100 Favorite Dishes

100 Favorite Dishes: A Nostalgic Meatball Hero at Lil' Ricci's

No. 83: The Meatball Hero at Lil' Ricci's New York Pizzeria

In 1999, there was one Lil' Ricci's New York Pizzeria, and it was located in a strip mall behind Tamarac Square on East Hampden Avenue. The original Lil' Ricci's is long gone now, as is the entire Tamarac Square mall (which was razed to make way for a Super Target), but I still remember the satisfaction of heading over for an occasional meatball hero — my favorite Italian-American sandwich — whenever I was on that side of town. I recently found myself in Golden, where an outpost of Lil Ricci's sits on a hill overlooking West Colfax Avenue, so I stopped in to see how the reality of the twenty-year-old mini-chain would hold up to my fond meatball memories.

The first thing to note about a Lil' Ricci's meatball hero is that this isn't a $15 artisan sandwich made with locally raised beef, old-world cheese or craftsman bread. It's a cheap, simple sandwich that only runs about two bucks more than it did in 1999 (though it used to come with a free fountain drink at lunch instead of the $2 Coke that accompanied my recent meal). The cheese forms a skin after it has been melted over the top of the sandwich, indicating a dairy product on the more heavily processed end of the scale, and the roll is similar to something you could grab in the bread aisle at King Soopers without even swinging past the bakery. 

But everything comes together in a blissful combination of tangy sauce, marshmallow-soft meatballs and gooey mozzarella (or a close facsimile). There's way more meatball than bun, so each bite is beefy rather than bready, and the sauce isn't ladled on so heavily that it drowns the entire thing. For $7.95, you get four, or maybe five, golf-ball-sized meatballs and a side of potato chips; the best bites are the ones where a stray chip sticks to the cheese and adds a pleasing crunch to the combination of textures. Nostalgia may not be what it once was, but Lil' Ricci's still throws down a satisfying hero.

Throughout this year, we'll be counting down the best dishes in the city — from longtime classics that keep us coming back to new additions that have caught our attention. If there's a dish you think we need to try, tell us about it in the comments section, or shoot us an e-mail at cafe@westword.com.

Hungry for more? All the dishes in our 2016 countdown are linked below.

No. 100: Masala Beef at Biju's Little Curry Shop
No. 99: Bacon Shrimp and Grits at Bacon Social House
No. 98: Porchetta and Kimchi Sandwich at Brider
No. 97: Squab-and-Sunchoke Tortellini at Abejas
No. 96: Housemade Burrata at Viand
No, 95: Schweinshaxe at Rhein Haus
No. 94 Kimchi Jeon at Seoul BBQ
No. 93: Zuppa Pomodoro at Parisi Italian Market & Deli
No. 92: The Ocean Salad at Sushi-Rama
No. 91: The Signature Bowl from Churn & Burn
No. 90: Green Chorizo at Los Compadres
No. 89: The Diavola Calzone at Pino's Neighborhood Pizzeria
No. 88: Biscuits and Green Chile at the Noshery
No. 87: Chirashi at Izu Sushi
No. 86: Brisket and Ribs at GQue Championship BBQ
No. 85: The Tornado at the Chowder Room
No. 84: Korean Fried Chicken Wings at Yong Gung
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation