Past strip malls and bustling thoroughfares on the outskirts of Rancho Santa Margarita is a narrow road that winds to Trabuco Canyon.  The drive from suburbia to Rose Canyon Cantina & Grill takes long enough to make you feel like you could be lost.   Just as you begin to look anxiously for opportunities to make a U-Turn, a little sign off to the side of the road reassures the thirsty that the cantina is just around the corner.


For those of us who reside outside the canyons, a drive to the cantina is a real trip. Nestled beneath towering oak trees, the eatery sits at the edge of a stream where it smells like – get this – nature.  There is something rather charismatic about the dirt parking lot. The bougainvillea growing up the sides of the Spanish-style building and the twinkle lights wrapped around the trunks and branches of the old oaks are equally charming and especially inviting. Rose Canyon Cantina & Grill combines the rich history of Trabuco Canyon and delicious Mexican cuisine.


The restaurant’s history goes back to 1956 when it was first opened by the Beardslee Family. At that time the restaurant was called Beardslee Chuck House Cafe, serving famous hamburgers and home-style fried chicken. In the late 60’s, Wendall Beardslee became ill causing he and his wife to lease the restaurant out. The site soon became known as the Hide Out, a haven for bikers. The star attraction at the Hideout was a beer-drinking donkey that brayed to the sounds of the Grateful Dead.


In 1979, Federico “Lico” Miranda and Gary O’Neal arrived in Trabuco Canyon and transformed the biker hangout into a Mexican hideaway. The restaurant soon became known as Senior Lico’s or as the locals called it, just Lico’s. Shortly after its opening, the restaurant was used as a staging area for firefighters battling a fire on the Cleveland National Forest. In covering that forest fire, a reporter from The Register vowed to return to sample the food. The article in the paper ran on a Sunday morning a couple of weeks later – “looks like a place where cowboys hang up their guns….” The little restaurant, with seating for 49 turned hundreds of people away that day, but history was made. Gary and Lico soon began taking reservations and Lico’s became a destination restaurant overnight.


After 25 years in business Lico suddenly closed, moving to Rosarito Beach. Among those who felt devastated by this turn of events were John and Melanie Cox. It had been their favorite eatery since 1988. For the first month they drove down the hill every three days hoping that they would find the restaurant opened”. Then finally a few months later The Beardslee Sisters, Pat, Wendy and Terri decided to bring back their family legacy and opened Rose Canyon Cantina and Grill, named after the little winding road that leads to it.


Given the Cox’s passion for the restaurant, it’s not surprising that they soon became friendly with the owners of the property the Beardslee sisters. The Cox’s were at the restaurant so frequently that eventually the sisters would join them for dinner. When the restaurant staff would see John and Melanie pull up into the parking lot, they would mix their drinks…….2 margaritas…….1 with salt and 1 without and had them sitting at their favorite table, overlooking the patio, when they walked in. As the years passed and the health of the sisters began to falter, it became increasingly hard for them to manage the restaurant. On February 18, 2005 the Cox’s assumed ownership of the restaurant and opened for dinner that night.


For two longtime regulars and now owners, John and Melanie Cox, it’s much more than a business, it’s their passion. And Customers-both regulars and new visitors-taste that commitment in Rose Canyon’s food, see it in the lovely setting and colorful interior, and feel it in the warm hospitality that so clearly expresses: