Some of these relative newcomers do specialize in red-sauce fare, including chicken parm and lasagna, but others have upped the creativity, leaning into seasonal ingredients and incorporating flavors from other cultures. While all of our picks put their own spin on Italian cooking, they have one thing in common: They each serve up a heavy dose of hospitality along with truly memorable meals.
Here are Denver's ten best Italian restaurants, in alphabetical order, as well as a bonus pick that offers a hell of a pasta deal:
2227 West 32nd Avenue
bardoughdenver.comThe Culinary Creative Group is a powerhouse on the Denver dining scene — it's behind such heavy-hitters as A5 Steakhouse, Señor Bear, Mister Oso and more. At Bar Dough, its Italian spot in LoHi, chef Russell Stippich and his team excel at consistently delicious and creative fare, from pizza and pasta to small plates that highlight seasonal ingredients. The restaurant's most recent makeover brought in moody tones, making it a striking date-night destination, but it's equally impressive when you're sipping an Aperol spritz at the bar during happy hour or indulging in the weekend brunch.
Carmine's Italian Restaurant92 South Pennsylvania Street
1951 Wazee Street
carminescolorado.comThe original Carmine's on Penn has held down its corner of Pennsylvania and Bayaud since 1994. When the restaurant opened, it was intended as a place where large groups could converge and enjoy themselves without thinking too much about what they were eating — ordering big platters of Italian food served family style, which is still the approach today under owner Brad Ritter, who purchased the restaurant in 2006. (Now, though, you can also opt for servings meant for two.) In the summer of 2021, its lighter, brighter sister restaurant, Carmine's at McGregor Square, debuted near Coors Field, where it delivers the same crowd-pleasing fare to tables covered with brown paper and adorned with a cup of crayons so that kids and adults alike can color through the courses.
400 East 20th Avenue
copertadenver.com In 2016, Paul and Aileen Reilly, the brother-and-sister team behind beloved Uptown eatery Beast + Bottle, opened the Roma-inspired Coperta in North Capitol Hill. Since then, Beast + Bottle has said goodbye and the Reillys have opened Apple Blossom in the Hyatt Centric Downtown, but Coperta has remained a neighborhood mainstay through it all. The dining room feels both classy and comfortable, with warm service that makes every guest feel like a regular while they're digging into housemade focaccia, classic pastas like cavatelli ragu and rigatoni carbonara, and such Coperta staples as the Pollo Alla Diavola, a half-chicken with a side of heat thanks to the addition of Calabrian chiles.
Cucina Bella9660 East Alameda Avenue
cucinabelladenver.com This eatery debuted in November 2022 in a strip mall on East Alameda Avenue, just west of South Havana Street. That location could make it easy to overlook Cucina Bella, but don't: The restaurant has some serious culinary skill in the kitchen. Brothers Luis and Heriberto Gutierrez are originally from Durango, Mexico, but have been cooking in Denver for over two decades. At their first venture as owners, the fine-dining-style take on the food belies the plain exterior, and the kitchen's commitment to quality comes through with every bite. Start with a generous pile of crispy calamari before digging into pizza, pasta and larger entrees like veal marsala. Cucina Bella also offers weekend brunch with nods to the owners' Mexican heritage, as well as a happy hour with specials on bites and booze.
Dio Mio3264 Larimer Street
diomiopasta.comFast-casual no longer means low-quality, and Dio Mio played a big part in changing that definition in Denver. Since debuting in 2016, the RiNo spot where you order at the counter has consistently served some of the more creative dishes in town, centered on fresh pasta. Its cacio e pepe with ruffle-edged mafalde noodles and pink peppercorns is a new Denver classic, while seasonal specialties highlight ingredients such as crab and capers on spaghetti, or cannelloni filled with poached shrimp and artichoke. No matter what you order next, start with the always-excellent house sourdough served with prosciutto, stracciatella cheese and balsamic.
