According to owner LaDonna Olson, their casual Italian dining establishment, Bella’s Pizza Villa, is “the real back east deal.” And in this writer’s humble opinion, LaDonna and husband Bill are also the ‘real back east deal’ in the best possible sense of the word.
They are from the south side and southwest suburbs of Chicago and spent their early years in and out of family-owned restaurants and pizzerias. After working in the family business for so many years, they always knew they would have a little pizzeria of their own someday. Well, lucky for us, the Olson’s moved to California in 2002, decided to make Murrieta their home and their dream a reality. As far as they are concerned, it has turned out great…and it seems as if the food community agrees. Bella’s consistently wins awards at the West Coast Pizza Championship and was recently awarded 3 Stars by the Southern California Restaurant Writers.
After sampling some of their delicious dishes, I can see why their food has been winning all these awards! Bill comes in each morning to make the dough and sauces from scratch, and the aroma alone is enough to drive you wild. First-time guests are treated to complimentary Garlic Rolls, and I confess that I ate more than my fair share. They are crispy on the outside and light on the inside with melted butter, garlic, oregano and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese – heavenly! The salad featured Homemade Creamy Balsamic Vinaigrette which was perfectly balanced and a little peppery, just the way I like it.
We chose the Meat Lover’s Pizza–is there any other kind? Bella’s offers this and about 10 other specialty pizzas which can be ordered either New York or Chicago Style. I am a die-hard thin crust lover, so only New York style for us, please! The real italian sausage, pepperoni and meat delighted us with flavors of fennel and spice, a perfect compliment to the phenomenal crust and the dusting of oregano. We also sampled a Bella’s Specialty: Penne a la Vodka. The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente, and the slightly spicy creamy tomato sauce was studded with bacon and chunks of tomatoes. I confess that I continued to eat long after I was full; just one more bite! We finished our meal with Cannolis which LaDonna makes fresh to order. The homemade shells and creamy mascarpone filling were a perfect ending to a fabulous meal.
As we ate, LaDonna greeted guests by name and often with a hug. She asked after their regular’s family members and wished our neighboring diner a happy birthday with a lot of love but without a lot of fuss. This is my favorite kind of service: sincere care and concern without being over the top.
On a side note, we noticed that no less than four large catering orders went out the door as we enjoyed our meal. Customers with trays of pasta, salad, pizza and rolls hurried home to feed hungry families. Despite the fact that Bella’s being fairly small, their loyal customers keep them busy with dine-in and take-out orders.
They are casual, family-freindly and have fabulous food–a perfect combination! In the words of LaDonna (Mama Bella), “Come on down and see what you have been missing.” I know that I am glad that I did. As usual, I will have to return to Bella’s many, many more times to sample the other items on the menu that were calling my name. And when I do, I am confident that Mama Bella and Bill will greet me by name, give me a hug and tell me “Mangia, Mangia!”
Bella’s Pizza Villa is located at 25320 Madison Avenue at Murrieta Hot Springs (behind the IHOP) and on the web at www.bellaspizzavilla.com