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Gaetano’s chicken parm is comforting and classic. Photo by Lucy Beaugard

Where to Find Denver’s Best Italian Food

Pasta, risotto, and parm, oh my! Here are our 24 favorite Italian restaurants in (and around) the Mile High City.

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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 (sorry, Boulder) to determine which spots have the most al dente pasta, the creamiest risotto, the punchiest saltimbocca, and much more. (Pizza is another topic altogether, and it has its own story.) Here, 5280’s alphabetized list of the most delicious Italian fare in town. Buon Appetito!

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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Angelo’s Taverna

Stop by Angelo’s Taverna before 6 p.m. to enjoy $1 oysters. Photo courtesy of Angelo’s Taverna

Favorite Dish: Gorgonzola steak fettuccine

This Speer neighborhood restaurant may be more than halfway into its fourth decade, but based on the 30-minute-plus wait you’re likely to face on any given night, it’s got another four in it (not to mention a new-ish sibling in Littleton, attached to Carboy winery, that opened in 2016). A maze-like floor plan and stained-glass windows give it a charming, well-worn quality, while the menu marries a classic oyster bar with a neighborhood Italian joint. Once you’ve had your fill of bivalves—raw on the half-shell or char-grilled and topped with garlic, butter, and Pecorino cheese (among other options)—you can move onto pizzas and pastas, all of which are made from scratch daily. 620 E. Sixth Ave., open seven days

Bar Dough

Bar Dough
Bar Dough’s wood oven-roasted carrots. Photo courtesy of Bar Dough

Favorite Dish: Wood oven-roasted carrots with farro

If this three-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 restaurant group behind Bar Dough, has also given us the quirky, always delicious Señor Bear, Morin, and Ash’Kara.) Chef Carrie Baird, of Top Chef season 15 fame, (wo)mans the kitchen, turning out her signature fancy toast (the current iteration is topped with pears, grapes, prosciutto, gorgonzola, and almonds), crispy skinned “pollo al limone” (chicken in lemon sauce), stellar pastas, and wood-oven-kissed vegetable dishes and pizzas. Whatever you choose to eat from the modern menu, pair it with—what else?—a spritz, made with tangy house-made limoncello. 2227 W. 32nd Ave., open seven days

Barolo Grill and Chow Morso Osteria

Chow Morso’s prosciutto piadina (grilled flatbread sandwich) is a satisfying combo of salty cured pork, fresh mozzarella, tomato, arugula, and basil pesto. Photo by Spencer Barnes

Favorite Dishes: Barolo-style braised duck at Barolo Grill; prosciutto piadina at Chow Morso

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Barolo Grill had three significant reasons to celebrate in 2018: First, Wine Enthusiast Magazine named it one of America’s Best Wine Restaurants of the year. Second, it received a Grand Award from Wine Spectator—an honor shared by just 88 other properties in the world (including two from Colorado, Flagstaff House and the Little Nell). And third, owner/wine director Ryan Fletter and culinary executive director Darrel Truett opened their accessible, more-affordable, little sister concept, Chow Morso Osteria, in LoDo. Denverites should rejoice as well, what with Barolo’s off-menu bolognese and carbonara appearing on the menu every day at Chow Morso (as well as lamb osso bucco, mushroom risotto, vanilla bean panna cotta, and the like), and new, seasonal menus at Barolo that pair beautifully (as always) with its award-winning wine list. Whichever restaurant and dishes you choose, you’ll be satisfied. Barolo Grill: 3030 E. Sixth Ave., closed Sunday and Monday; Chow Morso Osteria: 1500 Wynkoop St., closed Sunday

Bettola Italian Bistro

Bettola Bistro’s pork saltimbocca. Photo courtesy of Bettola Bistro

Favorite Dish: Cacio e pepe

It’s not often that the hunt for cacio e pepe or saltimbocca leads you to East Illif Avenue, but since Bettola Bistro opened last summer, now it can. Chef-owner Samir Mohammad and host (and fiancé) Rachel Firestone have created a sweet, unpretentious neighborhood joint where you’re treated like family (in a good way) and fed with care. Mohammad has cooked all over the world, including, most recently, as the chef at History Colorado Museum, but he’s brought an approachable, familiar, and utterly delicious sensibility to the Italian fare he creates—all by himself—at Bettola. Just about every sauce, pasta, cheese, and loaf of (free) bread on your table is made by hand, and during warmer months, most likely the vegetables on your plate came straight from Mohammad’s garden. On a recent visit, the aforementioned cacio e pepe and pork saltimbocca hit all the right notes, and a hearty salad of barely wilted spinach and warm white beans was a sleeper hit thanks to the addition of pickled butternut squash. Also of note: Most wines by the glass come in at under $10, and the cannoli are killer. 10253 E. Iliff Ave., 303-750-1580, closed Sunday and Monday

