Looking for a place to get your carbs on? Here are some of my favorite Italian restaurants in and around Denver I recommend to folks when they ask me where they should eat when looking to get a little taste of Italia right here in the Mile High City. The places I have chosen particularly excel at either pasta or pizza.
Dio Mio is one of my favorite spots to hit on a weeknight for an informal delicious Italian dinner. The fast-casual dining concept in RiNo serves housemade pastas Monday through Saturday evenings starting at 5pm (they are closed on Sundays), in the $14-17 price range. While their superb weekly specials keep regulars coming back, the Rigatoni with fennel sausage, greens, and bread crumbs is the dish I recommend for first timers who want to get a good sense of what this place is all about. Nothing fancy about the dish – just incredibly fresh and well-made and consistently great. By the end, you’ll desperately be wiping any remaining extra bits of bread around the rims of the dish trying to to sop up any leftover sauce off the plate and into your mouth. For more on Dio Mio, check out my previous coverage.
Anyone who follows my Instagram knows I’ve been a huge fan of Paul and Aileen Reilly’s ristorante in Uptown for a number of years. With a focus on Southern Italian cooking, this restaurant making monthly changes to the menu to highlight a different region of Italy as part of their Tren Coperta program. While items regularly appear and disappear with the availability of produce, you can always count on ordering their unforgettable Bucatini all’Amatriciana. The rich flavors of the guanciale and red-wine tomato sauce coating the pasta has been a favorite with diners since day one and is never absent from the menu. The atmosphere is casual, but the service is always top-notch. Reservations are necessary on Friday and Saturday nights.
Bar Dough is a Highlands restaurant with a friendly neighborhood vibe, with an excellent pasta program. Co-owners and executive chefs Max Mackissock and Carrie Baird often change up the menu, but a solid choice would be to go with one of the fresh pastas with seafood such as the Fettuccine with Shrimp. And of course, first timers must make the obligatory order of getting one of Chef Carrie’s famous Fancy Toasts, which change seasonally.
Barolo Grill is well-known for being one of the OGs of Denver’s upscale dining scene. They have been open since 1992 and continue to be a restaurant of choice for date nights and special occasion dinners year-round. It’s not hard to understand why: The service remains comfortably warm, friendly, and attentive, with a knowledgeable staff that offers excellent dish recommendations and wine pairings. The Risotto, usually paired with seafood, an excellent choice as is the Cavatelli con Funghi, a heavenly dish made with foraged mushrooms and hand-made pasta. Reservations are essential on weekends.
This family-run pizza restaurant is the brainchild of brothers Jason and Chris Wallenta. The specialty is New Haven-style pizza, with its characteristic thin, dry crust, irregular shape, and charring. The White Pie, of course is a signature dish, with a crème fraîche and mozzarella making up the cheese base, sprinkled with bacon and Crimini mushrooms and a runny sunny egg plunked in the center of the pie. The pastas, like the vodka basic cream Fettuccini, are deceptively simple looking, but incredibly fresh and excellent. For more, please check out my previous coverage of White Pie.
Trattoria Stella has been a mainstay of the Denver dining community for the last 20 years, since opening the doors of their Highlands Square location in 1999. While there are plenty of pleasing classics to choose from during your meal, from bruschetta to spaghetti bolognese, but to me everything else on the menu shies in comparison to one particular dish that is a must-order in my book. The Creamy Sausage Rigate is made with an herbed pork sausage and with pasta coated in a silky tomato cream sauce. Be prepared to be dreaming about eating this dish many days, weeks, and months later until you return for another taste.
This upscale Cherry Creek restaurant checks all the boxes in terms of looks, charm, and substance. One part trattoria, one part New York steakhouse, Quality Italian strikes a balance between a clubby meets elegant atmosphere with cushy medium leather banquets and fading black and white framed photos of nonnas and nonnos in clustered displays on the walls. Without a doubt, the Baked Lasagna and Filet Meatballs is the ultimate head-turner during its journey to your table. This deconstructed lasagna is plated with pasta sheets rolled up like roses and giant filet meatballs interspersed throughout the round baking dish. You’d be wise to come with a buddy because it explicitly served as a very large two-person serving ($27 per person, $54 total). For more coverage on Quality Italian, read my earlier dinner and brunch reviews.
Their Piada Burrata Bread (with house allium butter, sea salt) is legendary in my mind. Part of the delight of ripping open the warm parcel-shaped bread is watching the steam escape from within, with the full reward coming with each subsequently savory bite. Everything here is outstanding, but the wood-fire cooked pizzas are also a favorite. Those feeding a large party will want to arrange at least 48 hours in advance for an order their scratch-made family style lasagna dinner to be served.⠀
Prepared to be totally charmed by the friendly vibe of this neighborhood restaurant. Service is tops and the food reliably good, the bar scene quite lively for such a small space. I recommend the Grilled Artichoke appetizer and the Chicken Piccata entree, which comes with a mountainous side of pasta. It makes for a great casual date night destination. Viale is also a Dining Out Denver Passbook participant, so be sure to bring your book to your meal.
This Union Station-area restaurant is perfect for those looking for an upscale dining experience. The cavernous space contains several dining area spaces with a crisp, formal vibe. Entrees run anywhere between $22-32), but diners may be pleasantly surprised by the generous portions (it’s not a “tiny food” sort of situation). Don’t be afraid to go big with an order of the Campo Di Fungi, two 10″x12″-ish pasta sheets filled with stracciatella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and mushrooms — the perfect shared dish for your first course.
Over the last few months I’ve noticed a lot of my favorite Denver food Instagrammers swooning over Jovanina’s. Customers will be charmed by this restaurant’s non-traditional take on Italian cooking. The name of the game here is to take familiar dishes and put a fresh, seasonal spin to them. Some of these interpelations succeed better than others, but the winners like the delectable squid ink Fettuccini (served with Organic Ocean humpback shrimp in a pool of ‘nduja-spiked tomato sauce)
Is your favorite Italian restaurant missing from the list? Let me know which places I should consider adding by leaving your suggestions in the comments!