’s is no cobwebbed relic. The red sauce temple continues to deliver excellent pastas, pizzas, and cocktails. The clams aglio e olio, or littlenecks and linguine swimming in a garlicky, white-wine scented sauce, is a bowl of pure, briny bliss. The gooey, mozzarella-topped chicken parmesan is one of the best versions in town. We’re not so sure about the ghost stories, but we do know that the scene at Gaetano’s on a Saturday night—barrel-aged Negroni in hand, plate of breaded calamari in front of you—feels just right. 3760 Tejon St.
Gallo Italian Supper Club
Stop into the three-year-old Gallo Italian Supper Club and Bakery on South Broadway, and you’ll instantly feel—and be treated like—family. Co-owned by Sicilian-born chef Gaspare Licata, the spot buzzes with regulars and visitors alike who flock to the humble eatery for pasta slicked with handcrafted sauces and fluffy, house-made breads, pizzas, and baked goods. Licata, who earned the title of master baker in Italy when he was 16 and master chef at 18, came to the U.S. in the 1960s and worked in restaurants across Colorado. At Gallo, he can be seen flitting between the kitchen and the bakery, carrying trays of cakes, cookies, and cannoli to the walk-up counter—which you should scan for takeaway goods before leaving the restaurant. For dinner, start with the sausage cannoli, made with garlic-butter-oiled pizza dough and stuffed with homemade Italian sausage, mozzarella, and jalapeño. Then go for Gaspucci’s Pasta (the nickname of the proprietor himself): penne tossed with chicken, green and red bell peppers, mushrooms, red onions, and broccoli sautéed in a spicy vodka sauce. Don’t leave without raising a glass of house-made limoncello—a cream-based, milky-sweet variety that’s a rarity in the Denver area. 3470 S. Broadway, Englewood
II Pastaio Ristorante
II Pastaio has satisfied Boulderites’ carb-loaded cravings since 2000. Upon entering the strip-mall treasure, you’ll likely be greeted by Marta Oreamuno, who owns the no-frills restaurant with her husband, Giuseppe. Their pastas and sauces—all produced in-house—are available for sale by the pound and pint, respectively, for patrons to take home to whip up their own meals. But we recommend enjoying your ravioli (choose from 13 fillings, including beet, shrimp, and lamb) with spicy arrabiata sauce or eggplant parmigiana in the dining room. There’s even a lunch special with daily rotating ravioli and lasagna options and hearty vegetable sides (only $14 per plate, served cafeteria-style). Note: The restaurant is only open Monday through Friday, so be sure to stop by before the weekend. 3075 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
Once a cramped (but charming) hole-in-the-wall on 17th Avenue, Il Posto owner Andrea Frizzi celebrated a decade in business by moving his beloved Italian eatery to a shiny new RiNo location in 2017. The airy, chic, two-story space, which is dominated by a whimsically sprawling light fixture, is a beautiful home for Il Posto’s modern Italian fare. Dishes such as stuffed calamari with anchovies, capers, and bitter greens are plated like works of art, and the seasonally changing risotto—always cooked flawlessly—is a perennial highlight. Combined with an impressive regional wine list and a bar team that can mix up any sort of cocktail you may fancy, we imagine we’ll be toasting Il Posto 2.0 on its 20th anniversary and beyond. 2601 Larimer St.
Jovanina’s Broken Italian
Since opening in late 2018, Jovanina’s has become a go-to Italian restaurant in LoDo. The whimsical decor—candelabra-bedecked tables, playful wallpaper that hides images of broken iPhones within its floral pattern, reclaimed gas lamp light fixtures hung above the bar—hints at the sort of avante garde dishes you can expect from the kitchen. Chef Jake Linzinmeir (who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Jennifer) changes the menu often and generally strays from strict Italian traditions.The current roster includes everything from elk Bolognese with rosemary mascarpone, ricotta, and sage salt to Calabrian hot honey fried chicken. Under Linzinmeir’s purvey, however, even the oddest-sounding dishes work well. Visit on Wednesdays for $1 oysters (fresh or wood-oven-roasted), or dine in on Thursdays for a wine, cheese, and charcuterie platter for $35. 1520 Blake St.
Lou’s Italian Specialties
Joshua Pollack’s ode to the delis of his New Jersey childhood (his third endeavor after Five Points’ Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen and Famous Original J’s Pizza) is a foodie wonderland. There, expect creamy, hand-pulled fresh mozzarella; light-as-air cannoli; chicken parm subs; porchetta and broccoli rabe subs; stacked Italian cold cut subs; marinara and meatballs to take home; and marinated eggplant and mushrooms, olives, and caprese salad. The shelves are also stocked with more olive oils, vinegars, pastas, and gourmet pantry items than you could ever fit in your cupboards. While you can’t sit and eat inside the cheerful space on the corner of North Downing Street and 34th Avenue, Lou’s expert team knows how to wrap up your treats so they taste just as good when you get home. 3357 N. Downing St.
LucaRibeye with spring panzanella salad at Luca. Photo courtesy of Luca
The impeccably dressed servers—and higher-priced entrées—at Frank Bonanno’s 19-year-old Capital Hill restaurant might make you file Luca away as a special-occasion restaurant. But that would be a mistake: The decadent pappardelle Bolognese and umami-rich shaved Brussels sprouts Caesar are simply too heavenly to only be enjoyed on a birthday or anniversary. Plus, the fresh-made burrata and goat’s-milk ricotta and cured-in-house coppa and salami are the stuff of culinary dreams. One standout on the most recent menu is the Colorado ribeye accompanied by morel mushrooms, a spring panzanella salad, and chevre mousse. Wash it down with the San Remo, a gin- and Campari-forward sipper with lavender, lemon, and prosecco. 711 Grant St.
PanzanoPanzano’s veal papardelle. Photo by Matt Delgado
For nearly a quarter of a century, downtown’s Panzano, located inside the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, has been a Denver institution, providing handcrafted antipasti, pasta, and secondi plates to business people and tourists alike. In June 2021, chef David Gross took command of the kitchen, where he continues to put a Colorado spin on the eatery’s classic northern Italian fare. Look for treasures like bell-shaped campanelle pasta dotted with braised rabbit, pea tendrils, and truffle crema on the current spring menu, along with meatier dishes like a local lamb loin chop served alongside roasted cauliflower and fava beans. 909 17th St.
ParisiParisi’s porchetta. Photo by Riane Menardi Morrison
If you’re looking for an approachable Italian experience, look no further than Berkeley’s fast-casual Parisi. The brightly-lit, main-floor dining room is relaxed and busy; its menu is rife with options to satisfy your every Italian hankering—pizzas, pastas, panini, plus a small market’s worth of dried pastas, olive oils, sauces, and take-and-bake dishes. Don’t miss the hearty, skin-on porchetta, which comes rolled around buttered herbs, basted with savory jus, and accompanied by roasted potatoes and wilted greens and beans. We also love the Piadina Pugliese, a quesadillalike flatbread filled with broccolini, hot peppers, provolone, ricotta and sausage. 4401 Tennyson St.
Restaurant OliviaAnolini with spring peas at Restaurant Olivia. Photo by Patricia Kaowthumrong
Chef Ty Leon and partners Heather Morrison and Austin Carson (also behind Bistro Georgette in LoHi’s Avanti Food and Beverage) combined their mutual appreciation for great pasta and warm hospitality to open Restaurant Olivia. The spot is an excellent date-night destination—thanks to a killer wine and cocktail list, excellent handmade pastas, and a romantic, floral-pendant-light-lit ambiance. During dinner service, the restaurant bustles with patrons sipping apricot- and yellow-chartreuse-spiked white Negronis and twirling spaghetti studded with delicate, butter-poached lobster (our favorite dish) in ivory leather booths. To enjoy the best of the team’s seasonal offerings, opt for the five-course tasting menu; highlights from the latest iteration include carrot cozetti (a round pasta) with crispy artichoke, Manchego and honey-lemon vinaigrette and citrus-cured Arctic char with vichyssoise and grilled maitake mushrooms. 290 S. Downing St.
