Armed with recipes from their Sicilian family members, Larry and Rose Lepley opened their first Mama Rose’s Pizzeria in Huntingdon Beach in 1976—partly with the help of kids from the neighborhood, who cleaned and painted in exchange for pizza. After the unassuming restaurant began to win local awards, the Lepleys and their five children opened a second location. Their son Joe eventually took over the business, moving the bustling pizza joint to Murrieta, where it continues to serve the same family recipes it has since the beginning. Mama Rose's took first place in the Press-Enterprise's 2012 Readers' Choice Awards for Best Slice of Pizza—a slice available with a traditional sturdy Sicilian crust or with a gluten-free base. In addition to meatballs, sausage, and olives, diners can also add ingredients such as breaded eggplant, cashews, and salami.
Beyond pizza, there are toasted sandwiches, pasta dinners, and breadsticks topped with house-made garlic butter and kisses blown from an Italian grandmother. A more recent additiion to the menu is a selection of wines from Leoness Cellars in Temecula, chosen to pair well with such desserts as a sticky apple pizza and New York–style cheesecake.
At Maxx Pizza Co., the staff members aren't the only cooks in the kitchen. Every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., kids get in on the pizza-making process with a kitchen tour and the chance to build their own personal pizza for lunch. The family-friendly restaurant's kids' menu also features chicken nuggets and spaghetti to feed hungry youngsters after they play in the game room.
Flat-screen TVs, like the paintings covering the holes Napoleon punched into the Louvre's walls, are mounted on the wall, and they light up with local games while diners split gourmet pies. Hand-tossed regular crusts or gluten-free crusts form the foundations for freshly made pizzas such as Paul's pesto with artichoke hearts and fresh garlic or the thin-crust bruschetta pie with olive oil, tomato, basil, and balsamic vinegar. Chicken-wing appetizers dipped in housemade spicy sauce pair with sandwiches served open-faced on garlic bread.
Xiomara Hall has been described as a "fast-talking woman with the giant personality and charm to match her even bigger foodie swag" by Inland Empire Weekly critic Nancy Powell. Hall comes by her culinary skills honestly—born in Puerto Rico, she was raised with the Caribbean flavors of her family's tropical cooking. When she moved to the United States, she soon discovered southern barbecue. Heavily influenced by the melding of these two worlds, she gives a taste of her personal history to diners each day at Tropical BBQ. "My life story is in that jerk sauce," Hall says of one of her five mojo sauces.
These sauces—including chimichurri (basil), spicy jerk pineapple, and jalapeño relish—add the finishing touches to plates that fuse the flavors of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, St. Croix, and the American South. Hall pairs slow-cooked beef brisket, pineapple-jerk chicken and Puerto Rican pasteles with sides such as yucca fries or rice and beans. Her juicy ribs and tri-tips arrive fresh from the smoker to pair up with tropical refreshments including passionfruit juice, pineapple soda, coconut water, and mango juice.
Walk roughly five minutes west of the beaches of Capistrano Bight and you’ll find Surfside Pizza. There, charmed by the not-too-distant sound of the waves, chefs spend their days pounding out dough for a hearty assortment of hand-tossed pizzas. Most of it goes toward making the eatery’s 30-inch pie—aptly named “The Big One”—that can be topped with everything from simple cheese to specialty ingredients such as barbecue chicken or homemade meatballs and mushrooms. In addition to pies, the chefs also craft scratch-made favorites including sub sandwiches, calzones, and cinnamon-sugar donuts drizzled with chocolate from Willy Wonka’s infinity pool.
Crushed tomatoes and a special blend of spices underpin the secret sauce that gets slathered on every pie at Stuft Pizza. The dough is made by hand from unbleached wheat flour, then strewn with quality meats and cheeses. The chefs have been at this since 1976, and to this day they're still busy churning out pizzas along with wings and lasagna. To wash it all down, customers can sip private-label ales brewed by Firestone Walker.
The original New York?style pizzas at Times Square New York Style Pizzeria begin with a hand-tossed crust. Then, the chefs cover the disc with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and oregano?a simple combination that yields a flavorful punch. Of course, the pizza chefs don?t shy away from piling on the toppings, with such specialty pies as the bacon double cheeseburger and the tropical hawaiian. Pies can be made gluten free for those with allergies or sensitivities, and toppings can be stuffed into calzones for those with a fear of triangular foods. Staffers serve draft beers by the pint glass, pitcher, or thimble.