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Rabbit cappelletti
Rabbit cappelletti at Restaurant Olivia.
Joni Schrantz

Where to Go for Italian Food in and Around Denver

From deli fare to prix fixe feasts, these restaurants deliver

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Rabbit cappelletti at Restaurant Olivia.
| Joni Schrantz

It wasn’t so long ago that Americans equated Italian food with red sauce — understandably, since the majority of the country’s immigrants to the U.S. came from the south, merging their traditions with those of their new homeland to create the meat- and tomato-laden dishes that defined the category stateside for nearly a century. But times have changed, and we now understand that Italy’s regional cuisines differ as greatly as those on our own shores; what’s more, just as they do here or anywhere, they evolve.

Listed geographically from north to south, these 18 restaurants reflect that diversity in all its dynamism. (Craving pizza specifically? Click here for our list of top parlors.)

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Frasca Food and Wine

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Prestige does not equal pomp at what’s arguably Colorado’s most esteemed restaurant: The hospitality is as genuine as the multi-course menus and much-celebrated wine list are astonishing. Prepare to be pampered over course after course of innovative Friulian-inspired cuisine — and do consider splurging on a splash of vintage amaro at meal’s end.

Beet dish
Even beets become art at Frasca.
Frasca Hospitality Group

Though initially known primarily as a wood-fired pizzeria, chef Kelly Whitaker’s flagship Boulder venture has evolved over the years, reflecting his passion for (among other things) the heirloom and heritage grains he sells at Dry Storage next door — showcased here in items like uni chitarra with black garlic and Sonoran wheat berry risotto. Other signatures include the seasonal whole fish and campfire semifreddo, not to mention an extremely smart beverage program that encourages diners to try something new.

Kampachi crudo with puffed rice
Crudo is a seasonal staple at Basta.
Ruth Tobias

Grammy's Goodies

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Though it’s only been open since 2015, Grammy’s looks for all the world like an old-school joint with its tomato-red walls; blackboard menu; and a pastry case filled with cannoli, sfogliatelle, rainbow cookies and so on. It tastes like one too: From garlic knots and Sicilian-style pizza to lasagna, chicken parm, and subs piled with cold cuts, the menu’s a true-blue red-sauce extravaganza.

Meatball sub
Grammy’s meatball sub.
Ruth Tobias

Dio Mio

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The chef-partners of this fast-casual pasta counter, Alex Figura and Spencer White, both have fine-dining backgrounds, and it shows: Imaginative and beautifully executed seasonal dishes like black butter–marinated artichoke hearts in olive sauce with oranges and croutons or mortadella-stuffed agnolotti with pearl onions, poppy seeds, dill, and gouda wouldn’t be out of place on the menu of some white-tablecloth restaurant at twice the price. Throw in an order of the much-loved cacio e pepe and a carafe of Verdicchio or Schiava just for fun.

Agnolotti and casarecce with focaccia and white wine
Seasonal pastas with focaccia at Dio Mio.
Ruth Tobias

Lou's Italian Specialties

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Call him the East Coast King: Just as he brought Denverites a taste of New York via Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen and Famous Original J’s Pizza, so Joshua Pollack offers them a slice of New Jersey in the form of this Italian-American sub shop and market. Hot sandwiches come loaded with the likes of sausage, peppers, and onions or porchetta, provolone, broccoli rabe, and herb aioli; cold ones include the roman fiesta with salami, pepperoni, ham, mozzarella, roasted red peppers and dressed mixed greens as well as the horseradish roast beef with muenster. And that’s not all: The display cases are chock-full of antipasti and salads, cheeses and olives, and offbeat Italian wines.

