The New Jersey Italian Restaurant That’s A Must-Try In 2022

Sofia's Bar and Main Dining Room

Frank Mosca

From New York to just over the George Washington Bridge in Englewood, New Jersey: Sofia, a farm to table Italian steakhouse complete with a sexy cigar bar and lounge, is the most happening restaurant in Northern New Jersey. So much so that I would— and in fact do—leave New York, where there are no shortage of buzzy spots, to spend my Saturday night here.

Let’s start with the setting: Sofia is chic to say the least and has several spaces for you to enjoy your time. They’re each unique but all appealing. The main dining area features airy ceilings, mirrored walls, and handsome flooring. And I can’t forget the impressive-looking bar (more on that later) stocked with so many spirits that it reaches all the way to ceiling. In the back, a garden room has a retractable roof, hanging plants, and a black and white patterned floor— it’s the epitome of indoor/outdoor dining.

Sofia's Indoor/Outdoor Garden Room Complete with a Retractable Roof

Frank Mosca

Downstairs, there’s a handsome cigar and speakeasy style lounge featuring a top of the line ventilation and air filtration system. Places in New Jersey where you can smoke indoors are few and are between, but this happens to be one of them and has a devoted clientele as a result. Come here for the rare cigars, hard to find whiskies and bourbons, and crave-worthy steaks.

Sofia’s lower level also has an 80-seat heated pergola that owner Eddy Sujak built during the the pandemic and feels like a hideaway of sorts with its subterranean setting.

Sofia's Incredible Spirits Selection

Frank Mosca

Now, back to the bar because, really, who doesn’t like to imbibe, even if it’s with a non-alcoholic cocktail? Sofia, hands down, has the best bar in the state— maybe even in the Tri-State- with a staggering lineup of 900 spirits that span from impossible to source tequilas (Clase Azul’s Day of the Dead anyone?) and whiskies (Yamazaki 18, yes I can) to artisanal vodkas and an incredible selection of wines from the affordable to the extravagant. The cocktail list is incredibly creative— is it the Seductress you’ll have with lemon vodka, peach, lemon juice, and Lillet blanc shaken? Or are you more a No Money, No Honey person because you like the combination of tequila, spicy honey, lime, pineapple, and mole bitters?

Places as glamorous and scene-y as Sofia with good looking customers to boot usually don’t bother to pay much attention to the food— it’s an afterthought instead of the main event. But eating at Sofia is a highlight. The ingredients in the Italian dishes are top of the line and comparable in quality to what you would find at a two or three Michelin starred restaurant in New York.

Sofia's Whole Roasted Branzino with Cherry Tomatoes and Olives

Frank Mosca

The current chef Emanuele Cipolla hails from Sicily and sources caviar from a farm in upstate New York, red shrimp from southern Sicily, a first-press olive oil from Puglia, and seafood from all the Mediterranean.

His menu travels the Italian map. It’s the perfect combination of indulgent and Mediterranean-style clean— my meat loving kids have plenty to pick from while the seafood fan healthy eating me has more choices than I know what to do with. Appetizers include an addictive fritto misto with zucchini, calamari, and artichokes, octopus with cherry tomatoes, olives, and peppers, and a lineup of salads— the centocolori with frisee, radicchio, avocado, mozzarella, and more is my top pick.

Entrees feature plenty of seafood such as the salmon in a mustard sauce with squash noodles and an oven roasted branzino with fresh vegetables. But look out for specials as Sofia offers them almost everyday (a wild Dover sole, for example, or jumbo scallops simply seared).

Sofia's USDA Prime dry-aged steak

Frank Mosca

Then there are the familiar dishes that we all know and love: a solid chicken parmigiana orMilanese, a linguini vongole, and the killer USDA prime dry-aged steaks, from the 8 ounce filet mignon to the porterhouse for two. Sides such as sauteed spinach, shishito peppers, mac and cheese, garlic mashed potatoes, and many more round out the culinary experience

Save room for desserts- they’re all made in-house with the best chocolate, nuts, and other ingredients that Cipolla can source. With choices such as the warm chocolate cake with vanilla gelato, cannoli with pistachio and chocolate chips, and a creme caramel with caramelized sugar, they’re worth it. Just like a visit to Sofia is worth it. And if you go once, you’ll go again and yet again. Soon, like me, be a regular.

Q&A with Sofia’s Executive Chef Emanuele Cipolla

Sofia's Executive Chef Emanuele Cipolla Hails from Taormina, Sicily

Frank Mosca

The Taormina, Sicily-born chef shares his insider tips on his island and gives us a look at his menu.

How does your Sicilian background influence your cooking?

Due to the influence of so many foreign cultures and peoples, Sicily has an incredibly impressive culinary repertoire of foods and wines. This diverse foundation has been a pillar of strength in my career as an Executive Chef

What typically Sicilian ingredients find their way into the dishes at Sofia?

I often use red Mazara shrimp, baked and cured ricotta, pistachio di Bronte, saffron, wild fennel, sardines, and sea urchin Some of my recurring specials are Sicilian swordfish rolls, pasta con sarde, panelle (fried chickpea polenta), cous cous, and red tuna crudo. 

Can you tell us some of the dishes you’ve added on the menu since coming to Sofia?

First and foremost, the cannoli. I could not even think to have these missing from our menu!  That said, having the proper ricotta to make them was very difficult. Thankfully, I found an importer that made my dream a reality and has been delivering fresh ricotta to Sofia every week.

Another dish that I am very proud of is ravioli alla Norma, where the traditional Norma ingredients (fried eggplant, tomato sauce, basil and cured or baked ricotta) are treasured in hand made ravioli.

Why should we visit Sicily? What does it have to offer as a destination?

Sicily is a spectacular island rich in historic monuments, enchanting beaches, architectural treasures, breathtaking nature paths, important archeological sites, exquisite cuisine, and amazing art. While the island is very welcoming to everyone, we have maintained the integrity of our culture.

If you could bring back one souvenir from Sicily, what would it be ? 

There are so many things I wish to take with me, but for sure I will always bring traditional ceramics, especially the Testa di Moro from Caltagirone.