Italian is one of the most universally pleasing cuisines out there. Everyone can find something to enjoy when the variety of foods includes everything from beet-stuffed ravioli to classic red sauce, spaghetti, and meatballs. Though it’s known for it’s Mexican food, the city of Denver has some of the best Italian food out there. Here's our picks for our favorite Italian spots in the city.
The very clever chef Elise Wiggins turns out a mix of authentic regional Italian specialties and her own inventive dishes with a modern twists at Panzano. Start with the fried brussels sprouts in an apple cider reduction, which will please everyone at the table. Consider ordering the ravioli di barbabietola, roasted beet, goat cheese, and tarragon-stuffed raviolis finished in a lemon emulsion and topped with poppy seeds; or go with the veal scallopini with lemon, caper, and sun-dried tomatoes.
The cuisine of Barolo focuses on the Northern Italian provinces of Piedmont and Tuscany. Consider trying the five-course tasting menu to sample a little of everything from chef Darrel Truett. Some highlights of the tasting menu are the vovo raviolo, homemade pasta stuffed with ricotta, peas and egg yolk, and the lampone con vaniglia e menta: a raspberry semi-freddo with vanilla-mint mousse, raspberry, and crystallized mint. Optional wine pairings to accompany each course truly elevates the experience.
Despite being a media darling, Frasca manages to remain unpretentious while offering a high-caliber experience. Frasca offers guests a chance to taste the food of Friuli-Venezia. Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey have worked closely together to offer flavorful dishes that pair well the terrific wine list, that offers over 200 varieties. Try the gnocchi with lamb shoulder from Buckner Farm, fresh ceci, and green garlic. The Alaskan halibut with herbs, English peas, black rice, and cardamom is also excellent.
Named for the son of owner Frank Bonanno, the cuisine of Luca is intended to be a celebration of the richness of life. The cuisine invokes the food Bonanno grew up with from his mother’s kitchen to many of the finest restaurants in New York. Try the capellini carbonara, with house made guanciale, parmesan crema, and a soft-poached yolk, or the dry-aged NY strip with taleggio gnocchi. Luca is widely revered by locals and media alike, having been named the top Italian restaurant in the western United States by Zagat.
Another of Frank Bonanno’s restaurants, Osteria Marco will also deliver a terrific dining experience. This rustic little place may be known best for it’s homemade cheeses and cured meats, but everything from the fig and goat cheese pizza to the lamb meatballs with creamy polenta and ricotta are well worth a try.
Il Posto, which means the “the place," is a truly Italian-style trattoria. The atmosphere is casual with chalkboard menus. The selection changes daily depending on the chef’s finds and whims. The open kitchen creates a fun and exciting dining experience. Watch as chef/owner Andrea Frizzi prepares you a perfect plate of risotto with fennel pollen, almonds, and heirloom tomatoes. Locals adore the place so you may be in for a wait when you visit, but the food is worth the time.
The Wooden Table is located in Greenwood Village, a little bit south of Denver proper, in a suburban neighborhood. The place is not only a local favorite but, has received positive press from several Denver publications for the tasty food, good service, and all around pleasant dinning experience. Try the fried ricotta polenta with red sauce and fresh melted mozzarella, or the linguine with Manila clams and house made sausage.
Mama Sannios is an old school Italian red sauce restaurant. Portraits, photos from Italy, vintage posters and knick-knacks line the walls at this completely casual and family friendly restaurant. Mama Sannios is located in a strip mall, but don’t let that dissuade you, the food is as high caliber as any restaurant in the heart of downtown. Try the spaghetti and meatballs. At Mama Sannios, it’s a classic done right.
Zucca works to celebrate a broad range of cuisine from both Northern and Southern Italy. The restaurant is casual, and filled with local diners relaxing with a glass of wine from the extensive Italian wine list. Try to sit on the patio, as it’s lit up beautifully in the evening. The fettuccine alla vodka rustica, which features fresh pasta, locally-made Italian sausage, and pancetta tossed in a vodka tomato cream sauce will delight any palate. So will classics like parmigiana, creamy herb capellini topped with fried eggplant, or chicken parmesan and mozzarella, finished with a marinara sauce.
Firenze a Tavola, is another local favorite, and fans make a bit of an uproar when it doesn’t always make the ‘best of’ lists. Interestingly, Firenze a Tavola is sort of two restaurants in one. Upstairs you'll find Parisi's, the fast and casual counterpart to Firenze. Downstairs, is the actual Firenze a Tavola, which offers fine, upscale dining. Both places offer terrific food. The wood-fired pizza is an upstairs favorite and the risotto frutti di mare is a can’t-miss from downstairs.