Best Old-School Italian Restaurant 2018 | Romano's Italian Restaurant | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Molly Martin

Romano's is truly old, old-school Italian. Neil Romano moved to Denver from Manhattan (bringing some of mother Carmela's recipes with him), and in 1967 founded a three-table pizzeria in Littleton with his wife, Ellie. Over the years the restaurant has expanded in both space and scope, adding liquor and many of those classic dishes, redolent with the garlic that was key to Carmela's spaghetti sauce. Today a third generation of Romanos work the kitchen and the charming dining room, filled with regulars who consider themselves part of the family. That family's motto: "Every day we are grateful for la dolce vita — the sweet life we have found here." And we're grateful they did.

Readers' Choice: Gaetano's

Danielle Lirette

For a chef who's been in the restaurant business as long as he has, Radek Cerny still manages to bring a sense of fun and whimsy to some seriously French cuisine. Papillon, for example, was a smash hit in Cherry Creek before many of today's hot young culinary stars had tasted their first frites. The chef returned to Denver in 2017 after years of serving dinner in Boulder, putting Atelier in the original Il Posto location in the Uptown neighborhood. Here you can luxuriate in rotating classics like duck rillettes, escargot, foie gras and lobster, but Cerny also has a way with such Western favorites as elk (look for wapiti on the menu), Alaskan salmon and bison short ribs. Be sure to bring a few extra bucks for a bottle of wine; the list here is dazzling, and the food is built to match with the best of Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Readers' Choice: Bistro Vendome

Danielle Lirette

Vibrant vegetarian cooking is about far more than tofu and seitan. Boulderites have long been focused on meat-free dining, so they're a tough lot to impress. Leave it to Leaf to rise above the competition and provide modern, international and inventive dishes that folks actually crave. The restaurant has its own farm, so produce is at its best during Boulder County's growing season, but the kitchen supplements locally grown goods with a worldly roster. Enchiladas are stuffed with jackfruit carnitas, fried chicken is reimagined with meaty king trumpet mushrooms, and sweet-potato gnocchi are dressed with jewels of fava beans, winter squash and nutty pesto. No matter what you order, every bite is alive with the seasons of Colorado.

Readers' Choice: Vital Root

Danielle Lirette

There may be many fish in Denver's sea of seafood restaurants, but Stoic & Genuine is a real catch. Pull into this Union Station eatery for gleaming oysters, craveable crudos and fabulous fish. If you need a quick lunch, the seared albacore tuna melt on an English muffin or the fish and chips could be just the ticket, but make the return trip for dinner and spoil yourself with caviar service, a seafood tower (bring friends!), or one of Denver's most decadent dishes: the "Surf in Turf," a miraculous melding of New York strip and ahi tuna swathed in a silky black truffle Hollandaise. Don't quite have your sea legs? Buck the trend as all around you slurp shellfish by tucking into S & G's masterful double cheeseburger.

Readers' Choice: Jax Fish House

Molly Martin

Angelo's Taverna bills itself as Denver's original pizza and oyster bar — and given that it's been serving central Denver since the Nixon administration, it's safe to say that it's the longest-running restaurant of its ilk. While it was refurbished by new owners in 2013, Angelo's is still all dark woods and stained-glass windows, with the kind of labyrinthine floor plan that suggests the restaurant was built before breezy, cavernous dining rooms became the norm. Oysters still anchor the menu here, and Angelo's offers a rotating menu of mollusks that changes with what's fresh. We're half-shell people, but the restaurant makes a compelling argument for a char-grilled preparation: Your order of a half-dozen can be dressed up with garlic butter or bacon and Gorgonzola. Belly up to the bar during happy hour for $1 East Coast or West Coast oysters, or have them char-grilled for a dollar more.

Readers' Choice: Jax Fish House

During one visit to Emmerson shortly after the restaurant opened last year, a server told us that not every diner was ordering dessert. Big mistake. Chef Jeb Breakell, who co-manages the kitchen with Michael Gibney, came up working pastry in New York fine-dining establishments, and he treats dessert as a true final course, not a gut-busting palate blowout. His sweets, all eye-catching on the plate, boast unusual flavors that are nicely balanced, and they tend to please even the staunchest no-dessert people. With his malted-barley pavlova, you crack open the matcha tea-dusted airy puff only to find buckwheat cream, its nuanced earthiness playing foil to the sugar. The shiro miso flan with sudachi citrus-infused caramel and pear marries savory, tart and floral notes in each bite. As the seasons evolve, so will the dessert offerings...but it's hard to imagine anything better than what's served there now.

Mark Antonation

You say potato, I say po-tah-to, but at Cattivella, all that matters is that you say crostata, even if you're more familiar with galette, the French word for this rustic, fruit-filled tart. Chef-owner Elise Wiggins learned the recipe from a chef on the Amalfi Coast, and translates it beautifully at the restaurant she launched in Stapleton last spring. Typical crostatas resemble free-form, one-crust pies. Hers is far more satisfying, a mound of barely sweetened fruit tucked inside dough that curls upwards around it like petals. Fillings vary by season — perhaps berries, perhaps apples — but whatever's inside, you'll relish the flaky and buttery crust, with its light sprinkling of demerara sugar, every bit as much. Baked to order, each crostata is finished with a dollop of swoon-worthy amaretto mascarpone mousse.

Best First Half of a Two-Part Restaurant


Call isn't a very evocative name for a restaurant, but it's actually half of Beckon|Call, a dual-concept eatery located in two neighboring bungalows in the heart of the RiNo neighborhood. Beckon will be a seventeen-seat chef's-counter eatery when it opens later this year, but Call opened at the end of last year, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner in its cozy space. A low counter separates customers from the kitchen, making you feel like you're in someone's home during an intimate dinner party. In the morning, coffee, housemade pastries and breads, breakfast sandwiches and tartines (open-faced toasts) are on offer, transitioning to salads, small plates, grab-and-go items and made-to-order entrees for lunch and dinner. Chef Duncan Holmes, whose culinary skills will be showcased at Beckon, orchestrates the action at Call, creating fare worthy of the best white-tablecloth dining rooms in a casual setting. Don't miss sweet and savory takes on ebelskivers — like Danish doughnut holes.

The Nickel

The Nickel had a hard act to follow: The prior tenant in its Hotel Teatro space was iconic Denver chef Kevin Taylor's long-running Restaurant Kevin Taylor. But it's risen admirably to the challenge, especially after Russell Stippich took control of the kitchen in the middle of last year. Stippich's team pays homage to American classics and draws inspiration from the culinary memories of the kitchen staff; the resulting menu is at once familiar and exhilarating, making it an ideal middle ground for all types of palates. That suits it: In addition to serving a hotel full of guests, the Nickel's location close to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts makes it a no-brainer for pre-theater dining. The power move, though, is to make a reservation for after the show starts: This place is strong enough to be the star of an evening (or brunch) devoted only to eating out.

Readers' Choice: Hearth & Dram

Danielle Lirette

Citizen Rail isn't technically a steakhouse, since the menu at this Hotel Born restaurant ranges further afield than just steak, creamed spinach and a classic wedge. But when we want a great piece of beef, this is where we go, drawn by steaks that are hand-cut by an in-house butcher, then dry-aged for a month (or two or three). All of that patience pays off, resulting in wood-fired New York strips, bone-in ribeyes and hulking, 48-ounce tomahawks with deeply concentrated flavors and unparalleled tenderness. In true steakhouse style, you get your choice of sauce, from Béarnaise to bourbon peppercorn, but we recommend eating meat this good plain. The bar is nifty, too — a bonus when there's a wait for a table.

Readers' Choice: Guard and Grace

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