If you’re craving traditional dishes straight from a longstanding Portofino family or you’re in the mood for familiar Sicilian favorites, Denver has an Italian restaurant for you. These eateries serve up authentic dishes and equally delicious cocktails and glasses of wine. Begin with a classic caprese salad or marinated olives before diving into a handmade bowl of pasta or a delectably roasted rack of lamb.
The best authentic Italian food restaurants in Denver
Where? 955 Lincoln Street D
If you’re in search of quality Italian in Denver, DiFranco’s is a restaurant that makes a lot of lists. This quiet locavore cafe specializes in using seasonal ingredients to craft freshly made pastas and old-world fare. Open during the week from 4 PM to 9 PM and on the weekends beginning at noon, you can stop in and grab an authentic dish for lunch or dinner. Each day, happy hour runs from 4 PM to 6 PM, with an all-day special on Thursdays. DiFranco’s stands out from the competition by being the first farm-to-table quick-service restaurant in the Mile High City. They have continued to rely on local farms for their proteins and many of their fresh ingredients.
Current specials running at DiFranco’s include the roasted beet salad with goat cheese, arugula, and a balsamic dressing and the pizza logs, which wrap up all of your favorite classic flavors in a wonton shell. If you want to surprise that special someone, treat them to an Italian date night (available only on Wednesdays) that includes two entrees, two salads, two cannoli, and a bottle of house wine!
PRO Tip: DiFranco’s also provides catering services, with a full catering menu available on their website. Whatever event you’re hosting, you’re sure to impress your guests with an array of small bites, pasta, and of course — dessert!
Where? 2601 Larimer Street
Il Posto believes in the “complicated simplicity” of authentic Italian fare. If you’re in search of an elevated dining experience with excellent food and wine offerings, look no further than this Larimer Street favorite. Happy hour runs between 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM every day, with dinner running until 8:30 PM.
The dinner menu begins with a charcuterie selection and features a range of authentic pasta dishes, such as gnocchi, bucatini, and risotto. The steak tartare is paired with fried focaccia and the pressed chicken features a salsa verde and an eggplant bell pepper caponata. The Italian restaurant’s signature cocktails feature a Woody Creek espresso martini, a Ken-Tiki with Old Forester bourbon, and a refreshing and spicy Poli-Amorous with mezcal, Aperol, and hot sauce. For dessert, save room for the dark chocolate mousse with espresso bark and a mocha sauce or the vanilla crème brûlée served with flaming caramel and a classically burnt sugar crust.
PRO Tip: From time to time, Il Porto hosts dinner events featuring their spectacular wine selection and thoughtful cuisine. Keep an eye on the restaurant’s calendar to snag your spot for the next date.
Where? 400 East 20th Avenue
Those unfamiliar with the Italian language may not realize that Coperta is Italian for “blanket.” This is exactly what the restaurant strives to provide when you walk through its doors — a warm and welcoming experience. Serving up authentic Southern Italian dishes, ingredients are sourced seasonally to provide the freshest flavors. The antipasti selection on the dinner menu includes the daily-baked focaccia, Sicilian chickpea soup, and a salumi board. Grab an order of the cavatelli ragu with braised lamb or the tortiglioni with swordfish and a spicy tomato caper sauce.
Coperta is also excited to announce that they’re open for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30 AM to 1:30 PM. The brunch menu features a Coperta Bloody Mary with your choice of vodka, gin, tequila, or whiskey, mimosas, and an upside-down latte mixed with french toast rum, coffee whip, and your choice of milk. Try the Pichiappo breakfast sandwich with braised beef and rosemary potatoes or the prosciutto Benedict with a chive hollandaise and a side of fruit.
PRO Tip: Anyone looking for a fun evening out should check out Coperta’s Uptown Hour, between 8:00 PM and 9:00 PM Monday through Thursday. This late-night happy hour features $5 tap wine and a popular BOGO deal on select pasta dishes.
Where? 2600 East 12th Avenue
Despite the seemingly on-the-nose name, this Italian joint in Denver is serving up complex and inspirational flavors. Those seeking a bite of authentic Italian American cuisine should head over to Denver’s Congress Park for a taste of the old country in a cozy and welcoming neighborhood setting. Begin your experience with an order of tomato bruschetta with roasted peppers, onions, and olives or a capers burrata salad with a balsamic reduction.
Shells and Sauce provide gluten-free pasta options, allowing them to accommodate as many Italian fare-loving Denverites as possible. Try the classic spaghetti with homemade marinara and your choice of meatballs or flavorful Italian sausage or the homemade lasagna with ricotta, baked parmesan, and mozzarella. Craving a pizza instead? The wild mushrooms and spinach are topped with fresh herbs and the simple and extraordinary Margherita features fresh garlic oil.
PRO Tip: Those looking for an extra special meal at Shells and Sauce can request a reservation to be seated in the enclosed second-story room, which is surrounded by windows and provides exceptional views of the neighborhood. The restaurant requests that you limit your dining to 90 minutes, allowing them to serve the next reservation promptly.
Where? 2639 West 32nd Avenue
Spuntino thrives in Denver as a chef-driven restaurant and a passionate team that’s dedicated to high-quality service and even higher-quality food. The restaurant has been recognized by multiple publications over the years and should be on any Denver foodie’s bucket list. The dinner menu features thoughtful appetizers, such as the house-marinated olives and the freshly baked focaccia paired with an Origin Guernsey milk ricotta. Try the revolving daily pasta special or one of the tried and true dishes, such as the 36-layer lasagna or one of the many hand-rolled, hand-cut, or hand-pinched pasta creations.
