Red alert: Denver's old-school Italian joints are disappearing

Categories: Review Preview

oldgaetanos.jpg
Gaetano's, pre-renovation.
If you're a relative newcomer -- i.e., not someone with a "Native" sticker on the bumper -- you might be surprised to hear that Highland wasn't always a synonym for "hot, new restaurant." Back in the day, the area once known as Little Italy was full of family-owned restaurants dishing up spaghetti and meatballs, chicken marsala and spumoni to northwest Denver's Italian population -- and anyone else with a car and an appetite.

See also:
- Photos: Last supper at Pagliacci's
- Longo's Subway Tavern reaches the end of the line
- Lechuga's in northwest Denver is famous for its canolis

- Patsy's Italian Restaurant has a rich, colorful, unbeatable history

Then in August, Pagliacci's Italian Restaurant closed after almost seventy years, breaking the hearts of generations of diners who'd swooned over its seven-layer lasagna and other traditional fare. Barely a month later, mourning continued as Longo's Subway Tavern, purported to be the first place in Colorado to serve pizza, shuttered after more than a half-century.

Now, it seems, Denver's original red-sauce institutions can be counted on one hand. There's Patsy's Italian Restaurant, which opened in 1921 and is now owned by a relative of the founder; Carl's Pizza; Lechuga's Italian Restaurant, home of the famous meat canoli; and Carbone's Italian Sausage Deli, which is part-market, part-sandwich shop. Outside city limits, there's Dino's Italian Food in Lakewood and Romano's Italian Restaurant in Littleton.

And then there's Gaetano's. After closing for renovations this summer, the 65-year-old restaurant -- once owned by one of Denver's old crime families, the Smaldones, now owned by another family altogether, BW Holdings, a joint venture of the Wynkoop group and Breckenridge Brewery -- reopened this fall with a new vibe and a new menu.

Is a meal at Gaetano's still an offer you can't refuse? Find out tomorrow when this week's review is posted here. And in the meantime, if you know of other old-school Italian joints around town, let us know in the comments section below.


Location Info

Patsy's

3651 Navajo St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

Carl's Pizzeria

3800 W. 38th Ave., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

Lechuga's Italian Restaurant & Lounge

3609 Tejon St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

Carbone's Italian Sausage Deli - CLOSED

1221 W. 38th Ave., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

Dino's Italian Food

10040 W. Colfax Ave., Lakewood, CO

Category: Restaurant


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21 comments
tooecman
tooecman

I moved away from Denver 7 years ago. Now i live in Belen, NM. 

There is no variety in restaurants here.  They serve fast food and New Mexican food down here. They have Pizza joints here but they aren't real Italians. If you want Italian food, it should be prepared by an Italian. I am going home to visit in a few months and I was telling my friend who is going with me. You haven't had pizza, caIzones, a cold pitcher of beer, or etc.... Subway Tavern And Pizzeria Longo off of Lipan and 38th was a little bit of heaven.

I have been to all the other Italian places in Denver and they are really good, too. Subway was my favorite of them all. I always felt it was home away from home. Broke my heart finding out that they have closed. Been going there as as long as i can remember. I may have been one of it's first customers as an infant when mom took the family there. I can remember being 4 or 5 and having my first canole. Heaven!

Now i am 52 years old and the closest I will get to heaven is only if I die. I don't know why they closed but I feel a part of me has been amputated. All I have now is those memories and trust me not even that is hanging around much these days. So I would like to say fairwell. Thanks for the memories.

alabamasue
alabamasue


I moved away from Denver 7 years ago. Now i live in Belen, NM.  No variety in restaurants here.  They serve fast food and New Mexican food down here. I was just telling a friend that was going with me and all about Subway Tavern And Pizzeria Longo of of Lipan.  Broke my heart that they have closed. Been going there as as long as i can remember. I may have been one of it's first customer as an infant because I am 52 years old. I don't know why they closed but I feel a part of me has been removed. All I have now is those memories and trust me not even that is hanging around much these days. 

dkarmenta
dkarmenta

Gaetano's is ruined. Patsy's is the best if you are looking for reasonable, authentic Italian food.

srtavares
srtavares

Gaetanos is owned by Hickenloopers holdings

srtavares
srtavares

Sad how about The Edgewater Inn. We just got pizza from Carl's last night. Denver and surronding areas are loaded with Italian families that immigrated her. New comers don't know that or care.