Selection of subs
A selection of Lou’s sandwiches.
From the Hip Photo

Spuntino

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Though it’s as warm as any classic mom-and-pop trattoria, dashing husband-and-wife duo Cindhura Reddy and Elliot Strathmann take a seriously idiosyncratic approach to Italian cuisine, weaving in both Colorado and Indian influences to striking effect: Take, for instance, the signature elk tartare with toasted masala aioli and ajwain seed crisps. Then take everything else, because it all shines, from the frutti di mare del giorno to seasonal pastas such as duck confit–stuffed agnolotti in chestnut cream with kale and cranberry relish, ideally paired with wines from one of Denver’s most thought-provoking cellars — and followed by homemade amaro.

Aglio e olio with Indian spice–preserved garlic and a 63-degree egg
Spuntino’s aglio e olio with Indian spice–preserved garlic and a 63-degree egg.
Ruth Tobias

Bar Dough

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The menu is deceptively simple, the flavors complex and layered at this high-energy LoHi favorite. Go classic with garlic bread, bucatini all’amatriciana, and a bottle of Chianti or follow the seasons in the form of sacchetti with chicken confit, peas, favas, and green garlic or pizza with mortadella, ricotta di bufala, and spring onions paired with a jazzy cocktail like the Hold the Piada: burrata-infused gin with vermouth bianco and parsley.

Cacio e pepe
Bar Dough’s cacio e pepe.
Kayla Jones

Cattivella

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At nearly five years old, chef Elise Wiggins’ Central Park destination boasts its share of sensational signature dishes, including the bagna cauda, the pasticcio, the rabbit gnocchi, and the wood-fired rib eye. But check its Instagram feed before making the trip, since it’s a treasure trove of daily specials to consider: pan-seared black cod over basil bucatini with sundried tomatoes and asparagus one day, fettuccine in braised venison ragù with smoked ricotta the next.

Boar cacciatore over polenta
A seasonal dish of boar cacciatore over polenta at Cattivella.
Ruth Tobias

Il Posto

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Super-sexy from the sinuous chandelier to the sleek bar to the oversized booths, Milanese-born chef Andrea Frizzi’s RiNo date-night haunt turns out equally seductive eats. Enhance the mood with the beef-tallow candle and bread service whenever available, then seal the deal over gorgeous pastas like Swiss chard–and–ricotta cannelloni with sous vide celery root and smoked mozzarella or pan-seared duck breast set atop risotto flavored with red wine, black garlic, and basil-whipped goat cheese.

Paprika bucatini with lamb sausage, broccolini, and anchovy-lamb butter
Paprika bucatini with lamb sausage, broccolini, and anchovy-lamb butter at Il Posto.
Ruth Tobias

Tavernetta

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While a crackerjack front-of-house team maintains this Frasca sibling’s reputation for above-and-beyond service, rising star chef Cody Cheetham is making sure the food lives up to the wine-splashed experience. Against an ultra-chic backdrop at the edge of Union Station’s railway platform, he celebrates the seasons through dishes that might involve boar and truffles or sweetbreads and celery root in the colder months, Dungeness crab and fennel or scallops with nettles and green garlic in warmer weather (though the lobster tagliatelle and roast chicken for two are forever); he also turns out a handsome array of cicchetti, to use the Venetian term for small plates, to pair with aperitivi at happy hour.

Beef carpaccio
Tavernetta’s signature beef carpaccio.
Frasca Hospitality Group

Jovanina's Broken Italian

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Vintage accents and candles on every table lend this LoDo hot spot half its considerable charm; the food does the rest. Like the wallpaper gracing one side of the dining room (take a close look), almost every dish takes an unexpected and delightful turn, be it bolognese made with elk and rosemary mascarpone, radishes poached in ’nduja butter and served with a garnish of pickled beech mushrooms and grilled sourdough, or cannoli filled with Earl Grey–infused ricotta — and the cocktails follow suit: Take, for example, the Friend of the Devil with mezcal, pisco, Ruby Port, Cynar, and mint grenadine.

