No matter the season, year, or where a diner might find him or herself, Italian food is always a classic go-to. It’s the satisfying, transportive genre of cuisine that is always a good choice, much like taking a trip to Italy. Whether you are missing that semester studying abroad in Rome, need a new place for Friday date nights or just want to “do as the Italians do,” Denver is busting at the seams with a plethora of delicious choices for Italian restaurants.
While some of Denver’s Italian dining locales have only grown better with age, the addition of its newer, fresh takes on the traditional classics has the Mile High City food scene buzzing. While many of these Italian restaurants remain loyal to their traditional roots and ethos, some appeal to the modern diner with a “new school” twist—this is not the old school, American Italian food from you remember from your childhood. Inspired by the fresh Mediterranean fare of Southern Italy and the decadent treats of Sicily to the gamey meats of Northern Italy and the homey, earthy cuisine of Tuscany — all are delicious. Here are our 10 favorites for the best Italian Restaurants in the Denver area—in no particular order.
Where: 10195 E 29th Dr. #110, Denver
Hours: Sunday – Wednesday 4 – 9 p.m. and Thursday – Saturday 4 – 10 p.m.
The Lowdown: Led by powerhouse and award-winning chef Elise Wiggins, Cattivella — which translates to “naughty girl” in Italian — has been luring diners into the Stapleton neighborhood since late 2017. Along with its 100-seat, wraparound patio with breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains, Cativella offers a number of places to post up and take your dining experience to the next level.
Pull up a seat anywhere in the restaurant and watch the methodical dance of the chefs and butchers as they weave between the front and back of house, through the locale’s open floor plan. Take a chair at the Butchers’ corner as the craftsmen carve various game into cuts for dishes like CAB Ribeye with Tuscan rosemary potato and arugula ($48) or an antipasto like Patsoa ($9) — pig trotter fritters with a spicy garlic chili sauce. A stool nearby at the chef’s counter allows you a view of fresh pasta dough being thrown and rolled into spaghetti, gnocchi and agnolotti. Later it will be boiled and baked into primis to the likes of potato gnocchi ($19) and Agnolotti dal Plin ($19.) But the true magic of the restaurant lies at its heart, where pizzas enter the belly of the open-fire oven and emerge in glorious classic Italian form in the shape of Pizza Classica ($20) topped with basil and San Marzano tomatoes and glistening with the oil from fatty buffalo mozzarella.
While the restaurant offers all of these Italian classics and more, it also appeals to the palate of Colorado’s “nouveau” dinners, with “new American” twists. And, it has a full brunch menu that stars entries like apple-sage pancakes ($12) and bottomless mimosas with cold pressed oj or fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice ($17). Whatever your fancy or palate, Wiggins’ bustling new spot is sure to have just the right post for you.
Where:2639 W 32nd Ave., Denver
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 5 – 9 p.m. and Friday – Saturday 5 – 10 p.m.
The Lowdown: This quaint spot seems to exist off the radar, but perhaps that’s what keeps its delicate charm. Burrowed into the historic neighborhood of the Highlands, Sputino is a “global mind[ed], Colorado body, Italian soul” eatery, owned and operated by husband and wife duo, Cindhura Reddy and Elliot Strathmann.
With a mind on sustainability, staying close to home and appealing to that discerning Colorado palate, the pair is dedicated to serving patrons with “from-scratch” dishes. They make everything, within reason, in house, including “breads, cheeses, pastas, gelati [and] a wide range of digestivi and amari.” Come for its take on wholesome Italian dishes like cavatelli ($21) a rye dumpling pasta with house-made ‘nduja, romesco and toasted almonds, Pollo affumicato ($26)—a smoke Boulder Natural half “brick” chicken with sweet potato, crispy Brussels sprouts and red-eye gravy—or stunning pasta dishes like Crostata di Uovo ($20), a brik, semolina dough pastry, with a 63° egg filling with wild mushrooms, wilted greens and balsamic aioli.
Stay for a scoop of the light yet indulgent house-made olive oil gelato ($5) or its spin on an after-dinner digestif—chocolate + digestivo truffle ($2)—a Guittard chocolate ganache infused with an Italian digestivo. Colorado-grown, intimate, and classic with that American twist, Spuntino makes for a perfect Friday date night spot or for when you just want to take a quick, neighborhood trip to Italia.
Where: 400 E 20th Ave., Denver
Hours: Monday – Thursday 12 – 9 p.m., Friday 12 – 10 p.m., Saturday 4 – 10 p.m. and Sunday 4 – 9 p.m.
