Best of Denver

The Best Italian Restaurants in Metro Denver

Spaghetti carbonara, an off-menu secret at Barolo Grill, is a regular dish at Chow Morso Osteria.
Spaghetti carbonara, an off-menu secret at Barolo Grill, is a regular dish at Chow Morso Osteria. Mark Antonation
Regional Italian cuisine is seeing its day in Denver restaurants, with more choices represented from the northern Italian Alps to the southern tip of the boot than ever before. Chefs are showing us new pasta shapes, house-cured meats, intriguing seafood dishes and seasonal ingredients on menus in new eateries as well as established veterans. We'll address old-school Italian joints — with their red sauces, garlic bread and chicken parm sandwiches — in another list; here are the best modern Italian restaurants in metro Denver, in alphabetical order:

click to enlarge Barolo Grill's pork tenderloin is served with grilled ramps and five kinds of beans, each cooked separately. - MARK ANTONATION
Barolo Grill's pork tenderloin is served with grilled ramps and five kinds of beans, each cooked separately.
Mark Antonation

Barolo Grill and Chow Morso Osteria

3030 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.

Basta

3601 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder
303-997-8775

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.

click to enlarge A recent dish of risotto with cubes of eggplant parmesan show Bettola's playful side. - MARK ANTONATION
A recent dish of risotto with cubes of eggplant parmesan show Bettola's playful side.
Mark Antonation

Bettola Bistro

10253 East Iliff Avenue, Aurora
303-750-1580

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.


click to enlarge This satiny spaghetti cacio e pepe is one of Coperta's standout dishes. - LINNEA COVINGTON
This satiny spaghetti cacio e pepe is one of Coperta's standout dishes.
Linnea Covington

Coperta

400 East 20th Avenue
720-749-4666

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.

click to enlarge A pot of pasticcio, a royal dish at Cattivella that dates back to the fifteenth century. - ELISE WIGGINS
A pot of pasticcio, a royal dish at Cattivella that dates back to the fifteenth century.
Elise Wiggins

Cattivella

10195 East 29th Avenue
303-645-3779

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.

click to enlarge DiFranco's handmade pastas and sauces are a neighborhood treasure. - MARK ANTONATION
DiFranco's handmade pastas and sauces are a neighborhood treasure.
Mark Antonation

DiFranco's

955 Lincoln Street
720-253-1244

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.

Squid ink pasta with Korean-inspired pork belly and kimchi at Dio Mio. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Squid ink pasta with Korean-inspired pork belly and kimchi at Dio Mio.
Danielle Lirette

Dio Mio

3264 Larimer Street
303-562-1965

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.

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