What: Dio Mio
Where: 3264 Larimer Street
When: Happy hour is 5 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday
The deal: Choose from a list of three $5 appetizers and two $11 pastas; two-for-$8 glasses of red or white house wine; the weekly featured cocktail or Dio Negroni for $8; and a $3 lager
For more info: Visit diomiopasta.com
The place: RiNo is one of the best areas in Denver to go out to eat. It's packed with bars, breweries, distilleries and restaurants, including a couple of Italian ones, yet there is nothing quite like Alex Figura and Spencer White's Dio Mio. The concept is fast-casual, so guests order at the counter and there's no traditional waiter service. Because of this model, the goods come quickly, which is handy since the happy hour is only an hour long. Arrive as close to 5 p.m. as possible, and you should be able to get a couple rounds of orders in (there's often a wait by 6 p.m.).
Dio Mio is also a vibrant place to be, full of energy from the moment it opens. Inside, there are two- and four-person tables for dining, as well as a community high-top. And while the weather holds, outdoor picnic tables are available, as well.
On a recent visit, our table near the kitchen had the advantage of catching a projected episode of CNN's Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. As Tucci toured a region of Italy, we watched pasta being made fresh in the open kitchen while eating bite after bite from our plates.
For $5 (all the time), get the Elevation salami plate. The thin-sliced cured meat is topped with chopped Castelvetrano olives, dollops of puréed apricot and a crunchy seed mix that gives each bite texture. Two hefty slices of tangy grilled sourdough topped with whipped ricotta drizzled with a fifteen-year-old balsamic vinegar and piled high with luscious prosciutto is also $5 (normally $14, making this an unbeatable deal). Rounding out the $5 menu are the artichokes, the only vegetable you'll see, which come tossed in black butter with orange segments, croutons and a green olive sauce (normally $9).
Then there are the two pastas. First up is the cacio e pepe, which has become a staple at Dio Mio. The dish is a rich and peppery classic. Here, it gets a fun boost thanks to the frilly, freshly made mafalda pasta, which looks like mini lasagna noodles, and a generous sprinkling of pink peppercorns. Get the spaghetti too, another standard featuring traditional red sauce and a whole lot of parmesan. Both of these pastas, $14 on the regular menu, are just $11 during happy hour.
To drink, the wine is perfect with all the dishes, red or white, and you get two glasses for $8. Yes, it's possible to share, but the glasses are small, so the chances of wanting two for yourself is high. The weekly cocktail changes regularly, but always costs $8 during happy hour. Or opt for the Dio Negroni for $8 (normally $12), made with gin, a red aperitivo and sweet vermouth. Finally, beer lovers can get a cold High Hops Brewery lager for $3 (regularly $5).
Although this happy hour is short, it's okay to load up the table with food and drink and spend an extra hour after it ends to hang out, stuffing your face with carbs and imbibing with friends. Maybe you'll catch the whole episode of Searching for Italy and be inspired to order even more pasta for the table, happy hour or not.