BrianMartinez
BrianMartinez

I grew up in Lakewood, and Garramone's has long been a favorite.

Also, aren't Three Sons and Papa J's still around?

Scott
Scott

While I understand the nostalgia, as a recent transplant from the northeast, I doubt many of the other transplants tend to patronize these red sauce places that much. Denver's red sauce joints are mostly stuck in the 1960s. Good Italian food in this country is no longer dominated by a slice of lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, and wicker-basket chianti. The new Gaetano's menu looks much more like what good Italian restaurants, at least in the northeast, are serving, with one red sauce option next to a mix of other traditional and modern Italian entrees and pastas.

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve topcommenter

Carmine Lonardo's on Florida and Wadsworth (Lakewood).

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve topcommenter

Angelo's on E 6th Ave between Pearl and Washington streets.

Eligain
Eligain

Pietra's Pizzeria in Wheat Ridge is old school and has been open since the early 60's. Finelli's Amicis now in Wheat Ridge is very old school. There's also Papa J's in Arvada and Bova's in Westminster and up in Louisville there's the Blue Parrot, the ultimate old school spaghetti house.

reggie
reggie

Bonnie Brae Tavern is old school,pictures on the wall and really good food.  Bent Noodle in Aurora is always decent. Tony Rigatoni's in Morrison...good.  Little Rico's on the corner of Broadway and Old Hampden is a gem with owners and cook from Italy.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

The Saucy Noodle has been open since 1964, according to its website. I don't know how old Genarro's is, but I think it fits the bill of "old-school Italian joint."

barslinger
barslinger

Mama Sannino's - and the Arvada Villa both in Arvada, Three Sons also in Arvada

TheFabulousMarkT
TheFabulousMarkT topcommenter

@tooecman I can definitely sympathize. Next time you come to town let me know and we'll see what we can do about finding more good pie :)

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

@Scott You are one voice among dozens who I have heard claim just the opposite. Every east-coaster I've met in Denver invariably laments the lack of good red sauce joints in town.

As for modern, updated, or regional Italian, it seems like there's really no shortage here, at least considering that this is not a city with a large Italian immigrant community. 

Lucille
Lucille

@Eligain Pietra's has gone horribly downhill.  Had pizza there a few months ago; it was inedible.

Amicis in WR (formerly in Arvada) is always go to.  Not to be confused with the Amici's on 92nd and Wadsworth (ok, last time I was there...which was several years ago). 

Papa Js has never, ever been any good.  Horrible food and even worse service.  And PJs always charged for extra bread.  That should be illegal!

doyle4
doyle4

@Mantonat Yeah Genarro's is the best, even under new management.

Lucille
Lucille

@barslinger 3 Sons originally in NW Denver (2 locations).  None of them really as good as all the other places in NW.  3 Sons fancied itself an upscale verision of the sauce joints.  Premium prices, but I never felt the food was worth that extra $$.

Scott
Scott

@Mantonat Well, now, I can't speak for everyone on the Atlantic seaboard (where some places also have pretty terrible Italian food due to lack of Italians, like much of Washington, DC), but that's my take, and I'd be interested to hear your acquaintances' take on the various red sauce joints that are here in Denver. I imagine there are several good ones, but far too many of the 1960s standbys seem to serve an extraordinarily limited and bland menu of red sauce or alfredo sauce and boxed pasta. With menus like that, chances are you can do better with a box of Barilla and a jar of any premium sauce at King Soopers. I would advocate for picking up a loaf of fresh Italian bread at one of the Italian bakeries and a cannoli--the Italian bakeries in Wheat Ridge I've found to be quite good.

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