How to get cheap, great Italian food in the Denver area (by leaving Denver)

Step 1: Go to Lakewood.

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The menu at Café Jordano, 11068 W. Jewell Ave., Lakewood. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

The menu at Café Jordano, 11068 W. Jewell Ave., Lakewood. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

In my five years in Denver, I’ve been on a low-key quest to find the kind of cheap, ultra-casual and delicious Italian restaurants I grew up with. It hasn’t been easy.

A couple places, particularly Trattoria Stella, come close price-wise, but I was still missing a certain feeling you only get in old, family-owned joints. The kind of places where all the staff are related.

I finally figured out how to scratch that itch. (And if you’ve got more or better ideas, let me know: adean@denverite.com.)

Step 1: Leave Denver. Go to Lakewood.
Café Jordano, 11068 W. Jewell Ave., Lakewood. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

(Ashley Dean/Denverite)

There you’ll find Café Jordano tucked away in a strip mall at Kipling and Jewell.

Step 2: Accept the wait. Make peace with it.
Café Jordano, 11068 W. Jewell Ave., Lakewood. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

(Ashley Dean/Denverite)

From what I’ve heard, if you show up to Café Jordano for dinner and don’t have to wait a little while, you’ve hit the jackpot.

We showed up at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday and waited about 15 minutes.

Step 3: Get a bottle of wine.
Good wine choice at Café Jordano, 11068 W. Jewell Ave., Lakewood. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

(Ashley Dean/Denverite)

Any wait for dinner can be improved by approximately 78 percent by some wine. The bar had selections of bottles for $20 and $25. The bottle above was our second

Step 4: Make decisions.
The menu at Café Jordano, 11068 W. Jewell Ave., Lakewood. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

(Ashley Dean/Denverite)

There are a lot of options.

Step 5: Go a little overboard on appetizers.
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We were so hungry we devoured most of the apps before I remembered to take a picture, but here are the remains of some Caprese and crostini. The latter is garlic bread topped with prosciutto and melted mozzarella.

Step 6: Dig in to the main course.
Linguine and mussels special at Café Jordano, 11068 W. Jewell Ave., Lakewood. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

(Ashley Dean/Denverite)

That was the special — linguine with mussels and a pesto cream sauce.

Greg's Favorite at Café Jordano, 11068 W. Jewell Ave., Lakewood. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

Greg's Favorite at Café Jordano, 11068 W. Jewell Ave., Lakewood. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

That one’s Greg’s Favorite — chicken cutlet in spicy red arrabbiata with bacon and mushrooms, topped with cheese.

Pollo alla Firenze at Café Jordano, 11068 W. Jewell Ave., Lakewood. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

(Ashley Dean/Denverite)

That’s the pollo alla Firenze — chicken and fettuccine in a cream sauce with spinach.

Pollo al pomodoro at Café Jordano, 11068 W. Jewell Ave., Lakewood. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

(Ashley Dean/Denverite)

And that’s the pollo al pomodoro — sautéed chicken in olive oil sauce with fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil over pappardelle pasta.

Step 7: Smile at your bill.

It’s $29 per person.