Seasonal pizza at Jovanina’s Broken Italian featuring pattypan squash, hazelnut romesco, Calabrian chilis, and aged balsamic
A seasonal pizza at Jovanina’s Broken Italian featuring pattypan squash, hazelnut romesco, Calabrian chilis, and aged balsamic.
Ruth Tobias

Osteria Marco

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Fifteen years ago, Frank Bonanno opened this now cozy, now lively subterranean space on Larimer Square to give many Denverites their first taste of fresh burrata and ricotta, salumi and carpaccio, and still other Italian specialties like panzanella and carbonara. Those items remain staples today, supplemented by real-deal mozzarella en carrozza, pizza with braised short rib and pepperoncini, lamb meatballs over polenta, and more. Pair them with a wine flight that transports you to the Boot by featuring, say, lesser-known Italian whites or Super Tuscans.

Eight Italian dishes viewed from overhead
A spread at Osteria Marco.
Bonanno Concepts

Coperta

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Coperta has the quaint, lived-in vibe of a trattoria on the piazza of some Italian hill town, and the food lives up to the feel. Start with the spuzzulia, essentially an ever-changing antipasto platter, before digging into seasonal pastas like mushroom-leek ravioli with rabbit conserva. Most are helpfully offered by the half-portion to allow room for entrees such as rosemary sausage–stuffed quail over polenta or the fish stew called acqua pazza, not to mention cannoli. And be sure to ask for recommendations from the wine list, a trove of treasures from Campania, Calabria, Puglia, and other southern regions.

Fried calamari
Coperta’s calamari fritti.
Ruth Tobias

Lo Stella Ristorante

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The original Lo Stella has been a fixture in the Ligurian town of Portofino since 1850; eighth-generation restaurateur Alessandro Polo opened this satellite in the Golden Triangle in 2013 to introduce Denverites to the region’s coastal cuisine. Here’s hoping that he someday puts his focaccia del Recco or pansoti in salsa di noci (walnut sauce) back on the menu, but in the meantime, anything featuring seafood is the way to go, from fritto misto with sea bass and calamari to the tagliatelle with shrimp, zucchini, and saffron that Mick Jagger sampled during a visit on tour.

Spaghetti with bottarga and lemon
Spaghetti con bottarga e limone at Lo Stella.
Ruth Tobias

Osteria Marco’s more upscale Cap Hill sibling serves up a few of Frank Bonanno’s greatest hits — including housemade burrata and salumi — along with seasonal creations such as mafaldine with Manila clams, guanciale, and charred rapini; porcini-crusted sturgeon in prosciutto brodo with Sea Island red peas and kale; and Meyer lemon panna cotta with rhubarb granita. The wines on the Italian-centric list also make their way into cocktails like the Red Oaxacan with mezcal, Barbera, and habanero.

Spring mushroom pasta
A seasonal mushroom pasta at Luca.
Bonanno Concepts

Barolo Grill

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The glow of this fine-dining destination in Cherry Creek has only been burnished over its decades in business: While the remarkable Italian wine cellar has long enjoyed national recognition, each new menu from chef Darrel Truett seems to outdo the last in thoughtfulness and intricacy. Think English pea flan with fried baby artichokes, Castelmagno fonduta, and black-garlic aioli; saffron risotto with crispy pancetta, truffles, and banana chips; or warm carrot-pistachio cake with sage gelato.

Risotto with popcorn and herbs
A seasonal risotto at Barolo Grill.
Ruth Tobias

Quality Italian

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For its famous chicken parm pizza alone, this swanky Italian steakhouse in Cherry Creek — a sibling of New York’s Quality Meats — warrants a shoutout here. But there’s so much more to dig into, including the fabulous sausage-and-pepper toast, luscious porterhouse agnolotti, and festive birthday-cake cannoli; weekend brunch, meanwhile, features such treats as breakfast risotto topped with a fried egg and polenta pancakes as well as bottomless Bellinis.

