Italian eateries in the United States usually fit in one of two categories. First are restaurants specializing in modern takes on the cuisine, as well as regional specialties from the northern Italian Alps to the southern tip of the boot. Then there are the red-sauce joints serving up Italian-American favorites like chicken parm, meatballs and garlic bread. Metro Denver has plenty of stellar examples of both types — so many, in fact, that this list of the town’s best Italian restaurants focuses on modern Italian eateries, and the red-sauce spots will get their own roster later.

The ten restaurants that made the cut all offer an elevated Italian dining experience full of exciting innovations, house-cured meats, seasonal ingredients, new pasta shapes and downright delicious everything, from the food to the wine to the hospitality. While most ring in on the pricier side and are best suited for a splurge night, after the past two years, we all deserve some indulgence.

Here are metro Denver’s ten best modern Italian restaurants, in alphabetical order:

click to enlarge Pizza is just one of many reasons to dine at Bar Dough. - KAYLA JONES

Pizza is just one of many reasons to dine at Bar Dough.

Kayla Jones

Bar Dough

2227 West 32nd Avenue
720-668-8506
bardoughdenver.com

Chef Russell Stippich took over the kitchen at Bar Dough just before the pandemic put the kibosh on indoor dining, making for a challenging start as the traditionally sit-down eatery navigated food to go. Two years later, Stippich has finally gotten the chance to hit his stride at this LoHi eatery from the Culinary Creative Group, which was once helmed by Top Chef alum Carrie Baird. The only thing better than sidling up to the bar for an Aperol spritz and fried pizza dough hot pocket at happy hour is settling in for a full meal so you can linger over burrata with housemade piada bread, spicy diavolo pizza and crave-worthy pasta. Bonus: Bar Dough also serves an Italian spin on brunch.

click to enlarge Braised veal cheeks with root vegetable hash, orange gremolata and fried garlic chips at Barolo. - BAROLO GRILL/INSTAGRAM

Braised veal cheeks with root vegetable hash, orange gremolata and fried garlic chips at Barolo.

Barolo Grill/Instagram

Barolo Grill

3030 East Sixth Avenue
303-393-1040
barologrilldenver.com

Since 1992, Barolo Grill has served upscale northern Italian fare in Cherry Creek with charm and sophistication — and a generous amount of vintage wine. Ryan Fletter, who worked there for nearly as long as it’s been open, took over from Blair Taylor as owner in 2015 and quickly installed executive chef Darrel Truett in the kitchen, where cutting-edge presentations and techniques have kept the restaurant relevant and rewarding for guests. Fletter has continued the tradition of taking the staff on annual trips to Italy (pandemic aside), and Barolo’s truffle dinner remains one of Denver’s most indulgent culinary nights of the year.

click to enlarge Basta's whole fish with scallop, clams and shrimp. - BASTA/INSTAGRAM

Basta’s whole fish with scallop, clams and shrimp.

Basta/Instagram

Basta

3601 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder
303-997-8775
bastaboulder.com

Chef Kelly Whitaker opened Basta, his first restaurant, in 2010, and has since built a menu based on Colorado meats and produce, a dedication to old-world methods, and freshly milled whole grains from Dry Storage, the company he started with a mission to change the world’s food systems (no small task). From top-notch pizza and puffy loaves of piada to whole fish, nearly everything is cooked in a single wood-fired oven. Basta reopened in January following an eight-month closure, during which the restaurant completed its first-ever remodel, complete with private outdoor yurt and more spacious seating inside.

click to enlarge The pasta is always on point at Coperta. - MOLLY MARTIN

The pasta is always on point at Coperta.

Molly Martin

Coperta

400 East 20th Avenue
720-749-4666
copertadenver.com

Over the past two years, brother-and-sister team Paul and Aileen Reilly closed the beloved Beast + Bottle and opened Apple Blossom in the Hyatt Centric Downtown. Holding steady through it all has been the Roma-inspired Coperta, the eatery they opened in 2016. From the spuzzulia starter that comes with a smattering of chef’s choice bites and the house-baked focaccia to longtime menu knockouts like cavatelli with lamb and beef ragù and fiery Calabrian chile-spiked pollo alla diavola, Coperta is comforting in all the right ways. Especially when you end the meal with a scoop of olive-oil gelato.

Cattivella

10195 East 29th Avenue, #110
303-645-3779
cattivelladenver.com

For years, Elise Wiggins helmed Panzano at the Hotel Monaco. But in 2016, she introduced her very own restaurant, funding the entire project herself. Cattivella, which means “naughty girl” in Italian, reflects her many experiences traveling, working and eating in Italy, and the stories behind each dish are as delicious as the food itself. The wood-fired oven is used for far more than pizzas — think smoke-kissed ribeyes and charred romaine salad — and the pasta is made in-house. One must-try menu staple: the pasticcio, a layered dish made with meatballs, three-cheese tortellini, Bolognese, pomodoro and béchamel, topped with brûléed parmesan.

click to enlarge Agnolotti with mortadella filling at Dio Mio. - DIO MIO/INSTAGRAM

Agnolotti with mortadella filling at Dio Mio.

