Author: Lena Nelson
Special to the Valley News
You would never know it driving up to the unlikely storefront of Bella’s Pizza Villa on Madison Ave. in Murrieta, but behind its doors hides Murrieta’s best kept secret and winner of the West Coast Pizza Championship.
The restaurant has been also named one of “California’s Best Restaurants” and placed 11th in an international pizza competition.
“I hear it every day,” says Bella’s Pizza Villa’s owner LaDonna as she discusses new customers marveling at why they haven’t eaten at Bella’s Pizza before. Together with her husband William, LaDonna opened Bella’s Pizza Villa in 2002 and the restaurant will be celebrating its 11th anniversary on Oct. 22, 2013.
“But you would be surprised how many people we can fit in here!” LaDonna points at a long table at the entrance which can accommodate ten people; and the one that the three of us are at in a pinch can seat six.
Understated, “no frills” practical décor lets the food speak for itself. Pizza is this restaurant’s specialty and it comes in two styles. New York-style is traditional thin crust pizza that’s cut into triangles; Chicago-style pizza is thin with no crust around the edges and is cut into squares.
Take your pick from a menu that includes Cheese Pizza, Meat Lover’s, Hawaiian with Ham and Pineapple, Vegetarian, Spinach and Philly Cheese Steak.
“You won’t get a pizza in 10 minutes here, but you will get an awesome pizza!” says LaDonna as she describes the fresh ingredients and care that go into every pizza at Bella’s Pizza Villa. If you are not in the mood for a pizza, Bella’s Pizza Villa also offers an extensive pasta menu with such choices as Baked Ziti, Manicotti, Tortelline and Ravioli.
We started out with a crispy house salad topped with thin slices of onions and drizzled with tangy homemade creamy balsamic vinaigrette dressing. My daughter, who is known as our family’s “resident rabbit” for her un-childlike love of salads, aptly described the potency of the dressing – “this little sensation that swirls on your tongue and makes your taste buds tingle.”
Next were Bella’s Pizza Villa’s garlic rolls – their round swirl shape resembling that of European sweet rolls. Crusty on the outside, topped with parmesan and basil flakes, they reveal their buttery goodness upon the very first bite.
“My husband comes in every morning and makes the dough,” says LaDonna, “and they are butter-free.”
I suspect the flavorful olive oil to be the culprit of their delightful decadence. But you judge for yourself. Also be sure to try their Italian loaves!
We opted for the medium Chicago-style Vegetarian pizza that comes with fresh tomato sauce, just the right amount of mozzarella cheese, onions, olives, and green peppers. My daughter ordered her standard favorite – a small cheese pizza.
When our order arrived, our medium pizza was the size of a typical pizzeria’s large pizza and my husband inquired if our “medium” was really a medium.
“We are from Chicago,” replied LaDonna, “and I hate people going to a restaurant, not minding to pay for a good meal, and then leaving hungry. Here at Bella’s Pizza, if you leave hungry, it is your fault!”
The story repeated itself when the baked ziti arrived – serving sizes here are gargantuan! Penne pasta cooked in tomato sauce, and topped with mozzarella cheese was baked in its dish. The dish, might I add, was filled to the brim, golden brown cheese dripping over the sides. It can easily feed two people!
If you have room for dessert, try Bella’s Pizza Villa’s cannoli! Cannolo means “little tube” in Italian, but, of course, at Bella’s Pizza Villa they are anything but little! This traditional Sicilian dessert comes to you in two rather large tube-shaped crispy shells of fried pastry dough filled with a blend of cheeses and “a whole lotta love,” lightly dusted with powdered sugar. Swirls of chocolate sauce complete this tempting concoction.
“I brought you spoons, since we are in California,” said LaDonna, “but in Chicago we would just pick them up with our hands.”
The restaurant gets fairly busy and at dinner time the tables fill up soon. We came early – at 4 p.m. to avoid the crowds, and within the half hour the tables around us filled up, and there was a steady stream of phone orders coming in. Bella’s Pizza Villa delivers – around Murrieta – to assure your pizza comes to you fresh and hot. So check out their convenient online menu at http://www.bellaspizzavilla.com, call (951) 677-2341 and place your order for pick up or delivery. Also inquire about their catering services.
On Mondays during football games buy one large one topping pizza and get a small one free, plus get beer for $2.00. Monday through Thursday kids eat free (dine-in only).
“Casual Italian Dining at its Finest,” we note the motto on the door as we leave, and I must say, at Bella’s Pizza Villa they definitely know what they are doing!