Romano’s Italian Restaurant
When it comes to family-run Colorado red sauce joints, you can’t do much better than Romano’s. A Littleton staple since 1967, its hearty, marinara-drenched specialties makes a drive to the southern ’burbs worthwhile. All of the staples are well represented: pitch-perfect eggplant parm, lasagna bolstered with rivers of melty provolone cheese, ultra-garlicky shrimp scampi, and house-made cannoli for dessert. With its trellises of plastic grapes, Tiffany-style lamps, and chianti-colored vinyl booths packed with regulars, it’s just the place for post-soccer-game pizza parties with the kids or casual date nights without them. Just be prepared to wait for a table, especially on weekends. 5666 Windermere St., Littleton
Though it only opened in March 2022, Littleton’s Sapore Prime Italian is dishing out some of the best pastas and Italian steakhouse fare in the Denver area. Chef Brent Turnipseede, formerly of American Elm, helms the kitchen and delivers freshly made pasta dishes like local mushroom tortellini filled with Mystic Mountain fungi cooked with spring garlic and mushroom-stem brodo (broth), as well as ribeyes, strips, and pork chops sourced from local purveyors like Buckhead Meats and River Bear. The thinly sliced beef carpaccio—served with cheese crisps instead of bread or crackers—is a must-try, and you can’t go wrong with rich and decadent bucatini carbonara, tossed with silky egg yolk, pecorino, and parmesan, and sprinkled with thick-cut guanciale. To finish, diners can indulge in a Louis XIII treize service of cognac (for a mere $1,200), or opt for a more approachable $6 scoop of house-made ice cream, gelato, or sorbet. 8361 N. Rampart Range Rd., Unit B101, Littleton
Welcoming and cozy: That’s the vibe at Spuntino, the 11-year-old gem of a Highland neighborhood Italian joint run by husband-and-wife team Elliot Strathmann (beverage pro) and Cindhura Reddy (chef) with the help of Kirstin Garramone (general manager). Staff and customers alike are considered family here, and as such, you’ll be treated to doting service and plates of hearty Italian food, sourced through a Colorado lens. Chef de cuisine Austin Nickel’s house-made sausage plate is always a good bet, each link deeply seasoned and cooked to juicy, plump perfection; expect homemade preserves and assorted accoutrements alongside, as well as focaccia that’s baked in-house daily. Fresh pastas come dressed in rich sauces; the capelli aglio e olio—tender strands kissed with olive oil, Indian-spice-preserved garlic, garlic breadcrumbs, and a 63-degree egg—is a must-order if it’s on the menu. Whatever you choose, let the kind staff walk you through the unique wine and spirit lists, full of surprises such as homemade aperitivi and amari made from locally foraged and grown herbs and botanicals. 2639 W. 32nd Ave.
The appeal of Tavernetta is that it satisfies almost any Italian-leaning craving, whether you’re hankering for hearty gnocchi with lamb ragu or crispy fritto misto. Brought to the Union Station neighborhood by the team behind Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine and Pizzeria Locale, it’s become a happy hour gathering spot for Denver’s coolest kids, with excellent snack and drink deals available in the fireplace lounge from 4 to 6 p.m. daily. Business people and celebrating Denverites also flock to Tavernetta for the handmade pastas, elegant secondi, and expertly curated wine list, not to mention the affable service, which makes you feel pampered and posh. Throw in Tavernetta’s beautifully oily, salty house focaccia (which comes gratis and is replaced as often as you can stomach) and its picture-perfect tiramisu, and you’ve got one of the best, and most accessible, Italian restaurants this town has to offer. 1889 16th St.
Chef-owner Alex Kallas and his wife Dina opened Undici over 10 years ago to supply Englewood residents with staples from the Repubblica Italiana. If the excellent weekday happy hour deals ($25 for a bottle of wine and an appetizer of your choice) don’t get you in the door, the handcrafted entrées surely should. Try the gnocchi Bolognese: soft, melt-in-your-mouth potato pillows drenched in a tangy, slow-simmered meat sauce that’s worth mopping up with the complimentary basket of house ciabatta. Also don’t miss the truffle carbonara, an earthy, creamy, masterpiece studded with thick-cut pancetta. 1200 E. Hampden Ave., Englewood
The 5280 Standard: Our editors spent months dining at Italian restaurants in the Denver metro area to choose the ones on this list. We dine anonymously and pay for our meals. Translation: Our “best of” lists are never influenced by advertising or free food.
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