Charred Neapolitan pies, rectangular Detroit-style pies, pies with the flaky thin crust of Chicago's tavern pizzas, thick Sicilian slices. I ate all that and more while researching this year's edition of the ten best places to eat pizza in Denver.
With an ever-growing pizza scene that is hotter than ever, I had to narrow my options. So this time around, I implemented some self-imposed ground rules: Contenders had to be eateries that concentrate on craft and serve whole pies that you can eat on site whenever they are open (no pop-ups, no trucks).
But there's no denying the triangular-shaped hole that stipulation left in my pizza-loving heart. Often, the best pizza is the one that's there for you when a sudden need for carbs and cheese hits. Most times, that craving is fueled by booze. And it's usually only satisfied with a slice.
Is there anything better than a buzzed trek to anywhere that serves up classic big, New York-style slices? That magical moment when your new favorite person hands you a piping hot piece of...what did I order again? It doesn't matter. It's always delicious.
The very first thing I ever ate in downtown Denver after moving here seventeen years ago was a slice from the Anthony's that used to be steps from the light-rail stop at 16th and California. I wasn't drunk that day, but it was the comfort food I needed as I set out to explore my new home. Now I live just a short walk from another one of this homegrown chain's locations, and while there may be pies in town that are technically better, it's still my go-to when I'm imbibing in my neighborhood and need a pizza fix. And it's never let me down (though I wish it were open later).
I was sweaty and smiling as I stumbled out of a Less Than Jake show at the Marquis the first time I experienced the joy of the slice window there. A generous drizzle of hot sauce later, that piece of pizza had refueled my soul as I set off to catch the light rail home. Even as late-night options in Denver have dwindled, that window is still open until 2 a.m., at least on Fridays and Saturdays. In fact, slice spots are among the remaining saviors of the late-night dining scene, along with 24/7 Mexican drive-thrus.
Not far away, Wisconsin-born Ian's is on standby with slices piled with everything from mac and cheese to buffalo chicken to pepper Jack cheese, sour cream and tortilla strips.
If you're in Cap Hill, Benny Blanco's, with its Ghetto Jesus logo, is the spot to go if you're looking for a simple walk-up option. Need to sit and ponder life for a bit while you nosh? Head to the SliceWorks on Colfax, where you can have a drink along with whatever slice of the day it's serving up.
Farther east on Colfax, a show at the Bluebird doesn't really feel right without a pit stop at the Fat Sully's slice window. But that's not the only place to get these extra-large pieces of pie: Fat Sully's has several locations, including one on South Broadway in the Baker neighborhood, a prime area for drunk pizza eating.
Pie Hole. While not technically a slice, the thin-crust, handheld calzones from Full Afterburner are highly satisfying, too, and perfectly designed for drunk consumption.
But it's a newcomer that really nails the cheesy, satisfying bite of a great New York-style piece of pizza: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed Casey Jones, where pineapple is not allowed and patrons who want ranch have to bring their own (not that you'll really care about those rules after your first bite). Here, the man behind the pies is Mat Shumaker, a native New Yorker and former longtime chef at another notable slice spot, Famous Original J's.
Located in Five Points near the original location of its sister concept, Rosenberg's Bagels, it serves stellar pizza, period, whether you opt for a whole pie or a slice. But the very best way to experience Famous J's is one piece at a time, ordered from the window that faces the patio of the 715 Club, preferably after a show at Cervantes' and before grabbing a nightcap at the bar.
The only downside to Famous J's is that it has just one location. As Denver's pizza evolution continues, I'd love to see slice spots like this popping up all over the city, because we all deserve to be within stumbling distance of a place that's open late and serving pizza this delicious.
And that's not the booze talking.