And we set out to find the best of all of them.
First, though, we set some ground rules that narrowed the field. We decided to focus on places that specialize in pizza above all else. Restaurants like the Greenwich, Bar Dough and Osteria Marco offer damn good pies, but don’t really qualify as pizza joints. And we wanted to make sure that the pies are readily available. While there’s been a proliferation of pandemic pop-ups and non-traditional businesses serving truly craveable pizza, those cravings can’t always be satisfied. Get Sauced and Limbo Pizza, for example, are home-based and offer weekly pick-ups that you can pre-order through direct message on Instagram. Others, like the Funky Flame (at the Radiator in Sunnyside) and Good Bread (at 1515 Madison), have set up shop in physical locations, but only sling pizza on certain days of the week.
Even with those guidelines in place, the pizza debate remains hot. Often the best pizza may be the one closest to you, because when the need for a piping-hot slice hits, it must be satisfied ASAP. Then again, people tend to develop a nostalgic love for the pizza that’s been there for them at important times, whether it’s a slice from the window at the Marquis after a show or a giant pie from Anthony’s that arrives quickly at your doorstep when a snowstorm hits and you can’t bring yourself to leave the house.
Too, while pizza may seem a simple equation — crust + sauce + cheese + toppings — it can also be greater than the sum of those parts. Where you’re eating it, with whom and when can influence its overall appeal. So can a certain amount of alcoholic lubrication.
After sampling a plethora of pies, we came up with ten favorite spots in metro Denver. They all excel at making quality pizzas, but each offers a little something extra, too. In alphabetical order:
2675 13th Street, Boulder
Since October 2015, Audrey Sherman has been slinging gigantic slices (seriously, they’re huge) and whole pies from a small spot tucked away on the back side of a shopping center. Those in the know wouldn’t dare make a trek through Boulder without a pit stop at the Garage, where slices come out hot and fast, and whole pies are offered in a trio of options: New York style, Sicilian and Patty style (a sesame-crusted grandma pie inspired by the ones that Sherman’s mom made for her when she was a child). It was that sesame pie that sparked Sherman’s longtime love of pizza, which led to a mentorship under thirteen-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani before she opened her own place.
Fugeddaboutit! Big Bill’s is the kind of place that sparks instant nostalgia, whether you’ve been going there for years or you’re making your first visit. “Big” Bill Ficke grew up in New York but moved to Denver in the ’70s. He once did a stint as an assistant coach for the Nuggets, and also owned a Fleet Feet shoe store for two decades before opening up his south suburban pizza place — its interior decorated with sports memorabilia and odes to NYC — in 1995. Since then, Big Bill’s has become known not just for its New York-style pies, but also its proclivity for giving back, through both its annual 9/11 Day of Giving fundraiser and the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation, which was established after Ficke’s wife passed away in 2009. Start your meal with an ice-cold bottle of Yoo-hoo, antipasti for two (a huge salad loaded with thick slices of provolone and salami) and a basket of garlic knots with zippy marinara for dipping before turning your attention to the pizza. It’s available whole or by the slice, with whatever toppings strike your fancy (the all-beef meatballs are a fan favorite). Pro tip: Get sides of the super-thick blue cheese and ranch dressings, which are made in-house.
3509 East 12th Avenue
Detroit-style pies, known for their rectangular shape and caramelized cheese edges, have become so popular in recent years that even Pizza Hut has sliced into the trend. Chef Jeff “Smoke” Smokevitch and partner Giles Flanagin introduced the city to the finer points of this regional style when they opened the first Blue Pan in West Highland in 2015. That location has since expanded its dining room, and Blue Pan opened a second outpost in Congress Park, too, making it easier to get your hands on these pies built on an airy, crackly crust with Wisconsin brick cheese, a thick, tangy sauce and premium toppings. Blue Pan also offers a gluten-free pizza, a New York style and a cracker-thin Chicago style.
2239 West 30th Avenue
The 2014 opening of Cart-Driver in RiNo ushered in a wave of Neapolitan pizza in Denver. These perfectly charred wood-fired pies shine whether you opt for a simple margherita (called the Daisy here) or a seasonal creation, loaded with ingredients like clams and pancetta or delicata squash and pecorino. A meal in the tiny, original shipping-container location is an intimate yet lively experience, while the newer outpost in LoHi is a little more spacious and low-key. At either location, Cart-Driver’s selection of oysters and tinned fish are one hell of a good way to start any pizza party.
