Restaurant Olivia has the most authentic Italian cuisine in Denver

Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems).

After visiting the motherland of wine, pasta and pizza a couple of weeks ago, I have a new perspective on Italian food.

  • Unlike in the U.S., restaurants in Positano and Rome they don’t overload you with heaping portions of pasta.
  • Cleaning your plate with bread is a requirement, and chefs are offended if you don’t.
  • Fettuccine Alfredo, if even on a menu at all, definitely doesn’t have any cream in it.
  • The quality of a red sauce is dependent on the quality of the tomatoes, and if you’re lucky enough, make sure to try some real San Marzano tomatoes, grown in the volcanic soil near Mount Vesuvius.

Happily, there’s a spot in Denver that can transport me back to my Roman holiday: Restaurant Olivia.

The drink list is similar to what you’d see abroad, with a list of spritzes and negronis to enjoy before dinner, or aperitifs that help whet the appetite. And the sommeliers can walk you through the carefully curated Italian wines, one for every dish on the menu.

The burrata, which owner/chef Ty Leon said is made fresh on a farm in Italy two days before it’s shipped to the restaurant, is just as plump and moist as some of the fresh balls of mozzarella I dug into every day during my trip. And you can enjoy it with steaming fresh focaccia.

Chef Leon’s specialty is his modern take on classic pasta dishes, like the French onion ravioli, which tastes just like a warm bowl of French onion soup. I had a bite of black truffle ravioli in a fine-dining restaurant in Positano that not only brought me to my knees, but also reminded me of the technique and quality that chef Leon serves.

There’s a reason Restaurant Olivia has authentic Italian flavors: Chef Leon takes his entire staff abroad every year so they can taste and see what’s inspiring its menu.

In Italy, the waiters would often speak to you throughout your meal about your day or your trip, and it was a very lively conversation. At Olivia, I saw each of the waiters in deep conversations with the guests at their tables. Before our trip, we got an amazing recommendation from our server, Shane, about taking a tour in Pompeii and visiting a winery near Mount Vesuvius, which ended up being my favorite part of our entire journey.

So don’t mind me next time you walk by Olivia, staring dreamingly out the window facing South Downing Street, pretending like I’m somewhere else.

Restaurant Olivia; 290 S. Downing St., Denver; 303-999-0395;

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