The questions of which state or city makes the best pizza, where to get the most authentic slice, and whose pie sings above the rest will always be hot topics. After all, pizza is a very personal choice that takes into account crust preferences, favorite sauces and, of course, preferred toppings. A basic cheese slice is no match for one laden with pepperoni (unless you're a vegetarian, that is), and a thin-crust New York-style pie is hard to compare with a buttery deep-dish from Chicago. Still, you can find great versions of all kinds of pizzas in Denver, and we sampled scads of them to come up with our list of the ten best pizzas in Denver, presented here in alphabetical order.
Mushroom pizza at Angelo's Taverna.
10. Angelo's Taverna
620 East Sixth Avenue
What type of pizza does this old-school Italian joint churn out? Frankly, it's hard to pinpoint, exactly. The crust has a slightly buttery and flaky texture, which works well to hold up the thick layer of cheese, veggies and meat. It's not thin, it's not thick, it's just hearty, as you may find if you happen try to finish a twelve-inch pie solo. Sharing is caring, and you will want enough eaters at the table so you can get both a white-sauce and red-sauce creation. Make your own combos or try an off-the-wall menu item like the Higher Ground, a rich white pie with roasted mushrooms, garlic, ground Italian sausage, spinach, ricotta and cream sauce. Add a plate of freshly shucked oysters to the mix and you'll see why this Sixth Avenue classic has been going strong with recipes that have withstood more than thirty years and a recent ownership change.
Pizza cooking at Bar Dough.
9. Bar Dough
2227 West 32nd Avenue
As the newest of the bunch, this Highland joint adds another great layer to the Denver pizza scene. This fact comes as no surprise given that chef-partner Max MacKissock is in the kitchen firing up delectable pizzas in an Acunto Napoli wood-burning oven. The dough has a nice chew, and the thinly layered toppings melt together in perfect harmony. For example, try the Commendatore, a lovely, meaty mixture of fennel sausage, prosciutto, sopressa, montasio and a drizzle of garlic oil. The Mountain Man speaks to the location and offers guests a hearty combination of guanciale, Gorgonzola, onion, chiles and, in a fun twist, pistachios. Other offerings include a smoked-mushroom pizza, a classic clam pie and a traditional margherita.
Parma Italiana pie at Blue Pan Pizza.
8. Blue Pan Pizza
3930 West 32nd Avenue
We can't get enough of these brilliant, deep-dish Detroit-style pies. Is it the perfectly caramelized cheese crust that surrounds each pizza? Maybe it's the high-end toppings, like creamy ricotta sourced from New York, miniature Peruvian peppers or roasted Anaheim green chiles that elevate each slice. Either way, it's not surprising that the dough is the payoff here; after all, co-owner Jeff Smokevitch is an international pizza master who has won contests in the U.S. and Italy with his creations. Award-winning pies include the Mountain Top, comprising two styles of pepperoni and button mushrooms; the meat-and-cheese-laden Brooklyn Bridge; and the Prospector, with chiles, mushrooms and hand-pinched Italian sausage.
Cutting the pizza at Brik on York.
7. Brik on York
2223 East Colfax Avenue
It's not just the pair of scissors served with each pizza that makes this East Colfax spot unique and fun; it's mainly the solid cuisine being dished out. One reason the pizza here proves so spot-on is the traditional Acunto hand-made oven that owner Travis Gee had shipped straight from Italy. In just a couple minutes it cooks the pizza and helps give the light, chewy crust that special smoky char Neapolitan pies are known for. Most of the options prove traditional to an Italian menu, so don't expect too many surprises. Choose from the mushroom-heavy white pie, an arugula and prosciutto di Parma pizza laced with truffle oil, or other superb combinations. The spot is also known for wine, something that makes eating pizza even better.
Pizza at Cart-Driver.
2500 Larimer Street
When this RiNo spot opened in 2014, it got a lot of buzz thanks to co-owner Kelly Whitaker's past as a pizza maverick at Basta in Boulder. Even though the hype has died down a bit, Whitaker still produces a solid menu of piping-hot pies. Unlike many other pizza-focused joints, Cart-Driver's menu is set. That means you are happily stuck ordering one of the eight options including the Clam, with littleneck clams, pancetta and roasted garlic; the White, with smoked ricotta, mozzarella, garlic and basil; and the signature pie, made with sausage, kale, mozzarella and chile flakes. Pair that with a Little Italy cocktail and indulge in a winning combination. Just make sure to get there early or expect to wait. After all, Cart-Driver is housed in an old shipping container and only has 25 seats inside.
