For generations, Three Sons served as the defining taste of Italian cuisine in north Denver -- but a few years ago, the place was almost moribund. Then came changes in ownership, in kitchen staff, in menu, even in style, and Three Sons has gone from bad to very, very good. It still looks like a cast-off movie set from some un-produced Godfather sequel, it still smells like garlic all the way out into the parking lot on a good night. But with its new focus on classical Italian cooking and quality ingredients, Three Sons could be a worthy restaurant for generations to come.
Venice Ristorante & Wine Bar
Five years ago, owner Alessandro Carollo had just one small storefront restaurant. Then there were two. Then there were name changes and alterations in concept. And then, completely out of the blue, Carollo moved into an enormous space recently vacated by one of the hottest, most talked-about restaurants in Denver (Adega), which anchors one of the hottest, most talked-about neighborhoods in Denver (LoDo) and opened a restaurant that pretty much everyone (us included) thought was going to fail before the fryers were even warmed up. It looked like hubris, like madness, right up until people started eating there and realizing they'd never had Italian food as simple, true and good as what's being done by Carollo's executive chef, Christian Delle Fave, and his crew: perfect pastas, upscaled comfort-food classics like lobster-stuffed ravioli, and multi-course tastings creatively based around Italy's regional cuisines. Right now, the best Italian food in Denver is being done in LoDo, and it's coming out of the kitchen at Venice Ristorante.

Best Neighborhood Italian Restaurant

Frasca

Frasca Food and Wine
Kelly Kaoudis
Yes, Pearl Street is a neighborhood. Just because it isn't your neighborhood doesn't mean it doesn't count. And though chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson has a tendency to go off-book with wide-ranging plates influenced by countries all over the map, at heart and in spirit, Frasca is still an Italian restaurant. As a matter of fact, at heart it's a neighborhood Italian restaurant -- full of regulars, with a small menu heavy on comfort foods and a serious commitment to cooking for the community. Don't let all the hype fool you. Pork belly, agnolotti, tajuts of wine and salumi platters? That's all classic neighborhood comfort food. And though Frasca might be drawing crowds from around the country and winning awards usually reserved for only the hoitiest and toitiest of white-tablecloth restaurants, it is and always has been the greatest neighborhood Italian restaurant anyone could hope for.
Luca
Scott Lentz
Frank Bonanno's been dealing with a lot, and his load was starting to show at Luca d'Italia. It's not that dinners here were ever bad; they were just less amazing than they'd once been, less effortlessly blissful. But over the past year, Bonanno has put his legendarily obsessive focus back on Luca, and the restaurant has come back strong. Once again, the deliriously complicated farmhouse entrees -- dishes like truffle-scented rabbit three ways and pan-roasted black cod with ravioletta -- are coming out tasting like the simplest, most natural things in the world. And the beautiful plates of rustic pasta have that spark of joy and fanatical vitality that have always been the hallmark of Bonanno's best efforts.
Dolce Sicilia Italian Bakery
Cassandra Kotnik
Dolce Sicilia has authentic Italian cookies, tasty sandwiches and serious tiramisu, but we're most partial to its remarkably inexpensive scratch-baked breads, including semolina, baguettes and heavenly ciabatta: a powdery crust, not too tough or too flaky, wrapped around a wonderfully textured, chewy-airy center that screams of quality ingredients and straight-from-the-oven freshness. A jug of wine, a loaf of this stuff and thou...heck, we'd be just fine without thou. More for us.
The Oven Pizza E Vino
There's something to be said for a place that does pizza and nothing but pizza. No pastas, no hoagies, no chicken parm sandwiches or slices of up-from-frozen cheesecake. Although the Oven doesn't quite rise to that level of obsessive focus -- you can get apps of olives and fresh mozzarella, still almost liquid, and there are a few other slight departures -- it comes close with a menu that has pizza as its heart and soul. Really good, really consistent, really rustic pizza served with love and pride. The Oven crew makes everything to order (including the dough, cheese and sauce) for a house that is almost always full, shuffling pizzas around in the big, exposed wood-fired ovens and boxing takeout requests with shocking speed. Every neighborhood should have a pizza place as good as the Oven.
D Note
Get past the naming conventions (every specialty pie here is named after a song, a band, a musician, whatever), get past the open-mike nights and the D Note's double life as a live-music venue. Get past the location -- smack in the middle of cutesy Olde Town Arvada -- and the overt half-vegetarianism of the place. Just get here for some of the best pizza in town, courtesy of ex-Mercury Cafe cook Amy Wroblewski. The pies are big, piled impossibly high with well-sourced and earth-friendly ingredients, in combinations that manage to be tastefully original. Yes, the D Note has a distinctly hippie vibe and the service can sometimes be less than lightning-fast, but who cares? When the pizza is this good, nothing else matters.
Decades before "Rocky Mountain High" became Colorado's second official state song, diners were singing the praises of the Wazee Supper Club. In fact, the Karagas brothers opened their restaurant bar in 1974, just two years after John Denver wrote that song, and today the Wazee is just as much an examplar of this state as is that cheesy number. And so is the pizza coming out of the Wazee kitchen -- which has more than its own share of cheese, as well as a uniquely sweet sauce that never changes. Other things have changed, though, including the Wazee's owners (today it's part of the Wynkoop group), hours (it still serves late and is now open Sundays, too) and menu. In addition to pizza and sandwiches, there are appetizers, salads, even condiments. And, as always, plenty of beers on tap to enjoy in this Colorado classic.

Best Place to Reminisce About Peter Frampton Before He Felt Like
We Do

Oblio's Pizzeria

Oblio's Pizzeria
Courtesy Oblio's Pizzeria Facebook
The pizza is tasty, but it's the ambience that really draws people to Oblio's -- that and the liquor license that so many Park Hill NIMBYs fought against. Today ex- naysayers tie their drooling golden retrievers to the fence and join the queue of folks waiting for a seat in the jammin' joint. Fortunately, neighborhood respectability has not ruined Oblio's; it still has the same sweet hippie-dippie vibe it did when it opened back in 1996, complete with hallucinogenic menus creatively constructed from '60s and '70s album covers. What a long, strange trip it's been.
Two things saved Via from slipping into that great, yawning pit of mediocrity above which so many restaurants hang. First, there was last fall's hiring of chef James Mazzio and his decision to stand his post right on the line. And second, there were the pizza ovens -- real wood-fired ovens of the very, very old-school variety that could turn out similarly old-school pizzas of the Neapolitan variety. As a matter of fact, these pizzas were so authentic that Via was actually certified by the United States branch of the Associazione della Vera Pizza Napoletana (essentially the Italian pizza police), which speaks to the authenticity of Via's product. But the true arbiter is always taste, and one bite of the three-cheese, prosciutto and arugula Parma pizza is enough to make anyone a believer.

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