Baked lasagna with filet meatballs
Quality Italian’s baked lasagna with filet meatballs.
Adam Larkey

Restaurant Olivia

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Expect the unexpected from the restlessly creative team at this Wash Park gem, where ravioli might borrow its ingredients from French onion soup, garganelli might take inspiration from pork green chile, and tiramisù might be mashed up with apple crisp, even as the bar turns out White Negronis laced with pear and pistachio or pours Franciacorta in place of Prosecco.

Mafaldine with tomato-braised meatballs
Olivia’s mafaldine with tomato-braised meatballs.
Joni Schrantz

Frasca Food and Wine

Beet dish
Even beets become art at Frasca.
Frasca Hospitality Group

Prestige does not equal pomp at what’s arguably Colorado’s most esteemed restaurant: The hospitality is as genuine as the multi-course menus and much-celebrated wine list are astonishing. Prepare to be pampered over course after course of innovative Friulian-inspired cuisine — and do consider splurging on a splash of vintage amaro at meal’s end.

Beet dish
Even beets become art at Frasca.
Frasca Hospitality Group

Basta

Kampachi crudo with puffed rice
Crudo is a seasonal staple at Basta.
Ruth Tobias

Though initially known primarily as a wood-fired pizzeria, chef Kelly Whitaker’s flagship Boulder venture has evolved over the years, reflecting his passion for (among other things) the heirloom and heritage grains he sells at Dry Storage next door — showcased here in items like uni chitarra with black garlic and Sonoran wheat berry risotto. Other signatures include the seasonal whole fish and campfire semifreddo, not to mention an extremely smart beverage program that encourages diners to try something new.

Kampachi crudo with puffed rice
Crudo is a seasonal staple at Basta.
Ruth Tobias

Grammy's Goodies

Meatball sub
Grammy’s meatball sub.
Ruth Tobias

Though it’s only been open since 2015, Grammy’s looks for all the world like an old-school joint with its tomato-red walls; blackboard menu; and a pastry case filled with cannoli, sfogliatelle, rainbow cookies and so on. It tastes like one too: From garlic knots and Sicilian-style pizza to lasagna, chicken parm, and subs piled with cold cuts, the menu’s a true-blue red-sauce extravaganza.

Meatball sub
Grammy’s meatball sub.
Ruth Tobias

Dio Mio

Agnolotti and casarecce with focaccia and white wine
Seasonal pastas with focaccia at Dio Mio.
Ruth Tobias

The chef-partners of this fast-casual pasta counter, Alex Figura and Spencer White, both have fine-dining backgrounds, and it shows: Imaginative and beautifully executed seasonal dishes like black butter–marinated artichoke hearts in olive sauce with oranges and croutons or mortadella-stuffed agnolotti with pearl onions, poppy seeds, dill, and gouda wouldn’t be out of place on the menu of some white-tablecloth restaurant at twice the price. Throw in an order of the much-loved cacio e pepe and a carafe of Verdicchio or Schiava just for fun.

Agnolotti and casarecce with focaccia and white wine
Seasonal pastas with focaccia at Dio Mio.
Ruth Tobias

Lou's Italian Specialties

Selection of subs
A selection of Lou’s sandwiches.
From the Hip Photo

Call him the East Coast King: Just as he brought Denverites a taste of New York via Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen and Famous Original J’s Pizza, so Joshua Pollack offers them a slice of New Jersey in the form of this Italian-American sub shop and market. Hot sandwiches come loaded with the likes of sausage, peppers, and onions or porchetta, provolone, broccoli rabe, and herb aioli; cold ones include the roman fiesta with salami, pepperoni, ham, mozzarella, roasted red peppers and dressed mixed greens as well as the horseradish roast beef with muenster. And that’s not all: The display cases are chock-full of antipasti and salads, cheeses and olives, and offbeat Italian wines.

