You used to be able to find old-school red-sauce joints all over metro Denver. But their ranks have been dwindling, as the owners of these Italian restaurants decide to retire or sell out to developers — or both. The most recent loss? Louisville's 98-year-old Blue Parrot, which closed in January. But there are still at least six joints in metro Denver serving in the original spots where they first stirred up that red sauce more than fifty years ago.
Romano's Italian Restaurant
5666 South Windemere, Littleton
Romano's opened on a sleepy little street a few blocks from Littleton's Old Town in 1967. Back then, Neil and Ellie Romano ran it as a little pizza joint with just three tables. But over the years, both the menu and the space expanded, and today the second generation of the Romano family runs what's become a landmark in Littleton, known as much for its welcoming atmosphere as for its homemade spaghetti, eggplant parmesan and amazing red sauce that covers almost everything. (And it should go without saying that there is absolutely no connection between this classic place and Romano's Macaroni Grill....)
Frank the Pizza King
4701 South Broadway, Englewood
Frank the Pizza King was founded on South Broadway in 1961 by Frank Krascek; today it's run by Walter (Frank's son) and Maria Krascek. Since Frank is the pizza king, pizza dominates the menu, with a medium-thick crust and a generous slathering of red sauce. But homemade sausage sandwiches, Italian subs and other diner-style dishes are also available.
The Saucy Noodle
727 South University Boulevard
Opened in 1964, the Saucy Noodle celebrated fifty years in business under the same family ownership two years ago; Erin Markham took over operations in the 1990s from her grandfather, Sam Badis. Restaurant critic Gretchen Kurtz, in her review of the garlic-loving joint, noted that the "attitude, like the food itself, was nothing if not friendly, a personification of the family that has run the Saucy Noodle for all these years." Don't expect anything fancy — just the same meatballs, pastas, pizzas and family atmosphere that have been keeping Bonnie Brae neighbors coming back for decades.
3760 Tejon Street
Gaetano's underworld history, when the place was run by the Smaldone crime family back in the ’40s, is familiar to Denver natives, as is the overhaul by the Breckenridge-Wynkoop group, which purchased the place in 2006. There's still plenty of history left in the joint (though it's not so much of a joint anymore), and it's back in independent hands, having been purchased by Ron Robinson in 2013. Today Gaetano's remains a great neighborhood spot with a swank Frank Sinatra vibe, and the sauce is markedly improved from the days of the Smaldones.
2598 South Broadway
Gennaro's has been a low-key neighborhood red-sauce Italian joint for more than fifty years, with just two owners in that time. Separated from its companion bar by a bank of windows (you can also order off the menu in the bar), the dining room has just a few tables with red-checked cloths, as well as a view of the kitchen cooking up pizza and pasta. Hand-tossed pizzas and calzones big enough for two highlight a menu long on American-Italian classics like lasagna, baked ziti, and sausage and peppers.
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Dino's Italian Food
10040 West Colfax Avenue, Lakewood
Apparently 1961 was a good year for Italian restaurants: Dino's popped up that year on West Colfax Avenue and has been keeping the red sauce simmering ever since. The restaurant, founded by Dino DiPaolo and still run by his daughter, Judy Duren, gives Denver's western suburbs a taste of pizza, Italian sandwiches, baked lasagna and manicotti, as well as piles of pasta.