The Lowdown: Refinement meets Southern Italian charm in this warm, uptown eatery that features the food of Rome and its southern counterparts. If you’re looking for classic dishes, try the eggplant parmigiana ($14) with San Marzano tomato and mozzarella or one of the traditional pasta dishes — spaghetti cacio e pepe ($8/16), ricotta ravioli ($12/24). Take Coperta’s spin on fettuccine, the fettuccine pepe roso($12/24), tossed with cured duck, parsnip and pink peppercorn.
If you are up for a culinary adventure through the various Italian provinces, be sure to keep an eye out for the Tren Coperto logo, which indicates new dishes that highlight the month’s spotlight region. This month, appealing to the seafood lovers out there, check out the savory antipasto, the fritto misto grande ($16) — a generous helping of fried calamari and vegetables served with fresh lemon. Don’t leave without indulging in the Campania Buffalo milk mozzarella ($11), so good, you might forget where you are for a second. Try it with the various side options—imported anchovies ($4), marinated olives ($5) and Taralli crackers ($3)—for a little something extra.
Where: 2900 W 25th Ave., Denver
Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Thursday – Friday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5 – 9 p.m.
The Lowdown: This scratch-to-table abode denotes itself as a “social Italian eatery,” serving traditional recipes from Italy’s culinary dispatch while using local, organic and sustainable ingredients as much as possible. Sarto’s is another Italian restaurant with the American twist of brunch on its menu — offering savory entrées brimming with fatty meats.
Enjoy a pancetta-filled risotto ($13) with raw egg, garlic and grana, fried chicken thighs in the pollo fritto ($15) atop pasta and garnished with cacio e pepe and marinara. Or, enjoy the sweet pastries like an egg custard frittata ($13) or the cinnamon-spiced house-made pancake frittella ($12), with a caramel apple sauce.
While the American spins are fun, don’t forget to check out the dishes that hit closer to Sarto’s Italian roots like the burrata ($13), made with poached pears, a balsamic reduction and served with grilled focaccia, chestnut preserves and toasted pecans. Pasta dishes like the orecchiette con polpo ($17)—a hand-pinched, sun-dried tomato pasta dish served with braised Spanish octopus, Calabrian chili, white wine and herbs — shouldn’t be missed either.
Where: 2601 Larimer St., Denver
Hours: Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 5 – 10 p.m. and Saturday 5 – 10 p.m.
The Lowdown: If impressing your date — or your mom — is on your list of things to do, Il Posto is a fantastic, cosmopolitan hotspot for Italian eats in the trendy Lodo area. Boasting a stunning interior complete with floor to ceiling windows, mezzanine seating and a full bar, this Italian eatery prides itself on offering the “the complicated simplicity of Italian food and wine.”
With a rotating menu that features local organic produce and meats and seafood flown in daily, chef-owner Andrea Frizzi takes inspiration and note from the Northern regions of Italy to bring diners a truly unforgettable experience that he calls “cooking in the present.” With main courses ranging from $25-40 and pasta courses from $16-25, it’s certainly not one of Denver’s more affordable spots, but it’s one of the most memorable. While Frizzi’s “cooking in the present” dining experience means the absence of a set menu, there are some “standard” dishes that consistently make an appearance in various forms—spaghetti, burrata, cured meats and innovative seafood and game dishes.
Currently, we recommend starting out your experience with tagliere ($24) a charcuterie platter featuring prosciutto cotto, finocchiona, mortadella and grissini. Then, tack on a hefty piece of heaven with one of the housemade burrata ($15), complete with lavash cracker, basic and aged balsamic. With the pasta course, tease your palette with its take on spaghetti ($19), served with snow crab, spaghetti squash, asparagus, leeks, parma butter and spiced with Calabrian chile. See what the hype of “fresh, flown-in seafood” is about with the maiale al mare ($33) — a dish brimming with seared octopus, braised bacon, English peas, cippolini onion and horseradish. Or, try the Ippoglosso ($35) served with halibut, mushrooms, xo sauce, snap peas, rhubarb and celery. Don’t leave without checking out the stunning wine menu as well.
Where: 1889 16th St., Denver
Hours: Sunday – Wednesday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
The Lowdown: From the talented food minds and chefs that brought the James Beard Award-winning Frasca Food and Wine to Colorado, this homey locale brings authentic Italian food straight into the heart of downtown Denver.
Tucked behind a quiet side street just across from Union Station, warm and inviting Tavernetta prides itself on offering its patrons genuine hospitality and authentic Italian food. The airy, open-kitchen space, led by chef di cucina, Ian Wortham (previously of Frasca Food and Wine), serves traditional yet indulgent dishes.
