After more than a year of just slinging suds and sangrias, Rosalina is finally serving its soulful spin on Mexican food in Santa Margarita.
Since the El Camino Real location lacked any cooking area, Rosalina opened only as a bar in July 2017 while new kitchen amenities got shoehorned into place. The full menu started in September 2018, much to the delight of patient patrons who had already gotten a taste of the fresh housemade chips and salsas.
This new venture was developed by Jeff and Lindsay Jackson, owner-operators of The Range restaurant just across the street. Rosalina bears Jeff’s mother’s first name, and both the menu and décor are vibrant nods to her Mexican heritage.
Inside Rosalina’s casual interior, Lindsay Jackson and daughter Audrey Jackson have created a vibrant feast for the eyes. An assemblage of sombreros splashes across one wall, while festive Mexican accessories are tucked into nooks and crannies and several of Audrey’s imaginative paintings hang throughout the space.
To take it all in, grab a seat at the bar or settle into one of the booths fashioned from old church pews.
A fenced outdoor patio in back will be getting much more use with spring and summer on approach, especially when brunch service starts sometime in the coming months.
Most of the recipes for Rosalina’s focused menu come from Jeff Jackson’s mother, who he calls from time-to-time for advice.
The ultimate translation of the cuisine to the plate is a combined effort of Jackson, manager Jono Kinkade, sous chef Shane Somerville and chef Micky Lopez.
Lopez is a veteran of several local restaurants, including Artisan in Paso Robles and Robin’s Restaurant in Cambria.
Rosalina does serve Mexican food, but don’t expect to choose from a sprawling tome of combination plates. The menu is one page, and that’s all you need here.
Jackson describes Rosalina’s cuisine as “barrio soul food, rich flavors from poor countries.” Think elevated street food, then set the bar higher.
Everything is made from scratch when possible and very little is wasted. It’s an approach that mirrors how Jackson grew up; he was raised on three acres in a small Southern California town, having to utilize everything the land provided to his family and neighbors.
Appetizers at Rosalina include a broiled three-cheese dip with blistered poblano chiles, housemade escabèche (pickled vegetables such as cauliflower and carrots) and heaping nachos made with fresh tortilla chips.
Nachos with seared yellow fin tuna and crispy wontons are also available, as are quesadillas with your choice of tomatoes, grilled chicken or house-smoked pulled pork.
A robust tortilla soup made with Mary’s organic chicken is one of the most popular dishes, as are bolillo sandwiches — made with roast beef or pulled Berkshire pork — and served with a house salad.
Ask about the daily plato de azul (blue plate special) that hits the menu about mid-afternoon. Recent favorites have included hearty chilaquiles topped with a fried egg, as well as carnitas street tacos with crispy smoked pulled pork confit. (The confit treatment is a classic French technique, a nod to Jackson’s culinary training.)
To pair with Rosalina’s interpretation of Mexican fare, Kinkade has assembled a thoughtful lineup of beer and wine. The eight taps predominantly feature local craft brews, plus Modelo from Mexico.
The wine list offers a few Spanish imports and local wineries that showcase Spanish varietals such as albariño and tempranillo. Kincaid also crafts a tropical white sangria and a more traditional red version.
“We’re getting the best ingredients we can get and preparing them simply,” Jeff Jackson said. “We’re having a lot of fun with the food but paying attention to every detail, even with something as basic as nachos.”
22302 El Camino Real, Santa Margarita
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. (The kitchen may close early some evenings.)
The scene: A casual spot with festive Mexican décor; indoor and outdoor seating available.
The cuisine: From-scratch, Mexican-inspired street food. The menu offers starters, salads, sandwiches and specials; beer and wine are available.
Expect to spend: Starters $6 to $15, other items $15 and under. Specials are market price.