There's nothing quite like fresh-made pasta: pillowy ravioli, tender tagliatelle, thick ribbons of pappardelle. In the best Italian cooking, the pasta isn't just an afterthought to get the sauce from the bowl or plate to your mouth; it's the focal point of the dish that balances flavors and textures to allow ripe tomatoes to shine and fresh herbs to come alive. Denver's best Italian restaurants know that pasta isn't something you just dump out of a box into boiling water; well-made noodles are created with love, patience and attention to detail. Here are the eight best Italian eateries in Denver for handmade pasta, in alphabetical order, for a mini-tour of Italy — or at least Little Italy.
2449 Larimer Street
The name may have changed from Amerigo Delicatus, but the pasta at chef/owner Iain Chisholm's Americatus has maintained the same revered status since the restaurant opened three years ago in what was then a somewhat sketchy section of upper Larimer Street. The menu changes frequently, but choices might include tortellini with caramelized pear and Gorgonzola cream sauce or a dead-on carbonara served simply with pancetta, egg and pecorino Romano — unsullied by heavy cream, peas or smoked bacon.
955 Lincoln Street
Step up to the counter at DiFranco's in the Beauvallon building on Lincoln Street and you'll see first-hand what makes the tiny kitchen such a mecca for lovers of fresh pasta. Everything is displayed behind glass: plump little butternut squash ravioli, skeins of angel hair, lightly dusted gnocchi tinted orange with sweet potato. Options change seasonally, but ingredients are mainly organic and always tied to the seasons.
6) Lo Stella Ristorante
1135 Bannock Street
Lo Stella, tucked into a cozy corner of the Golden Triangle, is the Colorado outpost of the original Lo Stella, which has been serving traditional fare in Portofino, Italy, since the 1800s. Bread, pizza and pasta are all made in-house and served simply with fresh ingredients. Ravioli stuffed with fish and blanketed in shrimp sauce or with herbs and walnut sauce reflect recipes that the family has perfected over decades. A simple plate of broad pappardelle coated in pesto displays the best of Ligurian cuisine.
909 17th Street
Chef Elise Wiggins has presided over downtown's top pasta palace for more than ten years, giving stability and consistency to a menu that has managed to stay ahead of trends while preserving traditional methods. House-rolled mafaldine (wavy pasta ribbons), ravioli and tortellini are among the ever-changing, seasonal roster of classic Italian shapes and textures served with the likes of rabbit confit, house-cured pancetta and an always-decadent lamb ragu.
4) Parisi Italian Market and Deli
4401 Tennyson Street
Parisi knows that some Italian dishes are built on dried pasta and others go best with fresh, housemade styles. That's why you'll find three tagliatelle dishes, four kinds of ravioli and four different gnocchi dishes alongside those made with dry spaghetti and penne. The longtime Berkeley favorite dresses its house pastas simply and serves them cooked to a firm bite with a pronounced egg flavor.
3) Patsy's Inn
3651 Navajo Street
Patsy's is one of our favorite Italian joints as much for the history and warm, welcoming service as for the food, which leans toward the milder side of old-fashioned cooking. But the fat homemade spaghetti is the first thing we start with, topped by a single, soft-as-butter meatball. The firm coils of spaghetti, made from a recipe that hasn't changed much in the restaurant's ninety-plus-year history, come nested on a plate bearing the Patsy's logo.
2900 West 25th Avenue
If you can score a seat at this Jefferson Park eatery's cicchetti bar — essentially a chef's counter where guests are treated to tailored small plates and à la minute creations — you'll have a chance to sample exquisite bites like tortellini bulging with mushroom and guanciale wallowing in a rich and smoky pork brodo. If not, or if you prefer a more traditional table, the regular menu's daily selection includes a trio of cloud-light plin (pinched Piedmontese agnolotti), fine capellini and toothsome rolls of cavatelli.
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2639 West 32nd Avenue
Cindhura Reddy and Elliot Strathmann have been running Spuntino for just over a year, serving impeccably fresh Italian fare with a spirit of adventure. Spuntino's fall menu includes several dishes featuring Colorado game, but between an appetizer of elk tartare with cured egg yolk and a secondi of a crisped brik dough parcel stuffed with braised El Regalo Ranch goat and mascarpone, dig into a primi of hand-cranked pasta. Reddy — the chef of the couple — offers a variety of bigoli, garganelli, tagilatelli and gnocchi in both traditional and eclectic options.