Dio Mio/Instagram

Dio Mio

3264 Larimer Street
303-562-1965
diomiopasta.com

Sure, when you walk into Alex Figura and Spencer White’s Dio Mio, you place your order at a counter. But the term “fast-casual” does not do this spot justice. Here, pasta is elevated to new levels. The pink-peppercorn-flecked cacio e pepe has become a fixture on the menu for good reason, but things really get fun when the chefs play with seasonal ingredients and new flavor combinations. Nowhere else will you find dishes like agnolotti stuffed with mortadella, fiori filled with chorizo and jet black squid ink tortelli filled with shrimp mousse and swimming in mushroom pho broth. Whatever you order as your entree, though, always start with the housemade sourdough served with prosciutto, stracciatella cheese and balsamic.

Prawns with citrus, Calabrian chili and caper-anchovy relish at Tavernetta. - TAVERNETTA/INSTAGRAM

Prawns with citrus, Calabrian chili and caper-anchovy relish at Tavernetta.

Tavernetta/Instagram

Frasca Food & Wine and Tavernetta

1738 Pearl Street, Boulder
303-442-6966
frascafoodandwine.com
1889 16th Street
720-605-1889
tavernettadenver.com

Frasca has long been considered one of the best restaurants — Italian or otherwise — in not just the state, but the country. Its food is inspired by Italy’s northeastern-most region, Friuli Venezia Giulia, and its front-of-the-house work is also legendary: Frasca has won three James Beard awards, including one for Outstanding Service in 2019. Another winner is the wine program, led by co-founder and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey. Fine-dining restaurants became particularly challenging to keep open during the pandemic, but after shuttering for twelve weeks, Frasca made a comeback and has been thriving under new executive chef Rob Hurd, who took the reins in May 2021. In 2017, Frasca’s sister restaurant, Tavernetta opened behind Union Station, offering a more boisterous and lively foil to Frasca’s more dignified demeanor. Book a table at Frasca for composed plates and perfectly paced tasting menus, or drop in at Tavernetta for a playful jaunt through Italy’s tastiest regions.

click to enlarge Housemade burrata at Luca. - MOLLY MARTIN

Housemade burrata at Luca.

Molly Martin

Luca and Osteria Marco

711 Grant Street
303-832-6600
lucadenver.com
1453 Larimer Street
303-534-5855
osteriamarco.com

House-cured meats are more common in eateries these days, but when restaurateur Frank Bonanno opened his second restaurant, Luca, in 2003, that was not the case. In a quest for the kind of salumi he craved, Bonanno began curing meats in a secret room at his Italian eatery — until a health-department raid put an end to that endeavor. After that, Bonanno opted to work with the health department and became the first (but not last) restaurant in Denver to get approval to cure meats in-house, which he did at his deli Salt & Grinder. You can get a taste of that salumi, as well as housemade cheese like burrata, at both Luca, which remains an intimate, neighborhood staple, and the more expansive Osteria Marco, which Bonanno opened in Larimer Square in 2007.

click to enlarge Sunshine-shaped French onion ravioli at Restaurant Olivia. - RESTAURANT OLIVIA/INSTAGRAM

Sunshine-shaped French onion ravioli at Restaurant Olivia.

Restaurant Olivia/Instagram

Restaurant Olivia

290 South Downing Street
303-999-0395
oliviadenver.com

Pasta perfection: That’s what you’ll find at this Wash Park restaurant from the culinary dream team of Ty Leon, Heather Morrison and Austin Carson. Olivia opened in January 2020 — terrible timing for a fine-dining establishment. But it made it through the pandemic one lasagna to-go at a time, and now it’s back to focusing on what it does best. That means Leon in the kitchen folding pasta into intricate shapes for your wonder and amusement, Carson mixing a cocktail just right for your tastes, and Morrison gliding between tables to check on your every need. From bread to entree to dessert, Olivia executes on all cylinders.

click to enlarge Potato gnocchi with housemade ’nduja and romesco at Spuntino. - SPUNTINO/INSTAGRAM

Potato gnocchi with housemade ’nduja and romesco at Spuntino.

Spuntino/Instagram

Spuntino

2639 West 32nd Avenue
303-433-0949
spuntinodenver.com

Dining at Spuntino is like poetry. In fact, Elliot Strathmann, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Cindhura Reddy, composes playful poems about Spuntino’s new dishes that he shares on Instagram. The couple has been running the intimate eatery since 2014, and took on the challenges of the pandemic with vulnerable honesty. They managed to keep every employee working — quite a feat in an era of mass layoffs — and they continue to require proof of vaccine for anyone who wants to dine in. Here, hand-rolled pastas and braised meats are the stars, and Colorado-raised goat and creamy arancini (sometimes with Hatch chiles) have become signature items. At the bar, Strathmann has amassed a collection of Italian amari, the bitter after-dinner spirits (including several versions he makes himself) that give diners one more reason to linger. In recognition of the couple’s efforts, this year Spuntino joined the ranks of nationally recognized restaurants like Frasca when it was named a semi-finalist for Outstanding Hospitality by the James Beard Foundation.