The Ten Best Italian Restaurants In Denver — 2016 Edition

Handmade bucatini all'amatriciana at Bar Dough.EXPAND
Handmade bucatini all'amatriciana at Bar Dough.
Danielle Lirette

Denver is witnessing an explosion of Italian restaurants, with new openings and anticipated debuts in the next few months coming like a shower of Parmesan cheese — including Chow Morso, Dio Mio, Tavernetta, Cattivella and Marcella's, to name a few. With all the competition, Italian eateries have to be at the top of their game to keep customers rolling in. Here are the ten best Italian restaurants in metro Denver right now, listed in alphabetical order.

Subtle and beautiful dishes like this crudo epitomize the menu at Bar Dough.
Subtle and beautiful dishes like this crudo epitomize the menu at Bar Dough.
Danielle Lirette

Bar Dough
2227 W. 32nd Avenue
720-668-8508

To mistake Juan and Katie Padro's Italian eatery, which opened right next door to their Highland Tap & Burger in the fall of 2015, for just another wood-fired pizza joint would be to miss out on the Italian and Italian-American fare from chef-partner Max MacKissock, who not so long ago thrilled Denver palates at the Squeaky Bean (another of our favorites, but definitely not Italian). This time around, MacKissock is channeling his younger days as a chef in Italy and New York, creating sophisticated dishes, knockout pastas and wood-fired pizzas that veer just enough from Neapolitan tradition to capture a style distinct to Bar Dough's kitchen. Add to that a long, stately bar serving Italian wines, beers and spritzes concocted with housemade sodas, and you've got a racy little joint akin to a top-down vintage Fiat (only without all those pesky mechanical issues).

The farrotto piccolo at Basta is painstakingly cooked in a copper pot in the kitchen's wood-burning oven.
The farrotto piccolo at Basta is painstakingly cooked in a copper pot in the kitchen's wood-burning oven.
Mark Antonation

Basta
3601 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder
303-997-8775

Chef/owner Kelly Whitaker learned how to make pizza in Italy, sleeping on the floor of a venerable pizzeria in Naples to be close to his fire, then brought that knowledge to Boulder, where he opened Basta and proceeded to show everyone how good a gourmet pie can be. He makes his dough using a fifty-year-old starter from Naples, sources as many ingredients as he can from local suppliers, farmers and vendors, pickles his own vegetables, crafts his own mozzarella and ricotta, cures his own pancetta, and makes his own sausage. But pizza is only a small part of Whitaker's repertoire; everything on the menu is cooked in Basta's wood-burning oven: a selection of seasonal and rustic small plates — all kissed with smoke — and a few larger plates that focus on simplicity and the ingredients at hand. And he also recognizes that it’s not all about cooking: “Hospitality is about serving people – not yourself,” he says. “If you don’t like serving people, then you shouldn’t be cooking.”

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Danielle Lirette

Barolo Grill
3030 East Sixth Avenue
303-393-1040

Barolo Grill changed ownership from founder Blair Taylor to longtime manager Ryan Fletter in May 2015. Under Fletter, the wine program is still a priority and the staff still takes annual trips to Italy to taste, learn and absorb the history of the country's food and wine. With chef de cuisine Darrel Truett overseeing a largely Piedmont-inspired menu, the posh Cherry Creek North favorite, now 22 years old, has not only reaffirmed its relevance to the Denver dining scene, but it's evolved into an even better restaurant.

Coperta’s pollo allo diavolo is sinfully good.
Coperta’s pollo allo diavolo is sinfully good.
Danielle Lirette

Coperta
400 East 20th Avenue
720-749-4666

Brother-and-sister team Paul and Aileen Reilly couldn’t have picked a better spot for Coperta, their Italian followup to Beast + Bottle. Its location across from Benedict Fountain Park means that after a leisurely meal, you can walk out the door, belly full of wine and pasta and cheese, and engage in that most Italian of traditions: the passeggiata, or evening stroll. Prior to launch, the pair traveled widely throughout Rome and points south, and came home with a menu that includes several knockout dishes, including chewy cavatelli with meat ragù, bucatini all'amatriciana with salty nubs of guanciale, and polenta, which defies its humble origins with a richness that comes from butter and leftover whey. Chicken isn’t always the most exciting dish on a menu, but Coperta’s pollo allo diavolo makes you reconsider that assumption: Diavolo means “devil,” and this wood-charred half-chicken lives up to its name, fiery from its chile marinade, Calabrian chiles and the red-tinged chile oil ringing the plate. The Reillys have brought interesting touches to their newest restaurant, such as spuzzulia, a chef’s-choice selection of off-menu nibbles, and a mozzarella bar, which allows you to build your own cheese plate with add-ons from Sienese peppers to fig vincotto.

Frasca is not only one of the best Italian restaurants in the metro area, it's one of the best restaurants in the country.EXPAND
Frasca is not only one of the best Italian restaurants in the metro area, it's one of the best restaurants in the country.
Courtesy of Frasca Food & Wine

Frasca Food & Wine
1738 Pearl Street, Boulder
303-442-6966

After all the gushing, all the awards, Frasca still remains the best we've got. Some people would say that the expectations are too high, that no restaurant can possibly live up to such standards. But those people would be wrong. Frasca stands in the top tier of restaurants not just locally, but nationally. The service is better, the knowledge deeper, the menu broader and brighter than sometimes seems possible. And yet Frasca still feels like a special place meant just for you. That's because owners Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson ignore all the hype and just focus on the next table, the next plate, the next glass of wine. And the Friulian inspiration that guides the menu still allows for modern interpretation and innovation, keeping Frasca fresh even after more than a decade.

Keep reading for the rest of our list of Denver's best Italian restaurants...



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