Gallo Supper Club and Bakery3470 South Broadway, Englewood
gallosupperclub.comThis Englewood eatery may not be decades old, but despite debuting fewer than five years ago, it has all the markings of a classic. The family behind Gallo is from Sicily, splits the space between a bakery counter and a sit-down dining area complete with a full bar. Like many red-sauce joints in town, Gallo serves a savory cannoli stuffed with sausage and strips of jalapeños, but while they're called "mini," the hefty bites are a superior take on this regional favorite, with plenty of mozzarella oozing out of the thin dough. As diners dig into such traditional dishes as chicken parm and lasagna Bolognese, the staff marches tray after tray of Italian cookies, lobster tail pastries and sweet cannoli over to the bakery counter, where you can load up on treats to devour at home. Be sure to try a shot of the limoncello, too, made here in the Sicilian style, with the addition of cream for a smoothie-like consistency.
Il Posto2601 Larimer Street
ilpostodenver.comIl Posto moved from Uptown to RiNo in early 2017, but the new spot carries on the tradition of great Italian cooking started by chef/owner Andrea Frizzi, only now in a two-story space with cozy high-backed booths and a twisty light fixture made up of 111 Bocci lights. While the decor has a modern edge, the cuisine is pure comfort with some upscale twists. For example, there's seared calamari stuffed with breadcrumbs, anchovy, capers and shallots served swimming in a garlicky San Marzano sugo, as well as fresh pappardelle with a ragu made with Berkshire pork and black oyster mushrooms.
290 South Downing Street
oliviadenver.comPasta perfection: That's what you'll find at this Wash Park restaurant opened by the culinary dream team of Ty Leon, Heather Morrison and Austin Carson in January 2020. Leon heads up the kitchen, folding pasta into intricate shapes, while Carson mixes cocktails and Morrison expertly guides the cadence of the front of the house. The result is a fine-dining meal that's completely worth the splurge, but Olivia also offers to-go options, including take-and-bake lasagna — a pandemic innovation that's become a neighborhood favorite. This year, Restaurant Olivia is planning to expand into the space next door, adding more seating, a larger bar and a private dining room, all of which will allow it to host more events, such as pasta-rolling classes.
2639 West 32nd Avenue
spuntinodenver.comDining at Spuntino is like poetry. In fact, Elliot Strathmann, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Cindhura Reddy, composes playful poems about Spuntino's new dishes that he shares on Instagram. Since 2014, this couple has been running the intimate eatery, where hand-rolled pastas and braised meats are the stars, and Colorado-raised goat and creamy arancini (sometimes with Hatch chiles) have become signature items, as have dishes with elements of Reddy's Indian heritage. At the bar, Strathmann has amassed a collection of Italian amari, the bitter after-dinner spirits (including several versions he makes himself) that give diners one more reason to linger. This year, Reddy gained national recognition when she was named a semi-finalist for Best Chef: Mountain by the James Beard Foundation.
Tavernetta1889 16th Street
tavernettadenver.comFrasca in Boulder has long been considered one of the best places to eat — Italian or otherwise — in not just the state, but the country. But its sister restaurant by Denver's Union Station is a culinary force in its own right. At this more boisterous and lively foil to Frasca's dignified demeanor, you'll find composed plates, perfectly paced tasting menus and, of course, a stellar wine program. (After all, the restaurant group is co-owned by ultra-well-dressed master sommelier Bobby Stuckey, the ultimate host.) A seat near the open dining room gives a glimpse into the expertly choreographed dance that keeps this kitchen going nightly, but one of our favorite ways to experience Tavernetta is at the bar during happy hour, when you can casually nosh on small bites while sipping bubbles in a cozy lounge area.
Odyssey Italian Restaurant603 East Sixth Avenue
odysseyitalian.comIn 2022, Ignazio Mulei, who ran this restaurant housed in an old Victorian for a decade with his son, general manager Michele, passed the reins to new owners. But Odyssey has continued to serve its loyal fans, who flock here for the atmosphere as much as the classic fare. Red-checkered tablecloths, fresh flowers in wine bottles and pasta served with a heaping bowl of Parmesan so that guests can load up on as much as they want are all part of the charm. But the biggest draw is on Monday evenings, when all of the pastas are just $11.95 and come with a Caesar salad and freshly baked rolls with olive oil and balsamic for dipping. With prices that low, you might as well order a bottle of wine, too.