Carmine's has been a neighborhood staple for years, a place where large families and large groups of friends can gather and enjoy a family-style Italian meal. There's nothing trendy or nouveau about it, and it's not the place for single diners or those with tiny appetites. But it is the perfect place to meet up with friends or to bring the gang--parents, kids, grandparents, aunts and uncles. The patio is open year-round and there's valet parking. "We start cooking early in the morning to open for dinner with fresh-baked bread and simmered sauces," says Brad Ritter, manager and co-owner, who describes the ambience as "comfortable, even noisy with a wide variety of guests."
Recommended for Italian because: Carmine's legendary generous portions make it the neighborhood restaurant of choice for family-style dining.
Christine's expert tip: Carmine's offers food prepared for carryout. Whether it's a meal for two or party platters for a crowd, the staff at Carmine's will cook up dishes and pack them for pick-up.
This is part of the Bonnano family of restaurants and definitely upscale. Chef-cured salumi and burrata are among the highlights on this menu that takes its cues from diverse regions of Italy, Sicily in the south to Piedmont in the north. The four- and six-course prix fixe tasting menus can be paired with wine or not. In addition to the burrata and cured meats and cheeses, dishes include Sicilian calamari; tagliatelle fra diavola starring poached Maine lobster; cappellini with braised duck, baby artichokes, cherry tomatoes and preserved lemon; wild boar with lentils, black pepper crauti and mustard spuma; and grilled swordfish with roasted corn, baby Shiitakes, avocado crema, pancetta and pickled peppers. For a sublime ending to a special-occasion evening, there's house-made cello in a variety of flavors including lemon, a nice selection of digestifs and grappa and creative espresso cocktails.
Recommended for Italian because: Luca eschews the move toward industrial design, offering instead an artful, classic look and feel.
Christine's expert tip: The best seat in the house may well be Table 21, which faces the flames of the open kitchen and the activity in the dining room, putting guests in the heart of the restaurant with stellar views for people- and chef-watching.
"Yearly visits to Italy inspire the cuisine, wine list and the pace as well as the ambience," says the management here. The cuisine--contemporary northern Italian rooted in the regions of Piedmont, Tuscany and the Veneto--is complemented by a deep wine list that is heavily Italian but also includes bottles from France, Spain, South America, California and other highly regarded wine-producing regions of the world. While much of the menu is seasonal, there are likely to be examples of thoughtful pairings of U.S. and Italian preparation and ingredients, such as aged prosciutto di parma or slow-poached baby octopus served with Rocky Ford cantaloupe. Among the pasta dishes is hand-cut tajarin noodles tossed with braised rabbit, baby spinach and pecorino Toscana, while secondi dishes include grilled free-range hen with summer corn caponata and roasted eggplant puree. Barolo Grill has three private dining rooms accommodating groups of six to 30 guests.
Recommended for Italian because: Since 1995 the staff has annually visited Italy to truly understand the food and preparation.
Christine's expert tip: Barolo Grill accepts reservations starting two months out. For weekend dining especially, reservations are a good idea.
"Progressive, sexy and friendly with an urban twist, but not too pushy or hipster scene," says Andrea Frizzi, chef and owner. "We've withstood the test of time and all the trends that have come and gone since we opened in 2007." There's no need to be trendy when the menu focuses on locally sourced, organic and sustainable foods prepared with love and attention to detail. Frizzi calls Il Posto a "remembrance for me of growing up in Italy with my parents who ran a salumeria." Although he grew up in Milan he says the menu is inspired by all of Italy. Daily dishes might include such highlights as risotto with pancetta, corn, stracchino and arugula or mussels with nasturtiums, heirloom tomatoes, corn, squash and Iberico lomo. The daily offerings are written on a chalkboard. Sit down and be surprised!
Recommended for Italian because: The menu changes daily and fish on the evening menu was caught just that morning.
Christine's expert tip: Looking for a romantic table? Request No. 13 by the patio garage doors, especially nice in warm weather. If there are four of you wanting to be front and center, there's Table 31 in the heart of the dining room with action flowing all around.
It's not just pizza. Consider the award-winning IPA mac & cheese made with smoked ham hocks, IPA, English peas and a cheddar-and-cream reduction that takes five hours to perfect. There's also a roasted pear salad with toasted pine nuts and Haystack Mountain goat cheese. The hard part is choosing a pie. There are several sizes to choose from, and if you're not too hungry pizza is available by the slice, too. There are traditional pies, pan pies and gluten-free pies, and each month there's a specialty artisan pie. The long list of toppings includes traditional fare and some not-so-traditional toppings such as banana peppers, mashed potato dollops, beer-braised brisket and vegan alternatives. The craft beer list is comprehensive. Very comprehensive. Make no mistake: Hops & Pie is uber popular and lines form every day. But arrive before 6 p.m. and you can probably snag a table.
Recommended for Italian because: It's a superb taste-of-Denver pairing--stellar craft brews and fresh-made traditional and artisan pizzas.
Christine's expert tip: Beer lovers should consider joining the beer club--$60 annually provides discounts, early entry on Sundays and more. And check H & P's Facebook page to learn what's being tapped each day--typically two to ten new beers daily.
