Driving down the main street in Santa Margarita, it’s easy to miss The Range. But don’t. Inside that small, unassuming building with no sign there is magic happening.
Once inside, it would be easy to mistake The Range’s cowboy charm as hokey. The wait staff mostly wears Wranglers, there’s classic Country music coming softly out of tinny speakers and the walls are adorned with old western photos and memorabilia. You’ll soon figure out that the ambiance is legit. It’s not an act, it’s who they are.
Oh, and the food, it’s legit too. Much of it is locally sourced and cooked just right. The menu includes vegetarian dishes, local organic pasta and, of course, great steaks. Besides beef, you’ll often see lamb and elk on the menu.
On a recent visit the entre specials were sand dabs, prime rib and fried chicken. Soup of the day was potato leak.
I chose the California lamb shank, which was fall-off-the-bone tender and came with a very nice syrah pan jus. My wife opted for the prime rib. It was tender and well-seasoned, accompanied by a house-made horseradish crème if you want to kick it up a notch.
Our friends ordered the pan roasted elk medallions and the fried chicken special. The elk came thinly sliced in a Montmorency cherry bordelaise. The chicken – well, it’s legendary. Some Range regulars never order anything else. Many Range dishes come with seasonal vegetables and their delightful garlic mashed potatoes.
There is no kid’s menu, but don’t be afraid to ask the kitchen for something special. Our son always has them make a personal pizza with thin crust, bacon, mozzarella and fresh marinara. He knows to save a little piece for me.
For dessert, there are after-dinner drinks and espresso. The lemon pound cake with berries and fresh cream is delicious, but I always try to save room for the “hillbilly pie”. That’s a chocolate pecan pie on a an impossibly flakey crust.
The Range has a full bar. Beers are always in a bottle and are called “barley pop” in true Range style. The wine list isn’t huge, but you’ll have no trouble finding a nice pairing.
Service is consistently good at The Range. Most of the servers have worked there for years and are friends or family of the owners. My favorite is Demetrius, the Greek guy in the cowboy hat.
Count on The Range for a great meal and a unique environment. It’s well worth the drive over the Grade. If you are a first-timer, allow me to share 3 helpful tips…
- Cash is king. The Range doesn’t take credit cards. They’ll take local checks.
- Layer a bit. Most of the seating is outdoors. They have shade, fans, heaters and curtains to keep it comfortable, but it’s always a good idea to be ready for changing temperatures.
- Get there early. Thanks to internet review sites, The Range is no longer a North County secret. Getting there right at 5pm when they open is a smart way to go. They are closed Sundays and Mondays.