Cafe Jordano

Cozy Cafe Jordano is popular with Lakewood locals. Photo courtesy of Cafe Jordano

Favorite dish: Penne vodka with bacon

Lakewood’s almost-three-decade-old Cafe Jordano has just the right amount of old-school charm. The recently expanded and revamped dining room—located next door to the original location in an unassuming strip mall—is warm and romantic, the wine list is incredibly affordable, and the warm bread is free-flowing. Napoli-born Elisa Heitman’s moreish recipes have cultivated a devoted following over the years; regulars are known to line up outside before dinner service to snag seats. 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, more 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. 11068 W. Jewell Ave., Lakewood, closed Sunday

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Carmine’s on Penn

Carmine’s epic antipasti spread is definitely meant for sharing. Photo by Lucy Beaugard

Favorite Dish: Community Caesar salad (order the family size and Carmine’s will donate a portion of the menu price to a local nonprofit organization)

There’s no such thing as a “small plate” at Carmine’s on Penn, but there is ample opportunity for sharing. Since opening 25 years ago, this traditional Denver restaurant has been serving generous family-style portions of classic Italian-American pasta, chicken, and veal dishes with a side of flair. Friendly servers explain unfamiliar items—the menu hanging on Carmine’s wall merely lists the dishes, although descriptions do exist online—and even plate your food for you tableside from each overflowing platter that arrives. (While you can get a portion for just two people, the standard order serves four to six.) The baked ziti is a towering, cheesy delight, and the strozzapreti (chicken, shrimp, sausage, onions, and sweet peppers in a spicy marinara) tastes like something your nonna (real or wished for) would make. So grab a group you’re willing to share your food with and don’t forget to ask about Carmine’s special prizes and giveaways (think: gift certificates, t-shirts, and special pricing), available through the rest of this, their anniversary year. 92 S. Pennsylvania St., closed Monday

Cattivella

Cattivella
Ciccioli from Cattivella. Photo by Sarah Boyum

Favorite Dish: Mushroom ravioli with mushroom demi-glace, sage, raisins, pine nuts, and hazelnuts

At first glance, Cattivella is a chic restaurant serving pizza and pasta to Stapleton families. Look a bit deeper, though, and you’ll see that the almost-two-year-old spot is chef-owner Elise Wiggins’ hymn to the lesser-seen dishes of Italian cuisine—and to the whole animals her team brings in from Colorado farms each week. Take the (sadly now off-menu) ciccioli, for example, a Bologna-based dish in which scraps of pork are transformed into crispy, chip-like marvels. Or the new-to-the-menu langaroli di grasso, a variation of agnolotti native to the Piedmont region, stuffed with veal, pork, beef, and foie gras. 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, the closed-circuit television above the chef’s counter that gives diners a view of the action on the wood grill, and the cooking classes and guided trips to Italy that she takes every year with small groups. While Cattivella’s wood-fired pizzas and house-made pastas and Burrata may draw you in, you’ll find more to discover with every visit. 10195 E. 29th Dr., Ste. 110, open seven days

Coperta

The hottest spot at Coperta? A seat at the mozzarella bar. Photo by Sarah Boyum

Favorite Dish: Pollo alla diavola

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When siblings Paul and Aileen Reilly opened Coperta in 2016, they filled a previously empty 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. Spicy “pollo alla diavola,” or deviled chicken, is an exaltation of Calabria’s signature fiery chiles with a juicy, wood-fire-cooked bird as the backdrop. There’s a mozzarella bar—yes, dreams do come true—which boasts accoutrements such as earthy fried Sinese peppers from the Basilicata region to offset the creamy cheese. And you’ll find a silken, textbook version of Rome’s now uber-trendy cacio e pepe, 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., open seven days

Di Franco’s

DiFranco’s serves a tasty classic meatball sub.

Favorite Dish: Carbonara

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 salads are jazzed up with goodies such as pears sautéed in balsamic vinegar. While the food would be at home in a more upscale setting, the counter service at DiFranco’s 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., closed Sunday

Dio Mio

Dio Mio’s cavatelli with red sauce and pancetta (left) and octopus and potato spiedino (right). Photo by Rachel Adams

Favorite Dish: Fettucine cacio e pepe

If you’re they type of person who equates Italian food with pasta, then minimalist-hip Dio Mio is your jam: Spencer White and Alex Figura’s three-year-old counter-service RiNo restaurant is truly all about the noodles. Its seasonal menu changes often, encompassing novel creations such as squid radiatore with pork belly, kimchi, and chicharrones, and classics like spaghetti alla chitarra (the chitarra being a guitarlike tool used to cut slightly irregular strands) with marinara and optional meatballs. And while pasta is the star here, Figura and White always have a rotating roster of non-noodle small plates—salads, beef tenderloin spiedini, heavenly house-baked sourdough with Burrata—that are more than worthy of a visit all on their own. 3264 Larimer St., closed Sunday

