Whats up with Rancho Santa Margarita? Its as if the city founders rushed to build all these expensive homes and forgot that people need good places to eat. So out of this haste to develop strip malls, chain food outlets dot the RSM landscape like a rash of measles. Wheres a deep South County chowhound supposed to eat?
Amid the roster of national and regional chains, I can probably count the independent restaurants in RSM on one hand. Opah, as far as I can tell, is a pretty room with good drinks and so-so food, where people conduct lurid affairs with their tennis instructors, golf coaches and Pilates instructors. Wood Ranch BBQ is Tony Romas dressed in Western pretense that parboils their ribs and mislabels their food barbecue for the unsuspecting. These are both regional chains, I know, not independent restaurants. Theres Trabuco Oaks steakhouse, which I havent tried yet. Someone from this part of Orange County, please correct me on my (mis?) perception and tell us about some good local places to eat.
One independent place I tried recently is Selmas Chicago Pizzeria. For the sake of disclosure, we went there because Gurlfren knows the owners. Ordinarily, Im not a fan of deep dish pizzas, but I liked theirs. We got an order of Nut Another Fried Cheese Cheese and a medium Veggie Special pizza w/ green pepper, black olives, onions, and mushroom. Yes, wacky names and bad puns pepper the menu.
The fried cheese appe-teaser of provolone wedges coated in panko breadcrumbs and macadamia nuts is a very tasty homemade departure from the usual gummy mozzarella rods. On the side is a ramekin of marinara, flecked with lots of dried herbs.
I liked their pizza because it defied the deep dish dictum that the bottom of the crust must be exceedingly greasy. Selmas also isnt afraid to bake at high temperatures, so the crust was pleasantly dotted with dark spots and crunchy bits of toasty cheese. I recall eating pizza in the Chicagoland area with sauce on top of the other ingredients. Someone from Chicago please comment: is sauce-on-top traditional? Selmas does not follow this model, and lays a very spare amount of sauce atop the dough. This light coating kept the top of the crust from getting that wet doughy consistency, which I dont care for.
Extra bonus points for serving Thomas Kemper root beer on tap.
One area they can improve on is the service from their young employees. We had an apparently new counterman who was distracted by a troublesome register and wasnt listening to our order. But these sorts of problems work themselves out, dont they?
Based on these two items, Id gladly go back and try their other offerings. From the marketing flak on the back of their take out menu: Grandma Selma made everything from scratch using only the freshest ingredients. It may or may not be 100% so in the grandsons kitchen. Still, its an honest effort at good home made food, and considering the corporate chain alternatives, Id make this place my top choice when Im in the area. They also have a Monday night football special with 25 cent wings.
I know theres hope for RSM, Coto de Caza and the surrounding bergs. The tiny RSM farmers market had some interesting vendors last time I was there (months ago), including a guy who sells lychees and lychee saplings. This guy also brings his veggies to market in an ice chest. Hopefully, with more passionate people like this, an independent food scene will take root in an otherwise chain-dominated town.
Selmas Chicago Pizzeria
30461 Avenida de las Flores Suite B
Rancho Santa Margarita