Selection of subs
A selection of Lou’s sandwiches.
From the Hip Photo

Spuntino

Aglio e olio with Indian spice–preserved garlic and a 63-degree egg
Spuntino’s aglio e olio with Indian spice–preserved garlic and a 63-degree egg.
Ruth Tobias

Though it’s as warm as any classic mom-and-pop trattoria, dashing husband-and-wife duo Cindhura Reddy and Elliot Strathmann take a seriously idiosyncratic approach to Italian cuisine, weaving in both Colorado and Indian influences to striking effect: Take, for instance, the signature elk tartare with toasted masala aioli and ajwain seed crisps. Then take everything else, because it all shines, from the frutti di mare del giorno to seasonal pastas such as duck confit–stuffed agnolotti in chestnut cream with kale and cranberry relish, ideally paired with wines from one of Denver’s most thought-provoking cellars — and followed by homemade amaro.

Aglio e olio with Indian spice–preserved garlic and a 63-degree egg
Spuntino’s aglio e olio with Indian spice–preserved garlic and a 63-degree egg.
Ruth Tobias

Bar Dough

Cacio e pepe
Bar Dough’s cacio e pepe.
Kayla Jones

The menu is deceptively simple, the flavors complex and layered at this high-energy LoHi favorite. Go classic with garlic bread, bucatini all’amatriciana, and a bottle of Chianti or follow the seasons in the form of sacchetti with chicken confit, peas, favas, and green garlic or pizza with mortadella, ricotta di bufala, and spring onions paired with a jazzy cocktail like the Hold the Piada: burrata-infused gin with vermouth bianco and parsley.

Cacio e pepe
Bar Dough’s cacio e pepe.
Kayla Jones

Cattivella

Boar cacciatore over polenta
A seasonal dish of boar cacciatore over polenta at Cattivella.
Ruth Tobias

At nearly five years old, chef Elise Wiggins’ Central Park destination boasts its share of sensational signature dishes, including the bagna cauda, the pasticcio, the rabbit gnocchi, and the wood-fired rib eye. But check its Instagram feed before making the trip, since it’s a treasure trove of daily specials to consider: pan-seared black cod over basil bucatini with sundried tomatoes and asparagus one day, fettuccine in braised venison ragù with smoked ricotta the next.

Boar cacciatore over polenta
A seasonal dish of boar cacciatore over polenta at Cattivella.
Ruth Tobias

Il Posto

Paprika bucatini with lamb sausage, broccolini, and anchovy-lamb butter
Paprika bucatini with lamb sausage, broccolini, and anchovy-lamb butter at Il Posto.
Ruth Tobias

Super-sexy from the sinuous chandelier to the sleek bar to the oversized booths, Milanese-born chef Andrea Frizzi’s RiNo date-night haunt turns out equally seductive eats. Enhance the mood with the beef-tallow candle and bread service whenever available, then seal the deal over gorgeous pastas like Swiss chard–and–ricotta cannelloni with sous vide celery root and smoked mozzarella or pan-seared duck breast set atop risotto flavored with red wine, black garlic, and basil-whipped goat cheese.

Paprika bucatini with lamb sausage, broccolini, and anchovy-lamb butter
Paprika bucatini with lamb sausage, broccolini, and anchovy-lamb butter at Il Posto.
Ruth Tobias

Tavernetta

Beef carpaccio
Tavernetta’s signature beef carpaccio.
Frasca Hospitality Group

While a crackerjack front-of-house team maintains this Frasca sibling’s reputation for above-and-beyond service, rising star chef Cody Cheetham is making sure the food lives up to the wine-splashed experience. Against an ultra-chic backdrop at the edge of Union Station’s railway platform, he celebrates the seasons through dishes that might involve boar and truffles or sweetbreads and celery root in the colder months, Dungeness crab and fennel or scallops with nettles and green garlic in warmer weather (though the lobster tagliatelle and roast chicken for two are forever); he also turns out a handsome array of cicchetti, to use the Venetian term for small plates, to pair with aperitivi at happy hour.