If the regulars do hang out, though, the crowd apparently thins by 8 p.m., which is when I returned with some friends a few days later. By then, there was just one other table in the dining room, and those diners were already spooning ice cream out of tall glasses. But we were ready to drink cheap Chianti and eat platters of family-style pasta until we exploded — and the staff at Mama Sanninos was happy to oblige. They greeted us with the same enthusiasm displayed by the lunchtime servers, bringing the wine and an order of the garlic-encrusted bread I'd asked for before I realized that dinner at Mama Sanninos comes with a basket full of rolls. Dinner also comes with your choice of salad or minestrone, neither of which was impressive. I couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that the thin, bland minestrone had a chicken-and-star soup base; the salad was an equally uninspiring bed of iceberg lettuce drowned in dressing.

We had higher hopes for the pasta, and ordered an entree each — then threw in a mini-calzone, thinking it would provide a couple of bites per person. But instead, the calzone was the size of a small dinner plate. It came with a steak knife, so that I could dole out slices of the doughy pocket, which had been stuffed to capacity with spicy sausage, green-chile strips and stretchy mozzarella. Two of us could have split the thing and called it a meal. If this was "mini," the standard calzone must be the size of a tire.

The entree portions were just as generous; the three of us could easily have shared one dish — but then we would have missed out on some delightful eating. Although the shrimp in the pasta fra diavolo, which we'd ordered with penne, was slightly overcooked, it featured a version of the marinara that had been infused with still more chiles, which made it particularly addictive. The lasagna was another success, the sheets of fresh pasta layered with sweet ricotta, ground beef and spinach, then coated with a layer of that marinara and topped with melted mozzarella that was still bubbling when it came to the table. My favorite entree, though, was the simplest: homemade egg noodles. The pencil-thick strands came covered with that incredible marinara (we'd requested the chile-heavy variation) as well as a couple of meatballs, the beef pungent with garlic, basil and oregano.

Mama Sanninos is only six years old, but it looks like it's been around forever. More photos: Find traditional red-sauce fare at Mama Sanninos in Arvada.
Mark Manger
Mama Sanninos is only six years old, but it looks like it's been around forever. More photos: Find traditional red-sauce fare at Mama Sanninos in Arvada.

Location Info


Mama Sanninos

5800 W. 38th Avenue
Wheat Ridge, CO 80002

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Northwest Denver Suburbs


Mama Sanninos
Mini calzone $7
Cara Mia sandwich $9
Lasagna $14
Homemade egg noodles $13
Pasta fra diavolo $16
9312 West 58th Avenue, Arvada
Hours: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 12 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Saturday

By the time we'd finished a bottle of wine and eaten all we could, it looked like we'd hardly made a dent in the dishes. We asked for the leftovers to be packaged, then braced ourselves...and ordered the cannoli, which is made in-house. And miraculously, my appetite came back when it arrived: The crunchy, deep-fried shell had been injected with chocolate-chip-studded sweet cream and dusted with powdered sugar. It was the perfect finish to a very good meal.

When we paid our check, Cheers reruns were already showing on TV and staffers were finishing their closing duties in the empty dining room. But the Sanninos were still there to wave us goodbye, urging us to return soon.

More photos: Find traditional red-sauce fare at Mama Sanninos in Arvada

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The Jennster
The Jennster

Thank you bunches and gobbles for writing this--I love a huge plate of spaghetti and a bottle of cheap kee-an-tee. Have fork, will visit.

Denver Native
Denver Native

Such an interesting well I remember Jim's Pizzeria on Tejon and Paisan's Pizzeria on Colfax, (such wonderful food) we ate at both locations for years and loved every bite. As a very young child I remember a smiling man tossing the pizza crust at Jim's Pizzeria, they had a window where you could watch. We would go there, and then off to Lakeside and play in the Fun House....long days gone by. I did not know about this restaurant, and I certainly will be visiting soon. Thank you for history on this family, of great interest to those of us that have been around for a long time.