9660 East Alameda Avenue
Open 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and Sunday, 3 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday for brunch. It will also be open on Mondays starting the week of December 5.
For more info:
What we saw:
In a strip mall on East Alameda Avenue, just west of South Havana Street, the recently opened Cucina Bella could be easy to overlook. But don't: This restaurant has some serious culinary skill behind it, and it all comes from one family.
The interior of Cucina Bella is spacious.
Brothers Luis and Heriberto Gutierrez are originally from Durango, Mexico, but have been cooking in Denver for over two decades. In 2001, Luis began working as a dishwasher at the now-closed Cafe Colore in Writer Square, moving up over the years to "prep cook, then cook, then kitchen manager," a position he held for seven years, he says. After that, he worked at Duo, Il Posto, Cattivella and finally Cucina Colore in Cherry Creek, where he was head chef for eight years until leaving that job to start this new venture — though the process wasn't easy.
Permitting alone took six months, followed by two months of construction and two more months of inspections, plus about a month to hire staff. "Finally, after eleven months, we opened this place," Luis notes. "This is the best thing that's happened to us all year."
Heriberto, who worked for twenty years at Ready Foods making large batches of food for such restaurant chains as Chipotle and Santiago's, made the leap with his brother. "It was very, very difficult to make the decision," he says of leaving such a steady, longtime job. Their sisters, Aracely and Maria, who each have over ten years of kitchen experience, are also lending their skills to the operation.
Now that the family members have a place of their own, Luis is able to let his extensive knowledge of Italian cooking shine.
What surprised us:
A heaping portion of calamari.
The fine dining-style take on the food. "We don't want to be just another pizzeria. We want to be more than that. That's why we bring the quality first," Luis notes.
That commitment to quality comes through with every bite. The menu includes such appetizers as burrata with arugula pistachio pesto ($15) and perfectly crisp calamari drizzled with a slightly spicy Calabrian chile aioli ($15), a dish that's already proven to be a customer favorite, Luis says.
There's a lineup of salads ($10-$14), as well as flatbread sandwiches that feature the pizza dough in options like grilled salmon and chicken Milanese, each served with salad or Parmesan herb fries ($16-$18).
The pasta lineup is filled with simple yet flavorful options, like the linguine al pesto ($21) with crispy prosciutto, sundried tomatoes and mushrooms, and the fusilli pollo ($19) with roasted chicken, garlic, broccoli and roasted red pepper in a cream sauce that's reminiscent of a pasta dish Luis remembers trying after moving to the United States. "I never had pasta when I came from Mexico," he recalls. "Here was my first time...after that first time, I was like, 'I want to have this every day.'"
Linguine al pesto with mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and prosciutto.
His favorite item on the menu right now is the chicken piccata ($25), which is made with artichokes, capers and white wine and served with whipped potatoes. And while he's keeping things simple, flavor-wise, to start, Luis looks forward to flexing his creativity even more in the future.
But while pizza is hardly the only draw on the menu, it is a standout. The 12-inch pies ($16-$19) are made on a thin crust with a crisp bite. Special attention is paid to using only the best ingredients, such as Calabrese salami and San Marzano tomatoes, resulting in pies that rival the best in town.
While dinner is all Italian fare, the brunch menu mixes things up with a few nods to the family's Mexican roots, such as chilaquiles rojo ($14), made using the siblings' mother's recipe, and a classic breakfast burrito ($14). Other options include eggs Benedict, pancakes and a breakfast pizza.
There's a full bar, as well, with cocktails, wine and beer available for sipping. Just be sure to save room for dessert, because the peach bread pudding with mascarpone whip and an expertly made caramel sauce is a sweet treat that is not to be missed.
Peach bread pudding in a caramel sauce.