Pizza at Ernie's Bar & Pizza.
5. Ernie's Bar & Pizza
2915 West 44th Avenue
The thing that really stands out about this Sunnyside eatery is the simple crust of flour, water, salt, yeast and extra-virgin olive oil, which gets hand-tossed as soon as you order and quickly baked into a delectable shell. This gives the dough a lovely chew and golden crust that holds up well under the abundance of toppings Ernie's offers. You can choose from prosciutto, Gorgonzola, homemade meatballs, Polidori Italian sausage, basil and more, all topped with the restaurant's housemade mozzarella, another aspect that really makes the dishes sing. This seven-year-old spot pays homage to Ernie Capillupo, who opened the first venture at the address in 1948. While things have changed since Capillupo was in charge, the Italian-American spirit that helped launch the venue remains the same — and you can taste it in each slice.
Pizza at Esters.
1950 South Holly Street
A great slice of pizza doesn't seem a likely find at a strip mall at South Holly Street and Jewel Avenue, nestled in a nondescript enclave of shops next to a post office in an aging residential neighborhood. But if you find yourself in Virginia Village, go to Esters and be prepared for the best pizza (and beer list) for miles. The restaurant opened last summer, and while the thin-crust pies deviate from the usual suspects, you can rest assured that the funky combinations do in fact work in harmony. Take the Lawn Boy, for example: Made with Brussels sprouts, bacon, goat cheese and caramelized onions, this pizza all at once proves fresh, hearty and umami-rich. On the tamer side, the Mikey is also a winner and comes with superb housemade marinara, fresh mozzarella and spicy pepperoni. Choose a house special or make up your own masterpiece.
The front of Fat Sully's on Broadway.
3. Fat Sully's
There is something to be said for a giant, New York-style slice of pizza straight from the oven, and for over seven years, Fat Sully's has perfected this art. The toppings prove high-quality and fresh, and the crisp crust is sturdy enough hold up a big load. Is it exactly like pizza you will taste in New York City? No, but Sully's doesn't suffer from the comparison: The slices are larger, the dough's a little thinner and the sauce more herbed than at most New York City joints, but that doesn't mean you won't devour wedge after wedge. After all, a plain slice tastes like the best cheesy cracker you could ever hope to have, in the best possible way.
The front of Hops & Pie.
2. Hops & Pie
3920 Tennyson Street
It's not just beer list that impresses the average diner at Hops & Pie, but the crackly, buttery crust of the pizzas. Taking a cue from the classic Chicago deep-dish, the folk at Hops & Pie sprinkle the bottom of their hand-tossed dough with cornmeal, a technique that adds a pleasing crunch and a rich layer to the crust, which remains about a half-inch thick. Owners Drew and Leah Watson opened this Berkeley joint in 2010 — and it's been a hit in the neighborhood ever since. The key to such a great bite? The mozzarella and many of the sausages are made in-house, adding freshness to every slice. Order a ten-inch, fourteen-inch or eighteen-inch pizza with classic toppings such as Italian sausage, ricotta, mushrooms and olives, or get funky with additions like smoked ham hock, mashed potatoes, pastrami or whatever wacky combination is featured as the flavor of the month. H & P also offers vegan and gluten-free pies, making it a great pizza joint for everyone.
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SHOW ME HOW
Emilia Romagna at Racca's Pizzeria Napoletana.
1. Racca's Pizzeria Napoletana
2129 Larimer Street, 303-296-7000
10111 Inverness Main Street, Englewood, 303-790-9000
You may recognize this pie from the popular downtown spot Marco's Coal Fired Pizza — and you would be right. Marco's is now Racca's, and while the name changed (along with the names of about half of the pizzas), owners Mark and Kristy Dym are still churning out the same amazing Neapolitan-style pizza. Now you can choose your pie based on regional designations, be that Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Piedmont or a variety of New York City neighborhoods. Part of the magic comes from the restaurant's Italian wood-burning pizza oven, and part comes from Mark's training under a bona fide master pizzaiolo. The result is not only some of the best pizza in the city, but pies so good they were awarded certification by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, making Racca's the only Colorado joint thus far to be a certified Neapolitan pizzeria.