Barolo Grill and Chow Morso Osteria3030 East Sixth Avenue, 303-393-1040
1500 Wynkoop Street, 720-639-4089
At just over 25 years old, Barolo Grill presents upscale northern Italian fare in Cherry Creek with charm and sophistication — and a generous amount of vintage wine. Ryan Fletter took over as owner four years ago, and quickly installed executive chef Darrel Truett in the kitchen, where cutting-edge presentations and techniques have kept the restaurant relevant and rewarding to guests. Last year, Fletter and Truett turned to Italian street fare and approachable plates with Chow Morso, giving downtown the same level of hospitality and warmth as Barolo, only in a more casual setting. Both restaurants show that attention to a guest's every need is as important as the food itself.
Basta3601 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder
Chef Kelly Whitaker has built a menu based on house-milled heritage grains, Colorado meats and produce, and a dedication to Old World methods — even if some of his ingredients stray from the typical Italian palate. Whole fish and half chickens, wood-fired vegetables, exemplary small bites and heavenly lasagna are all draws, not to mention the wood-fired pizzas that were the core of the menu when Basta launched in its inconspicuous Boulder spot in 2010. Those pizzas aren't the only thing cooked in the wood-burning oven: Everything is tinged with a hint of campfire, even the housemade vanilla ice cream.
Bettola Bistro10253 East Iliff Avenue, Aurora
At Bettola, Chef Samir Mohammad and his partner, Rachel Firestone, accomplish in a tiny space in an Aurora strip mall what bigger, more lavishly appointed eateries can only dream of, making each guest feel like welcome family members enjoying a special meal just for them. With a minimal staff and a tiny kitchen, the couple turns out tempting Italian cooking that straddles the line between traditional and innovative. The menu changes with the seasons, and you may even find ingredients from Mohammad and Firestone's home garden. Food is priced for the neighborhood, making it an easy choice for Aurora residents dreading downtown Denver crowds and traffic. Fill up on handmade pasta or perfectly cooked risotto, then stay for sips of Mohammad's house limoncello.
Coperta400 East 20th Avenue
Brother-and-sister team Paul and Aileen Reilly traveled around Italy searching for regional flavors and dishes before opening Coperta, their followup to Beast + Bottle. Much of the menu is inspired by the cuisine of Rome and points south, including knockout dishes like cavatelli with lamb and beef ragù, bucatini all'amatriciana with salty nubs of guanciale, and deceptively simple cacio e pepe. Chicken isn’t always the most exciting dish on a menu, but Coperta’s pollo alla diavola makes you reconsider that assumption: Diavola means “devil,” and this wood-charred half a chicken lives up to its name, fiery from its chile marinade, Calabrian chiles and the red-tinged chile oil ringing the plate. Other delicious touches are the spuzzulia, a chef’s-choice selection of off-menu nibbles, and a mozzarella bar, which allows you to build your own cheese plate with add-ons from anchovies to pesto garganico.
Cattivella10195 East 29th Avenue
In 2016, chef Elise Wiggins opened her first restaurant, Cattivella (which means "naughty girl" in Italian), a place that reflects her many experiences traveling, working and eating in Italy. The wood-fired oven is used for far more than pizzas, and an adjustable wood grill gives meats (many of them brought in whole and butchered on site) and vegetables a rustic, old-world depth of flavor (during the warm months, large-format grilling takes place on the patio). And then there are the housemade breads and pastas, which separate Cattivella from standard joints. You're sure to feel spoiled — even a little naughty — delving into this unabashedly Italian eatery.
DiFranco's955 Lincoln Street
When it comes to Italian cuisine, simplicity, craftsmanship and unassailable ingredients are what count — and DiFranco's, an unassuming, low-key joint in the Golden Triangle, embraces all of those attributes. It serves a lovely selection of housemade pastas, including a terrific penne specked with fresh parsley and dusted with sharp Pecorino, as well as a textbook-perfect spaghetti and meatballs. The subs, stacked on fresh-baked bread, are equally transcendent, and even the salads deserve your attention. And don't even think about waltzing out the door without trying the meatballs, cannoli or ricotta cookies. The place is tiny, with only a few tables, but that just adds to the charm.
Dio Mio3264 Larimer Street
Alex Figura and Spencer White are trying to elevate pasta’s status as an oft-abused filler to the star of the plate, one handmade noodle at a time, at Dio Mio. But rather than taking an overtly refined approach, as you’d expect given their backgrounds in kitchens where success was measured in awards and Michelin stars, they’ve set up shop in a minimalist fast-casual spot, with unadorned white walls, black chairs and a stark-white art installation that dangles from the ceiling like a squadron of half-folded paper airplanes. Freed from the burdens of high-end, high-overhead operations, they seem thrilled to let loose and use food as a springboard for play. Seasonal vegetables and herbs serve as the color palette on an ever-changing canvas of ravioli and spaghetti.