Rioja
Scott Lentz
In a lot of ways, Rioja is a dream restaurant -- the sort that chefs fantasize about, with a great location, a solid crew of experienced veterans and a menu that allows that crew to improvise upon favorite dishes night after night. For chef Jennifer Jasinski, that means doing pasta -- lots of pasta. Lots of beautifully executed, expertly balanced plates of handmade pasta presented daily to a crowd that seems to love them all without reservation. From the fat, pot-bellied pansoti stuffed with cheese and roasted acorn squash to cannelloni in black-truffle sauce and the tiny duck raviolini in the kitchen's wonderful consommé, Chef Jen has much to be proud of. And much work to do every day to fill the demand for the best pasta in Denver.
It shouldn't be tough to make a decent plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Matter of fact, it should be harder to mess it up than to do it right. And yet for the longest time, the good people of Denver have suffered through some of the worst Italian food served anywhere. But no more. Several good family-run Italian places have opened up over the past few years -- and none feels quite so down-in-your-bones genuine as Vita Bella, which serves the town's most genuine plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Forget Rocco and his mother slaving away in the basement kitchen, rolling meatballs all day. Forget all those chain food-e-terias where you pay more for the faux Little Italy decor than for the food. If you're looking for the real thing -- an East Coast red-sauce joint that serves the kind of food generally unavailable west of, say, Scranton -- then you'll have a ball at Vita Bella.


It shouldn't be tough to make a decent plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Matter of fact, it should be harder to mess it up than to do it right. And yet for the longest time, the good people of Denver have suffered through some of the worst Italian food served anywhere. But no more. Several good family-run Italian places have opened up over the past few years -- and none feels quite so down-in-your-bones genuine as Vita Bella, which serves the town's most genuine plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Forget Rocco and his mother slaving away in the basement kitchen, rolling meatballs all day. Forget all those chain food-e-terias where you pay more for the faux Little Italy decor than for the food. If you're looking for the real thing -- an East Coast red-sauce joint that serves the kind of food generally unavailable west of, say, Scranton -- then you'll have a ball at Vita Bella.

Frank Bonanno wants people to think of one thing when they hear his name: authenticity. He wants everything he touches, every plate that comes out of his kitchen, to be absolutely authentic, and that's what he's accomplished at the splendid Luca d'Italia. Although the dishes on the menu may seem unfamiliar, it takes just a bite to know you're eating food that would be right at home back in Italy. Straightforward flavors, impeccable ingredients, perfectly executed stocks and sauces -- Luca D'Italia has all the requisite pieces for a meal both surprising in its complexity and comforting in its apparent effortlessness. Whether you order a simple Bolognese, a three-way spread of deconstructed, truffled rabbit or just a small bowl of soup, this is Italian food made the way we wish all our grandmothers could make it.

Luca
Scott Lentz
Frank Bonanno wants people to think of one thing when they hear his name: authenticity. He wants everything he touches, every plate that comes out of his kitchen, to be absolutely authentic, and that's what he's accomplished at the splendid Luca d'Italia. Although the dishes on the menu may seem unfamiliar, it takes just a bite to know you're eating food that would be right at home back in Italy. Straightforward flavors, impeccable ingredients, perfectly executed stocks and sauces -- Luca D'Italia has all the requisite pieces for a meal both surprising in its complexity and comforting in its apparent effortlessness. Whether you order a simple Bolognese, a three-way spread of deconstructed, truffled rabbit or just a small bowl of soup, this is Italian food made the way we wish all our grandmothers could make it.

Every neighborhood needs a neighborhood Italian joint, particularly one as good as Tonti's. From the outside, there's nothing special about this strip-mall spot, nothing that separates it from the hundreds of also-rans plugging away night after night. You could drive by it a hundred times and never give it a second look. But if you do happen to drop in, Tonti's will quickly become your default choice for every lazy Tuesday, every family night with the kids, every quiet Friday when you don't feel like cooking, but don't feel like going anywhere that requires too much effort. Or any effort at all.


Every neighborhood needs a neighborhood Italian joint, particularly one as good as Tonti's. From the outside, there's nothing special about this strip-mall spot, nothing that separates it from the hundreds of also-rans plugging away night after night. You could drive by it a hundred times and never give it a second look. But if you do happen to drop in, Tonti's will quickly become your default choice for every lazy Tuesday, every family night with the kids, every quiet Friday when you don't feel like cooking, but don't feel like going anywhere that requires too much effort. Or any effort at all.

A bottle of red, a bottle of white, a nice table looking out on the hustle and bustle of Cherry Creek on a Saturday night, and a date to meet there once a week at the same time -- that's all it takes to fall in love. Billy Joel understood that, and so does Greg Goldfogel, owner of Ristorante Amore. On any night of the week, maybe half of the customers are regulars who've been coming in once a week, sometimes more, since the night they discovered the place. But with all those regulars, things were beginning to get tight for everyone else. So Goldfogel expanded his twenty-seater into a space next door, opening up plenty of room for a new crop of customers to come in, discover the charms of Amore and fall in love.


A bottle of red, a bottle of white, a nice table looking out on the hustle and bustle of Cherry Creek on a Saturday night, and a date to meet there once a week at the same time -- that's all it takes to fall in love. Billy Joel understood that, and so does Greg Goldfogel, owner of Ristorante Amore. On any night of the week, maybe half of the customers are regulars who've been coming in once a week, sometimes more, since the night they discovered the place. But with all those regulars, things were beginning to get tight for everyone else. So Goldfogel expanded his twenty-seater into a space next door, opening up plenty of room for a new crop of customers to come in, discover the charms of Amore and fall in love.

No matter how much you eat or how long you stay at Frasca, you'll always leave wanting more -- and you'll start planning your return as soon as possible. A month should be long enough to rebuild your bank account, although considering the quality of the food and the talent in the kitchen, the prices are pretty reasonable. And while the crowds are borderline fanatical at this point -- filling the comfortable dining room from the minute the doors open until long after they should have closed, clogging up the reservation book three weeks in advance for anything approaching a prime-time seating -- Frasca is one of the very few places in the country, not just Colorado, where this sort of fawning, zealous passion is entirely deserved. One visit is simply not enough.


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