It wasn’t too long ago that most of the Italian restaurants that diners would find in Denver consisted of old-school red-sauce joints and mediocre chains — well, save for Barolo Grill, a northern Italian eatery that continues to wow.
Luckily, that is changing, thanks to an onslaught of new restaurants by some of the Mile High City’s top chefs. Instead of your basic spaghetti, lasagna and meatballs, these talented cooks have gone to the mother country and researched just what makes the mozzarella in Campania so good, how to properly prepare polenta and the best method for whipping up fresh pasta. They’ve brought back experience and flavors so fresh and special, ensuring that Denver is in for an Italian restaurant renaissance.
Chef Paul C. Reilly opened this Uptown hot spot in 2016 with his sister and business partner, Aileen, and it’s been a real boon to both the neighborhood and Italian food lovers alike. The pair built the charming restaurant after researching and touring southern Italy and sampling the antipasti and handcrafted pastas found there.
The siblings took home enough ideas to put together a well-rounded menu featuring dishes such as Roman-style fried artichokes, handmade ravioli with Swiss chard and ricotta, a juicy and spicy chicken aptly called Diavolo (“devil”) and a wood-fired whole fish laced with pine nuts and raisins.
Coperta also has the town’s best mozzarella bar, where you can get imported buffalo milk cheese from Campania and pair it with celery pugliese, marinated olives and eggplant conserva, among other selections.
For those looking to get a drink that also pays homage to the region, wine director JP Taylor Jr. has created an amaro-heavy bar program as well as a beautiful Italian wine list.
This New York transplant opened in Halcyon, a Hotel in Cherry Creek at the beginning of the year and has been constantly packed ever since. It’s not hard to imagine why. After all, with a sleek yet comforting interior and a menu of beautiful steaks, good wine and freshly made pasta, it’s an obvious winner for the area.
Husband-and-wife chefs Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli came over from New York City to oversee the opening and train executive chef Franz Hueber and the rest of the staff.
The team’s dishes include a decadent, dry-aged porterhouse agnolo; pork chop Milanese with apple mostarda, horseradish and Parmesan; clams with pepperoni ragu; sheep’s milk gnudi; and a surprisingly light spicy crab panzanella.
Don’t pass up the cannoli cart at the end; you get to pick your flavor and have it stuffed right there at the table.
Chef Elise Wiggins isn’t new to the Denver dining scene (she famously helmed the kitchen at the downtown staple, Panzano), but her latest concept is. Cattivella is the chef’s love letter to Italy that culminates years of visits around the various regions.
Wiggins loves the country so much that she refuses to settle on just one area for her unique roster. Expect regional favorites like fagioli al fiasco, a Tuscan dish showcasing creamy beans cooked in a flask; a meaty pasticcio that channels southern Italy; and the sgagliozze, a polenta “chip” with gorgonzola and truffle oil that speaks to Bari.
Pizzas will be made in house, coming from a wood-fired Neapolitan-style oven. She plans to open Cattivella in the Stapleton neighborhood in mid- to late April.
Long ago, Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson made a name for themselves — and put Colorado’s dining scene on the map at the same time — with their Boulder restaurant Frasca Food and Wine. Now they are adding another joint to the family of eateries, Tavernetta, which is slated to open in downtown Denver in June.
Unlike Frasca, which specializes in northeastern Italian fare, the food at the more casual Tavernetta will showcase cuisines from all across the country.
This time, they’re bringing along talented chef de cuisine Ian Wortham into the mix. “We have tried to take these experiences and create something truly Italian,” Wortham says. “We will have bagna cauda from Piedmont and maccheroni alla gricia from Rome. Our dishes are interpretations of classics done in ways respectful of Italian food culture.”
The 125-seat space will have an open kitchen, seasonal outdoor patio and full bar with Carlin Karr leading the Italian-focused wine program.