Jason McGovern opened what was then called Denver Deep Dish in the back of Bar Car in 2012. Over the past decade, a lot has changed in Denver — including McGovern’s business, which moved into its own space in Sunnyside in 2015 and was renamed Crush Pizza & Tap in 2018 to reflect the fact that it does way more than deep-dish now. In addition to its former namesake pie, you can get your pizza gluten-free, hand-tossed or Sicilian style, with a super-light and airy crust that’s akin to focaccia with a deeply caramelized edge. McGovern also opened Crush Wings + Tap on East Colfax Avenue last year, but while that location has pizza on the menu, its oven space is limited, so it only offers 10-inch hand-tossed or 12-inch gluten-free options. For a true taste of what’s made Crush a standout for the last decade, hit up the original, and don’t be scared to try some of the less traditional toppings, such as lemon ricotta with freshly shaved garlic or the hamburger-inspired Royale with Cheese.
Josh Pollack, a New Jersey native, has been on a mission to bring a taste of the East Coast to Denver since opening his first Rosenberg’s Bagels location in 2014. With Famous Original J’s at the 715 Club, he’s given the city a slice window of the highest quality. Yes, you can get whole pies here (both regular and gluten-free), but nothing beats standing under the neon glow of the red “pizza” sign with a cocktail in one hand and a paper plate in the other as you scarf down a hot slice topped with big, perfectly greasy slices of pepperoni — or whatever your go-to topping may be, since there are plenty of options. The sauce leans sweet, the crust has a nice crunch underneath, and the whole experience will leave you feeling grateful for the simple things in life.
Co-owners Julia Duncan Roitman and Andy Templar set out to open a cocktail bar that happened to have pizza, but Joy Hill made its debut just days before the pandemic shut down all indoor dining in March 2020. As a result, it leaned on its pizza to stay in business — and that paid off. Made with such ingredients as heirloom wheat from Dry Storage, locally sourced bison and seasonal produce, and hand-stretched mozzarella made in-house, these pies seriously step it up in the quality department. But the kicker is the char-specked, light and airy sourdough crust, which is wood-fired and best enjoyed with a drizzle of honey or a dunk in green chile ranch. Pair it with a glass of wine (the Lambrusco is an ideal pick) or a cocktail, many of which are made with Colorado spirits. Bonus points for the most adorable pizza box design in town, adorned with a whimsical drawing of a girl sitting among flowers, feeding a slice to a deer.
Steven Redzikowski, co-owner of Oak at Fourteenth, Bellota and Brider, has spent years shaping the fine-dining scene in Boulder and Denver — but his first job was at a pizza place in New York. Now he’s brought his passion for pies to Avanti’s Boulder location, where New Yorkese debuted in late 2020. It’s on the top level, a walk-up stall next to the bar, where you can grab a pie — available whole, in one size only — and enjoy the rooftop views. The style is a cross between New York and Neapolitan, with a dough that’s proofed for 72 hours and made from a blend of freshly milled organic spelt, rye and bread flours; the result is a chewy interior with a crunchy edge. Go basic with pepperoni or cheese, or opt for one of the more interesting combos, like mortadella with pistachio pesto, or the Steverino, with spicy sausage, kale, olives, fresh mozzarella and Wisconsin mozzarella.
Since Zach Parini opened the low-key, no-frills Pizzeria Lui in 2017, it’s gained a lot of loyal fans. While trying to keep up with the increased demand for takeout during the pandemic, Parini made the tough choice to swap out his wood-fired oven — in which he could only make four pies at a time — for an electric version that increased the capacity to fifteen at a time. The result is a pie that holds up better during travel but doesn’t lose any of its charred, Neapolitan-style appeal if you decide to eat in. Another thing that hasn’t changed: Parini’s commitment to using the highest-quality ingredients, like Palisade peaches (when they’re in season) for an ultra-popular summer seasonal pie, and his dad’s homemade sausage, which he’s been helping to make since childhood.
When Spencer White and Alex Figura, the owners of fast-casual pasta hit Dio Mio, started toying with the idea of getting large deck ovens in order to expand their baking capabilities, the concept morphed into a pizza place and Redeemer was born, debuting last July in RiNo. An entry through the back alley marked by a neon slice sign leads to the slice window, where you can pick up one of that day’s specials: New York-style and thick, Sicilian options are both available. In the front dining room, you can order whole pies along with appetizers, wine, cocktails and more. All of the pizza is made on sourdough crust, but Redeemer mixes its artisan approach to dough with classic, craveable components like ooey, gooey, low-moisture mozzarella. Don’t forget to order sides of both the hot honey and dilly ranch.
Is your favorite pizza place missing from the list? Email [email protected].