Those who want to skip the carbs and get straight into the perfectly cooked proteins can opt for the Maiale with spiced tomato braised pork cheeks or the brick chicken with cipollini onions and Brussels sprouts. Whatever you choose to order, you’re sure to sit back and wonder why you haven’t visited sooner. If you have room left over, the panna cotta with a cardamom caramel and a pistachio-almond streusel will have you writing home and the gelato selection is perfection.
PRO Tip: Spuntino closes for their annual holiday break for the second half of December. Make your reservation at the very end of the month or in the new year to get a taste of their delicious menu to see what all the rave reviews are about.
Where? 1453 Larimer Street
Referred to as the “Little Italy” of Larimer Square, Osteria Marco is a favorite of many foodies and Italian food lovers around the city. They’re “kind of famous” for their burrata, which is made daily and served with a side of grilled bread for dipping, spreading, or really, whatever you want! The chef’s combo shouldn’t be skipped, as it includes a selection of meats and cheeses that help to prime your palate for your upcoming meal. Whether you’re in the mood for pizza, pasta, or chicken parm — Osteria Marco has you covered and will blow you away with their perfect sears, al dente noodles, and wood-fired crusts.
The Artisan pizza is topped with goat cheese, an olive tapenade, and roasted red peppers and is just simple enough to allow the ingredients to really shine. The lamb meatballs are made with Colorado lamb and include a creamy polenta and a smoked tomato brodo. If you want to try something new, order the lobster taglierini with squid ink pasta and a white wine lemon butter. The dessert menu shouldn’t be forgotten, either, with a classic tiramisu, a traditional cannoli, and an after-dinner pick-me-up of fresh espresso and house gelato.
PRO Tip: If bottomless mimosas and exciting entertainment are up your alley, check out Osteria Marco on Sundays at 11:00 AM for a drag brunch. Guests can sing along and play bingo while they enjoy the outdoor bar and all of the brunch favorites.
Where? 1135 Bannock Street
Lo Stella Ristorante hails as being the oldest, most successful family-owned restaurant in Portofino, Italy. In operation for over 175 years, now Denver gets to have a taste of this success and the authentic flavors that have paved the way. The Denver-based location is led by an 8th-generation family member, Alessandro Polo. The current menu selection includes mouth-watering delicacies such as clams in a white wine sauce, Prosciutto Di Parma, and fresh burrata and of course, the classic yet delicious caprese salad drizzled with EVOO. Main plates feature a lamb ragu, homemade fish ravioli, and fresh pasta topped with grandma’s bolognese sauce recipe.
The cocktail list includes familiar drinks, as well as some that you’ve maybe never heard of. Sip on an old fashioned, a Campari spritz or try the Chambord Bramble or the Italian 75 mixed with Hendricks Gin. Once diners have enjoyed a meal, they’ll see what makes Portofino stand out from Tuscany or Sicily and why this establishment has had so many years of success.
PRO Tip: At Lo Stella Ristorante, there is only one request — that you don’t request Alfredo sauce, meatball spaghetti, or chicken in your pasta. They’re “Italian for real” so these requests won’t fly!
Where? 603 East 6th Avenue
Odyssey was founded in 2012 and since then, has built a reputation around being one of Denver’s most authentic Italian restaurants. The eatery is set in a Victorian-style home, giving it a unique character all of its own. Chef Ignazio Mulei and his son, Michele, are excited to present diners with a trip to the old world. Both indoor and outdoor seating are available, depending on the season. When you’re making reservations, make a note of your preference if you have one.
On the Antipasto menu, diners can choose from an array of Italian bites such as the fried arancini filled with risotto or the Italian calamari finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon and garlic salt. The pasta menu has something for every palate, including the fettuccine Alfredo, the spaghetti with meatballs or sausage, and the jumbo shells Florentine. Try a Sicilian specialty, such as the veal braciole or the Colorado rack of lamb served with roasted potatoes and asparagus.
PRO Tip: Odyssey is closed on Saturdays and open for dinner service the rest of the week from 4:00 PM to 10:00 PM. This homely restaurant is the perfect place to celebrate an intimate meal or enjoy a relaxed night out in the Mile High City.
Where? 1889 16th Street Mall
Denver’s Union Station is the place to be for fresh handmade pasta and Italian-directed wine and spirits. Known for its world-class hospitality, Tavernetta is brought to Denver by the James Beard award-winning group at Frasca Hospitality. The daily happy hour runs between 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM, with a lunch menu being offered on weekdays. On the weekend, only dinner service is run and there is walk-in availability for patio, lounge, and bar seating.
The lunch menu includes an offering of two courses for $35, with an optional half-glass wine pairing for an additional $20. Choose from the soup of the day or a light salad and your choice of pasta, seafood, or even a vegetarian risotto with oyster mushrooms. If you want to imbibe during dinner, try the Venetian spritz or the classic and refreshing gin & tonic. End your meal with an order of gelato, which comes in flavors such as Colorado honey, chai, and caramel apple, or the winter citrus mousse dessert with Sicilian pistachio.
PRO Tip: There is a valet parking option at the Limelight Hotel, which is $15 with validation. Self-parking options include the nearby Wynkoop parking garage and the Park Union Station garage. Note that when the Rockies are playing at home, some of the surrounding garages function as event parking with game day rates.