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Firenze a Tavola and Parisi

You can load up on imported pastas, oils, and more at Parisi’s market. Photo courtesy of Parisi

Favorite Dishes: Wild boar meatballs at Parisi; lamb chops with artichokes at Firenze a Tavola

If you’re looking for an elegant dining experience, look no further than Berkeley’s Firenze a Tavola, where you’ll find an intimate dining room tucked away beneath its fast-casual sister, Parisi. Firenze a Tavola has warm brick walls softly lit by sconces and a quiet, refined atmosphere. Italian-born servers will guide you through the long wine list and the seasonal Tuscan cuisine, pointing you to entrées such as “agnella alla scottadito,” or fall-off-the-bone lamb chops with puréed artichokes. Upstairs, Parisi’s brightly-lit dining room is relaxed and busy, its menu filled with options to satisfy your every Italian hankering—pizzas, pastas, panini, plus a market’s worth of dried pastas, olive oils, sauces, and take-and-bake dishes. 4401 Tennyson St., Parisi is closed Sunday; Firenze a Tavola is closed Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday

Gaetano’s

Favorite Dish: Clams aglio e olio

With its Smaldone family mobster backstory and purportedly haunted Sunnyside location, there’s plenty of lore surrounding this long-standing (71 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., open seven days

Il Posto

Il Posto
Risotto at Il Posto is as it should be: creamy and al dente. Photo by Aaron Colussi

Favorite Dish: Seasonal risotto

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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 an eye-catching light fixture, is a beautiful home for Il Posto’s modern Italian fare. Dishes such as octopus carpaccio with rings of jalapeño and Fresno chiles, radish coins, purple potato chips, and citrus gel are plated like works of art, and the seasonally changing risotto—always cooked beautifully—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, and we imagine we’ll be toasting Il Posto 2.0 on its 20th anniversary and beyond. 2601 Larimer St., open seven days

Jovanina’s Broken Italian

Jovanina’s Broken Italian is a warm and welcoming addition to LoDo. Photo by Sarah Boyum

Favorite Dish: Fusilli fiorelli with roasted garlic, parmesan, parsley, and bone marrow

Despite being open for just three months, Jovanina’s has quickly become one of our go-to Italian restaurants. The whimsical decor—candelabra-bedecked tables, playful wallpaper that hides broken iPhones within its floral pattern, romantic reclaimed gas lamp light fixtures 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. A recent roster included everything from cherrywood-smoked guinea hen with persimmon “marmellata” (preserves) and Colorado polenta to brioche “bomboloni” doughnuts with Coca Cola fizz. Under Linzinmeir’s purvey, however, even the oddest-sounding dishes work beautifully. 1520 Blake St., closed Sunday and Monday

Lechuga’s Italian Restaurant

Savory cannoli are a Lechuga’s tradition. Photo by Lucy Beaugard

Favorite Dish: Little Devils

Since 1961, Lechuga’s (which was originally called Carbone’s Bakery) has been keeping North Siders, er, Highland residents, supplied with top-notch sausage cannolis, zesty red sauce, and house-made noodles. If the term “sausage cannoli” is unfamiliar to you, allow us to explain: While most know the dessert cannoli (an open-ended tube of fried pastry filled with sweet ricotta cream), in the Mile High City, Lechuga’s and other Northside Italian eateries pioneered the Denver cannoli, a calzone and sausage roll lovechild typically involving sausage and cheese wrapped in crisp-chewy baked dough, served with a side of marinara for dunking. Lechuga’s sells the handheld treats stuffed with mild or hot sausage or even meatballs, but we recommend the Little Devil, which adds a spicy strip of roasted jalapeño to the mix. And if for some reason dough-wrapped meat doesn’t appeal to you, you can also partake in buckets of spaghetti ($23.99 for six servings of pasta along with meatballs, sausages, and garlic bread, clearly one of the best takeout dinner deals in town), square Sicilian-style pizzas, and lasagna. Multiple locations, hours vary

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Liberati Osteria & Oenobeers

Pair Liberati’s cheese and saffron ravioli with one of the house-brewed oenobeers. Photo by Lucy Beaugard

Favorite Dish: Sampietrini (fluffy bread pockets with savory fillings such as eggplant parmigiana)