Start with the primi pasta course with dishes like campo di funghi ($28), served with stracciatella, mushrooms and Parmigiano Reggiano. Then move to the northern parts of Italy to try the wholesome Maiale Milanese ($24) — a breaded Berkshire pork shoulder with lemon and capers. Whether you are coming for Friday date night, or just to have a happy hour spritz ($4) and admire the airy space as you watch the trains go by, the newest member of the Bobby Stuckey/Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson team is always a great choice for when you want to do as the Italians do.
Where: 711 Grant St., Denver
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 5 – 10 p.m. and Sunday 5 – 9 p.m.
The Lowdown: Another delicious creation from the Bonnano Concepts group, Luca brings Denver diners a refined Italian experience in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Luca keeps its menu relatively simple, focusing on regional cuisine with a selection of formaggi ranging from $9-13—including cheeses like a salty, nutty Parmigiano Reggiano aged 18 months ($13), a mild fontina ($9) and a stretchy and creamy buffalo burrata ($14.) Luca offers aged salumi ranging from $8-12 and showcasing cuts like Proscuitto di Parma ($12) — a salty, cured ham and a four-month-old bresaola ($8) cured with red wine.
Alongside classic entries like grilled shrimp scampi ($28) and burrata stuffed chicken parmesan ($26), the restaurant also offers traditional pizzas. Feel satisfied with a margherita ($15) topped with fresh mozzarella and basil or Carne ($18) for meat-lovers topped with sausage, pepperoni, meatballs and fresh ricotta. Pizza or pasta, cheese or meats, you can’t go wrong with picking any of Luca’s simplistic — yet delicious — Italian classics.
Where: 2227 W 32nd Ave., Denver
Hours: Monday – Thursday 3 – 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 3 p.m. – 12 a.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.
The Lowdown: Come for the pizza, stay for the pasta. If you are looking for some of the best pizza in town, look no further. Bar Dough offers some fantastic classics like a Margherita ($12) and a Commendatore ($17) served with garlic oil, aged mozzarella, montasio, fennel sausage, prosciutto and sopressa. But the pasta at Bar Dough is nothing to be overlooked either.
We recommend the tagliarini ($14/27) a mischievous dark squid-ink pasta, seasoned with Calabrian chile, orange zest, spicy greens and parsley and tossed with mussels and squid. Enjoy your meal alongside a spritz ($9), and go for the traditional Aperol and orange combo or try one of the other refreshing American twists like the No. 2 with lemon and rosemary or the No. 4 with grapefruit and basil.
Where: 955 Lincoln St. D, Denver
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
The Lowdown: Although the service may be fast at this buzzy, yet laid-back, Capitol Hill spot, the quality of the food — fresh pasta dishes, Italian/American subs and organic salads — stays elevated with that of an upscale eatery. Focusing on dishes that feature minimalistic ingredients and remind eaters that simplicity is key, chef-owner Ryan DiFranco pays homage to his Italian roots and Sicilian grandmother through fresh pasta dishes like Carbonara ($15) with local egg, black pepper, guanciale and pecorino and chicken parm and spaghetti ($17.50) with fresh, home-made pasta.
Di Franco’s also offers great gluten-free pasta dishes with Cappello’s pasta. Can’t stay? Take your primi or secondi to go in the form of a sandwich with paninis like the meatball ($12) smothered in “Denver’s best red sauce”or the eggplant parm ($12.)
Where: 1801 Central St., Denver
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 4 – 10 p.m. and Friday – Saturday 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.
The Lowdown: Located in the Highlands neighborhood across the way from Union Station and Coors Field, Marcella’s has been wooing the Denver with its generous pasta dishes, savory taligare platters and monstrous meatballs. The sidewalk patio is great to lounge on in the summer — or during those sunny winter days — and its homey, dark-wood filled interior puts Marcella’s in the running for a classic Denver restaurant. It’s for when you’re wanting to “fall in love with your food,” family and the “place where it all comes together.”
The warm abode offers classic favorites like Pepperoni pizza ($15), margherita ($14.50) and fun American spins like pesto shrimp ($17) with roasted tomato and goat cheese. Grabbing a few small plates and cured meats to share is also a great option, we recommend the Fungi Misti (mixed mushrooms), warm olives and a mouth-watering Prosciutto di Parma aged 18 months. Don’t leave without a plate of the infamous spaghetti & meatball ($17) — we’re talking a meatball the size of your fist.
Be sure to check out the gluten-free options as well, the restaurant boasts a plethora of tasty options for the gluten-intolerant or allergic. Don’t forget to leave room for one of the decadent dolce —cannoli ($8) with a chocolate ganache and pistachio or tiramisu ($8) bathed in espresso and layered with a sweet mascarpone cream — before your roll yourself out and back to your car.