Top ten Italian restaurants in Denver

Denver has many great Italian restaurants. As I wrote this week, Mark & Isabella is not one of them. Here are ten of my favorites:

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Il Posto (2011 East 17th Avenue, 303-394-0100). Il Posto has an excellent location, crammed between other bars and restaurants, their patios shoulder to shoulder. The concept is also interesting: a purely and unapologetically Italian trattoria with chalkboard menus, changed daily and almost always brilliant, an open kitchen and a dining room alive with bodies, light and noise. On a good day and with a little luck, a meal at Il Posto can rank among the best that Denver has to offer. And on a bad day, this spot is still a fun place to hang out.

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Luca d'Italia (711 Grant Street, 303-832-6600)
Frank Bonanno doesn't cook anything that's not memorable. What's more, he's fearless. And Luca's menu is designed for gluttonous abandon, arranged for wild flights of pairing and sharing, set up in an attempt to make people eat the way the Italians do -- with several courses of small plates leading up to the entrees. The portions are small, the combinations divine, and while you may get lucky and hit some of the best choices following the old app-entree-dessert structure, it works better just to eat and keep eating until you can't hold anymore.

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Osteria Marco (1453 Larimer Street, 303-534-5855)
Hanging above the entrance to Osteria Marco is a brass pig. You could miss it if you weren't looking for it; as a matter of fact, you could easily miss the entire restaurant -- which is mostly below ground. But in that warm, welcoming basement space, you'll find another gourmet wonderland from Frank Bonanno, full of artisan cured meats, handmade cheeses, beautiful wood-fired pizzas and paninis and salads.

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Venice Ristorante (1700 Wynkoop Street, 303-534-2222)
This second Venice from owner Alessandro Carollo is a beauty: coldly stylish, undeniably luxurious and with a menu that reads like a primer of every good idea the Italians ever had. It's expensive, though not murderously so. It's fancy, though jacket and tie are not required. But most important, this restaurant finally offers a fitting frame within which Carollo, exec Christian Delle Fave and chef Gustavo Amaro can work their wonders with Italian cuisine.

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Cafe Jordano (11068 West Jewell Avenue, Lakewood, 303-988-6863)
Maybe you've heard stories about the little Italian place in Lakewood that won't take reservations because if it did, there'd never be an open table for the neighbors, and where regulars arrive a half-hour before the start of dinner, jockeying for position and counting heads to make sure they'll get a seat. Cafe Jordano is that place. The menu is classic Italian strip mall done phenomenally well by the Heitman family, who have done nothing but that for the past two decades.


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