It can be a daunting task to successfully open an Italian restaurant in an area already full of pizza and pasta joints—but that’s exactly what the team behind Sopra Sotto have done in the heart of Vancouver’s Little Italy.
Located on the corner of Commercial Drive and Grant Street, Sopra Sotto brings a fresh, contemporary energy to the neighbourhood’s Italian food scene. The open-concept, 90-seat restaurant is appointed with a sleek palette of greys, brass accents, and plenty of natural light, while jewel-toned benches and a bird-patterned wallpaper add playful pops of colour.
Locals may remember the space as the former home of Caffé Roma—a longstanding institution where Italian-Canadians would gather to play cards, place bets on their favourite soccer teams, and sip espresso. “My grandfather would always come here for coffee,” says co-owner and interior designer Janine Spartano. “It had been here forever, and we were a little sad to see it go.”
While the pastas are sure to please, one would be remiss not to order one of the dozen pizzas on offer—if only for the spectacle.
Spartano and her fellow co-owners chose the name Sopra Sotto, meaning “up” and “down” in Italian, based on the fluctuating nature of luck and as a tribute to the space’s history of gambling. A keen eye will spot another homage to Caffé Roma framed in the top corner of the bar: the asso di denari (or ace of coins), a lucky card bearing two bird heads above a circle, which also served as inspiration for the restaurant logo.
Most compelling, however, is the bustling open kitchen, where executive chef Enrico Fratoni and his team assemble unpretentious plates of pasta and handmade pizza, alongside fresh salads and endless stacks of warm focaccia.
Hailing from Turin in northern Italy, chef Fratoni brings a sense of authenticity and tradition to the table. Pasta is straightforward and wholesome—macaroni is baked with cheese in a creamy cabbage and mushroom sauce, while the radiatori, a short, ruffled type of pasta, is coated in blended chickpeas and sprinkled with paprika bread crumbs. “My grandma used to make it,” says Fratoni. “She would dry chilis and use them to season the bread crumbs.”
While the pastas are sure to please, one would be remiss not to order one of the dozen pizzas on offer—if only for the spectacle. Every seat in the house, from the cushy banquettes to the tall bar stools, offers a view of the grand, wood-fired pizza oven. Watch as pies topped with everything from San Marzano tomatoes and Sicilian oregano to homemade porchetta and spicy Italian salami emerge from the flames, light, crispy, and slightly browned. Should you crave something sweet, the chocolate cake topped with slices of wine-soaked pear makes for a divine finale.
Sopra Sotto, 1510 Commercial Dr, Vancouver.
Photos by Vivian Lau.
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