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The twelve best pizzas in Denver

Want to provoke a fight? Just start a discussion of where to find the best pizza in town. First you have to weigh the merits of thin/thick crust. Then you consider geography, and the benefits of Connecticut, New York, Chicago and even St. Louis styles. But once you're done chewing over all the possibilities, you can't beat the following dozen locations* for the best pizzas in metro Denver.

See also: The twelve best brunch spots in Denver

12) Brava! Pizza 16th and Arapahoe streets

Pie peddler David Bravdica's wood-fired pizza wagon is an 850-degree powerhouse of smoldering Missouri oak wood that produces thin-crusted, blistered, misshapen pies stained with San Marzano tomatoes and dabbed with creamy mozzarella. Our favorite is the Marky, which comes crowned with pepperoni that emerges crisp and curled when it's yanked from the oven.

11) Denver Deep Dish 819 Colorado Boulevard

Jason McGovern, an Irish bloke from Tennessee, doesn't fit the typical profile of a deep-dish pizza geek, but from his tiny kitchen squished in the back of Bar Car, that's exactly what he's creating: Chicago-style, deep-dish pizzas with a whole lot of pizzazz. From pepperoni and pineapple to smoked, thick-cut bacon, goat cheese and red onions (our favorite combination), the pizzas, liberally smeared with a straight-up tomato sauce that's not too herby, emerge from the oven as legit, weighty wonderments. If you're not a deep-dish pizza disciple, McGovern's thin-crusted pizzas are every bit as heavenly as their heavier counterparts.

10) Ernie's Bar & Pizza 2915 West 44th Avenue

Baking a good New York-style pie outside of New York is more difficult that it might seem. The crust can be too thick or worse, too thin. There can be too much sauce or too little. And then you have to use just the right amount of the right kinds of cheese. But Ernie's has found the right formula, putting all these things together for a pie that holds up -- and not just when you're folding a slice in half. Add in the fresh, abundant toppings and a tangy sauce, and you'll understand why Ernie's is always so crowded.

9. Hops & Pie 3920 Tennyson Street Drew and Leah Watson worked in fine-dining spots across the country, but when they decided they wanted to run their own place that would take the simple combination of pizza and beer and raise it to something exceptional, they moved to Denver and found a sliver of a space on Tennyson. They filled half that space with a bar that boasts more than two dozen varieties of craft beer, including the specially made Hops and pIe P.A. from Strange Brewing Company, which also goes into the pizza dough. That malt infusion gives these pizzas a unique taste, and they're topped with everything from splendid sausages to fig jam. Remember to save room for the macaroni and cheese, a Best of Denver 2014 winner. Keep reading for more of our best pizzas. 8) Kaos 1439 South Pearl Street

Kaos Pizzeria is the counterpart of Gaia Bistro, which Patrick Mangold-White and Jon Edwards opened in 2006. But whereas Gaia is a neighborhood spot that does a booming daytime business, Kaos is a lively pizza joint that's busiest at night, when it's often teeming with a mix of families, students and singles, all lining up at the counter to order pies and then grabbing tables. Kaos uses a wood-burning oven to cook its pizzas and adheres to a Neapolitan style, going so far as to import Caputo flour and San Marzano tomatoes to get as close to the Italian version as it can.

7) Lucky Pie 1610 16th Street 637 Front Street, Louisville

Like skinny jeans and narrow ties, food is trendy. What was fashionable last year -- burgers, say, or tacos -- might be as out tomorrow as the boot cut. What's a chef to do? If you're Joe Troupe, executive chef of Lucky Pie Pizza & Taphouse, which opened under his direction in Louisville in 2010 and in LoDo in early 2012, you play it smart: Invest in classics and update with trends. So while the atmosphere is comfortable and casual, the kitchen pays particular attention to the ingredients, which are local and organic whenever possible. Combine good components with good execution on the pizzas, and Lucky Pie turns out to be a very good bet for a night out.

6) Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria 2129 Larimer Street 10111 Inverness Main Street, Englewood

Owners Mark and Kristy Dym wanted their place in the Ballpark neighborhood to have a sense of fantasy-Italian bonhomie, where two visits make you a regular and three a member of the family, and they succeeded. Their friendly pizzeria has a contemporary feel even though the building is more than a century old, and the service is uniformly great. But what matters most is the pizza, made in huge ovens brought over from Italy. This is about as close to a true Neapolitan pie as you're going to find anywhere outside of Naples, and Marco's has the VPN certification to prove it. For suburbanites who want to skip the city, there's a second location in Englewood.