Set in the Highlands, a neighborhood first populated by Italian immigrants in the 19th century, husband-and-wife-owned Spuntino straddles that fine line between neighborhood staple and special place for celebrations. It's warm, welcoming and refined, with a menu inspired by Italy and the essential Italian philosophy that food should be fresh and local. Co-owner and pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom is a five-time James Beard Foundation semifinalist, making this a place where saving room for dessert is a must. Choices include warm apricot cream tart, Amadei chocolate sea salt caramel tart and a warm almond coconut macaroon, along with gelato, of course. But leaving room isn't easy. Chef John Broening's creations are rich and varied--housemade rabbit rillettes; sweet corn and goat cheese bruschetta; flank steak with cipollini, crispy mushrooms, potato torta and salsa di vino rosso; and quail with house-made chorizo, stone fruit vinaigrette and fragola, among others.
Recommended for Italian because: It's an impeccable melding: the warmth of a neighborhood restaurant, a dash of sophisticated elegance.
Christine's expert tip: Spuntino bottles its own amaro, a traditional Italian digestif or herbal liqueur, which is made with more than 20 herbs, roots and spices--some grown in the restaurant's own urban garden. Order it for a very Italian way of ending your meal.
Welcome to Napoli! Well, almost. This pizza carries the coveted Vera Pizza Napoletana Certification, meaning the hand-built brick ovens were imported from Naples, as are the Antico Caputo Molino 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes and many of the specialty meats and cheeses. The pizza makers also go through extensive training to attain certification from Naples' Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani. Bottom line: If you like Neopolitan pizza, this is your go-to spot. If you hail from New York City, this is for you, too. The menu includes pies named for the city's five boroughs plus Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan's edgy west-side neighborhood. House specials include coal-fired Lemoncello chicken wings served with Vidalia onions and focaccia, and sauce-laden meatball sliders. Don't skip the desserts, some of which fall into the "why haven't we been eating this for years" category: sweet pizza with ricotta, honey and toasted almonds, and pizza stuffed with Nutella.
Recommended for Italian because: Since opening in 2008, Marco's has made believers of pizza lovers from coast to coast.
Christine's expert tip: Whether you want to eat on a Tuesday afternoon or Saturday evening, you''ll avoid a wait time by reserving ahead. Plus, make your reservation through Open Table and you'll score points leading to a free dinner out--win-win for all.
A recent remodel brought a freshness to Panzano, which has always been a pleasant place to dine. With a design inspired by the Italian streetscapes and terracotta tile roofs of Renaissance Florence, the restaurant is light-filled and stylish, an Italian retreat in the center of the financial district. Yes, it's located in the Hotel Monaco, but delete visions of ho-hum hotel food from your mind. Panzano stands on its own with a menu best described as a contemporary take on northern Italian cuisine. The dinner menu includes crepes stuffed with Hazel Dell mushrooms, fonduta sauce and white truffle oil; a grilled Caesar salad; and gnocchi with rabbit confit, leeks, shallots, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and Gorgonzola. The extensive list of wines includes several that have won the coveted "three glasses" award from Gambero Rosso, the legendary guide that annually rates Italian wines. Panzano is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Recommended for Italian because: Ambience, food, location and a wonderfully welcoming attitude make Panzano a Denver standout.
Christine's expert tip: Want upscale Italian for a special event? Panzano offers off-site catering in the Denver area and one of the most popular items is a whole roast pig. Of course, many of Chef Wiggins' less hefty but equally delicious items are also available.
Frasca celebrates the cuisine of Friuli in the very northeast corner of Italy, bordering Austria and Slovenia. Since its inception, the owners have championed local farmers and put an emphasis on the finest, freshest ingredients--long before many chefs adopted that practice. Some of Frasca's menu items are sourced directly from Friuli, including Sirk Vinegar of La Subida, prosciutto from San Daniele, montasio cheese (a staple in Friuli) and all of the winter chicories, including radicchio, tardivo and castelfranco. Frasca is not an everyday restaurant; however, its Monday dinners happily make it more than a once-a-year, special-event outing. It's also a place where, if you arrive early enough (as in when it opens), you can snag a seat at the compact bar and enjoy a glass of wine and appetizers for a happy hour that's fabulously elevated.
Recommended for Italian because: It's one of the best restaurants in Colorado, period.
Christine's expert tip: Go for the Monday-night wine dinners when the normal four-course meal drops from $78 per person to just $50 per person and specially curated flights of wines are offered for $45 to accompany the meal.
Part of the Bonnano family of restaurants, which includes Mizuna and Luca d'Italia, among others, Osteria Marco stands out in part for its focus on house-cured meats and handmade cheeses. It's also a whole lot more affordable than either Mizuna or Luca, so there's no need to save it for a special occasion--although the restaurant's Sunday special of roast suckling pig is an occasion, indeed. The menu features all of the expected Italian goodies, including panini and pizza, but with surprises such as a short rib panini with caramelized onions and smoked provolone or a fig pizza with speck, goat cheese, fontina, black mission figs and arugala. Definitely not to be missed are Chef Frank Bonnano's house-made burrata and salumis--including wine-cured pork loin, red-wine-cured beef and braised pulled pork.
Recommended for Italian because: Osteria Marco is social and affordable with a delicious take on Italian.
Christine's expert tip: Don't miss the restaurant's signature meat and cheese plate with house-made and imported cheeses and cured pork and beef salumis. And if you've always wanted to try authentic roast suckling pig, make a reservation (well in advance) for any Sunday evening.