Denver’s current Italian restaurant scene is so deep and so delicious (as evidenced by this list), that it makes sense for a truly innovative Italian concept to come to town. Liberati Osteria & Oenobeers is different, yes, but it’s also perfect for the Mile High City. Where else would a Roman brewer, chef, and master baker find receptive audiences for their beer-wine hybrids, from-scratch fare, and traditional Italian breads (respectively)? Because that’s what owner Alex Liberati (with the help of head brewer Bob Malone), chef Marta Biasotti, and master baker Federica Ansani are up to in the former Golden Bell Press Building in Curtis Park. The space is open and airy; the service is helpful and gracious; and the food is far more interesting than your everyday noodles. Plus the “oenobeers” (“oeno-” as in Jay “Leno” without the L) are a beer geek’s daydream, made in classic styles but with grains and wine grapes for extra oomph. Oh, and Liberati has a 310-person patio, replete with a flowing fountain, that opens in April. 2403 Champa St., open seven days

Lou’s Italian Specialties

You’ll want one of everything at Lou’s Italian Specialties. Photo courtesy of From the Hip Photo

Favorite Dish: Porchetta and broccoli rabe sub

Creamy fresh mozzarella, pulled twice a day. Light-as-air cannoli. Chicken parm subs, porchetta and broccoli rabe subs, stacked Italian cold cut subs. Marinara and meatballs to take home, as well as marinated eggplant and mushrooms, olives, and caprese salad. More olive oils, vinegars, pastas, and gourmet pantry items than you could ever fit in your cupboards. It’s for these reasons, among many more, that 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. You can’t sit and eat inside the cheerful space on the corner of North Downing Street and 34th Avenue, but Lou’s expert team knows how to wrap up your treats so they taste just as good when you get them home. 3357 N. Downing St., open seven days

Luca

House-made cheeses and cured meats for the win. Photo courtesy of Luca

Favorite Dish: House charcuterie and cheeses

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The impeccably dressed servers at Frank Bonanno’s 16-year-old Capital Hill restaurant—along with its high-priced entrées—might make you file Luca away as a special occasion restaurant. But that would be a mistake. The decadent pappardelle Bolognese and Sicilian-style sautéed calamari with capers 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. Luckily, if you drop in during Luca’s happy hour (which runs Wednesday through Friday from 4:30 to 6 p.m.), you can savor all of the aforementioned standouts for less than $10 a pop—and wash it all down with a $5 Aperol spritz too. 711 Grant St., closed Monday and Tuesday

Quality Italian

quality-lasagne
Quality Italian’s baked lasagna for two. Photo by Callie Sumlin

Favorite Dish: Corn gnudi with crab

This tony Cherry Creek restaurant inside the Halcyon Hotel is certainly one of the most expensive Italian spots in Denver, but if you’re up for a splurge, it’s worth it. Once you’re seated in the perpetually buzzing, eclectically decorated dining room, the service you’ll receive is some of the best in town, reminiscent of the hospitality expertise found in old-school steak houses in Manhattan or Chicago (which makes sense, as Quality Italian comes from Michael Stillman’s New York City-based Quality Branded empire: Quality Meats, Quality Eats, Don Angie, Smith & Wollensky, Park Avenue). Tableside service and roving carts are in effect, and the kitchen consistently performs at skyscraper levels with its fresh pastas (try the for-two baked lasagne with filet mignon meatballs), house-made ricotta and focaccia, ultra-fresh salads, and dry-aged steaks. 241 Columbine St., open seven days

Romano’s Italian Restaurant

Eggplant parm is a must at Romano’s. Photo by Lindsey Bartlett and courtesy of Romano’s Italian Restaurant

Favorite Dish: Eggplant parmesan

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 fare makes a drive to the ‘burbs worthwhile. All of the staples are well represented: pitch-perfect eggplant parm, homemade 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, open seven days

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Spuntino

spuntino
Spuntino’s house-made amari. Photo by Sarah Boyum

Favorite Dish: Pappardelle with goat Bolognese

Welcoming and cozy: That’s the vibe at Spuntino, the gem of a LoHi neighborhood Italian joint run by husband-and-wife team Elliot Strathmann (general manager, beverage pro) and Cindhura Reddy (chef). Staff and customers alike are considered family here, and as such, you’ll be treated to friendly 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 tender focaccia that’s made in-house daily. Silky fresh pastas come dressed in rich sauces, and if there’s goat on the menu, please order it. Reddy and her team break down and coax into savory tenderness the whole animals they receive every other week from El Regalo Ranch in Salida. Whatever you choose, let Strathmann walk you through his unique wine and spirit lists, full of surprises such as Slovenian Pinot Grigio by the glass or his pet passion, homemade aperitivi and amari made from locally foraged and grown herbs and botanicals. 2639 W. 32nd Ave., closed Mondays

Tavernetta

Tavernetta’s dreamy tiramisu. Photo by Lucy Beaugard

Favorite Dish: Gnocchi with lamb ragu

The beauty of Tavernetta is that it satisfies almost any Italian-leaning craving you may have. 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 3 to 6 p.m. daily. Businesspeople 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., 720-605-1889, open seven days

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