5) Osteria Marco 1453 Larimer Street Hanging above the entrance to Osteria Marco is a brass pig. You could miss it if you weren't looking for it; as a matter of fact, you could easily miss the entire restaurant -- which is mostly below ground. But in that warm, welcoming basement space you'll find a gourmet wonderland of artisan cured meats and handmade cheeses -- which taste just that much better topping a beautiful, wood-fired pizza. Frank Bonanno has a dozen restaurants -- and counting -- but the pie pushes this to the top. Keep reading for more of our best pizzas. 4) Pizzeria Locale 550 Broadway

When Frasca Food & Wine owners Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson and Bobby Stuckey drew up plans for a new pizzeria, they were adamant that it be a true Napolitano pizzeria, not just a Napolitano-inspired pizzeria. And so they scrutinized each detail, everything from the decor to the dough, to make sure their new place would be as close as they could come to a joint in that city in Campagna. The result is a sleek, beautiful dining room, full of dark woods, marble and clean lines, but with fluorescent lights, artwork and a noise level that give it the air of a pizzeria, too. The focal point of the room is the custom-made, wood-burning Ferrara oven, an essential element in achieving authenticity. Pizzaiolos use it to create an assortment of pies -- about fifteen are listed, all with top-quality ingredients -- whose chewy crusts come out thin and soft in the center and fluffier around the edges. You can choose a pairing for your pizza from a broad wine list that features a couple of varieties on tap.

3) Paxti's Pizza 185 Steele Street 3455 South University Boulevard 598 East 17th Avenue

No matter how you toss it, smear it, top it, slice it or spin it, pizza is like religion: The arguments about which style is the most blessed are a world without end. But when it comes to deep-dish pizza, Patxi's is the Best of Denver. The San Francisco-rooted piehole palace, which came to Denver in late 2012 and now has three metro locations,cooks up real deep-dish, Chicago-inspired "stuffed" pizzas topped with everything from spinach to Denver's own Polidori sausage, as well as a generous mantle of whole-milk mozzarella and a second sheet of dough paved with an herb-studded sauce. The hefty, hunky pizzas require a knife, a fork and a pile of napkins, but you'll be singing their praises until your next "I'm a bona fide glutton" confession.

2) Papou's Pizza 5075 Leetsdale Drive

Thick-crust pizza used to be nearly interchangeable with deep-dish. These days, though, with the resurgence of super-thin crusts ranging from cracker to Neapolitan, it connotes something different, something that Goldilocks would've liked -- i.e., not too thick and not too thin. When we have a hankering for this kind of pie, we head to Papou's Pizzeria, where owner Luke Loukopoulos turns out Greek-style pan pizzas -- pies so good they were named Best Thick-Crust Pizza in the Best of Denver 2014. This no-nonsense storefront is elevated by its sparkling-clean vibe, its vintage Italian posters and its pizzas, of course, which boast a golden, rounded edge and a bottom that morphs from crackly to pillowy as you edge closer to the piles of melted mozzarella. Pizzas are cut into squares, not triangles, so everyone will be pleased, from the ones who want all middle (kids, usually) to those like us, who can't get enough of the crisp, buttery crust.

1) Virgilio's Pizzeria and Wine Bar 10025 West San Juan Way, Littleton

Thin is in, with new pizza joints that keep crust to a minimum opening every day. But Virgilio's, a behemoth New York-style pizzeria in the suburbs, continues to dispense the area's best thin-crust pies: The crave-worthy, crisp-edged, thin-crusted rounds of dough freckled with brown patches of char deliver a satisfying chew. Slap the red-sauced surface with fennel-scented sausage, red onions and garlic, and you have a purist's pie; top it with blots of feta, artichoke hearts, black olives, spinach and garlic, and you're living the vegetarian dream. A carnivore's pizza bombarded with pepperoni, meatballs, ham, chicken and sausage may lead to a cholesterol spike, but the thin-is-in mantra only goes so far. Our Best Thin-Crust Pizza winner in the Best of Denver.

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*These pizzas are listed in alphabetical order until the top three, which were all winners in the Best of Denver 2014.

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