Famous Pizza
Mark Antonation
Famous Pizza has a vibe that lets you know you've come to the right place. It could be the abraded tile, the wobbly tables, the decor that's half Greek diner, half God knows what -- but there's definitely something in the collision between look, neighborhood and attitude that makes Famous the best spot for feeding that late-night jones for thin-crust perfection. The slices here are New York-style -- meaning thin crust, small bone and greasy -- and while they're not the absolute best in town, they're available until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday for the walk-in trade. And for that, Famous is rightly famous.

A great pizza folded in half is a great calzone. And what's better than a great calzone? A great stromboli -- essentially a pizza that's been involved in a high-speed collision with a fast-moving Italian sandwich, with the resulting mess folded up like a calzone and baked. Tonti's stromboli is a huge pocket of baked pizza dough, stuffed with deli meats and cheeses (including a good dose of mozzarella), then served with a side of excellent red sauce. Eating one isn't quite as convenient as eating a sandwich or a slice -- you'll need a knife, fork and big boy's appetite just to get through half -- but it's worth the extra effort.


A great pizza folded in half is a great calzone. And what's better than a great calzone? A great stromboli -- essentially a pizza that's been involved in a high-speed collision with a fast-moving Italian sandwich, with the resulting mess folded up like a calzone and baked. Tonti's stromboli is a huge pocket of baked pizza dough, stuffed with deli meats and cheeses (including a good dose of mozzarella), then served with a side of excellent red sauce. Eating one isn't quite as convenient as eating a sandwich or a slice -- you'll need a knife, fork and big boy's appetite just to get through half -- but it's worth the extra effort.

While Armando's pies are outstanding, particularly the deep-dish spinach Sicilian, this venerable pizzeria deserves a prize for another portion of its menu: the pastas. The kitchen does just about every classic neighborhood Italian starch you can think of, including admirable gnocchi, fat little ravioli, and a fresh capellini pomodoro with garlic, capers, white wine and cherry tomatoes. There's also an excellent chicken Florentine, and a great Alfredo to pour over just about anything. If you're torn between all the choices, Armando's offers several mezzo e mezzo plates that should settle just about any split decision.


While Armando's pies are outstanding, particularly the deep-dish spinach Sicilian, this venerable pizzeria deserves a prize for another portion of its menu: the pastas. The kitchen does just about every classic neighborhood Italian starch you can think of, including admirable gnocchi, fat little ravioli, and a fresh capellini pomodoro with garlic, capers, white wine and cherry tomatoes. There's also an excellent chicken Florentine, and a great Alfredo to pour over just about anything. If you're torn between all the choices, Armando's offers several mezzo e mezzo plates that should settle just about any split decision.

Although Parisi's relocated and expanded restaurant is wonderful, it's the fantastic Italian deli that gets us through the door. Italian deli meats and whole frozen Muscovy ducks, as well as fresh-made mozzarella, prepped-to-cook entrees, sides and frozen stocks and sauces from Parisi's own kitchen are enough to make us love this place beyond all reason and good sense. But there are also shelves full of dry stock -- imported Italian specialties, raw tomato pastes, artisan oils -- that have everything you could possibly need for a proper Saint Joseph's Day feast or just a family dinner straight out of GoodFellas. The friendly staff is incredibly knowledgeable about the most obscure culinary matters, and they never let you leave before you're loaded down with more great Italian stuff than you could ever use.


Although Parisi's relocated and expanded restaurant is wonderful, it's the fantastic Italian deli that gets us through the door. Italian deli meats and whole frozen Muscovy ducks, as well as fresh-made mozzarella, prepped-to-cook entrees, sides and frozen stocks and sauces from Parisi's own kitchen are enough to make us love this place beyond all reason and good sense. But there are also shelves full of dry stock -- imported Italian specialties, raw tomato pastes, artisan oils -- that have everything you could possibly need for a proper Saint Joseph's Day feast or just a family dinner straight out of GoodFellas. The friendly staff is incredibly knowledgeable about the most obscure culinary matters, and they never let you leave before you're loaded down with more great Italian stuff than you could ever use.

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.


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.


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