“Whole fish, over open fire, with cucumber, tomato, cilantro and a ton of lime.”
I asked the team behind Hell’s Kitchen pescatarian restaurant Gloria about their ultimate meal, and for chef Diego Garcia it is, indeed, fish.
The rest of the team chimes in: “Our beans with a sparkling rosé.” “And I’ll bring the mezcal!”
The energy among them buzzes, proving an undeniable connection. After a long journey as self-described “young, little cubs” working in the fine food and hospitality industry, chef Garcia, Phil Johnson and Leland Meibeyer teamed up in 2015 to execute their dream concept: the upscale-casual restaurant that is Gloria, with a menu that features sustainable fish supplied from the Eastern Seaboard.
The restaurant opened in Hell’s Kitchen in March 2017, and since, Gloria has become part of the neighborhood, which is also home to Casa Lula, the Meatball Shop and As Is, a craft beer bar. It was named for chef Garcia’s mother, in a promise he kept to her at the beginning of his career. “Should we continue to open more places,” he says, “perhaps we’ll get to name them for all our mothers!”
Gloria itself is set in the building of an old peanut factory from the 1910s. The light pours in for an undeniably beautiful effect in the space, which I’m told should be best seen at night by candlelight. Their place is intimate and welcoming, as they intended; their hope is for it to become another go-to for the neighborhood locals.
“We never set out for this place to be a checklist restaurant,” says manager and co-owner Phil Johnson, who is also the restaurant’s sommelier. “We’re attempting to take a stand against the expensive. Food and wine should be enjoyed, not worshipped, and available for everyone. If you eat local vegetables, why not eat local fish?”
Leland adds, “Creating something doesn’t always mean re-creating the wheel. We’re hoping to make an elevated sense of affordable and organic food for the masses.”
The menu was conceived with inspiration from both Mexican and Californian cuisine, as chef Garcia was born in Mexico and grew up in Napa. They’re constantly thinking about how to best conceive a seasonal menu that’s in line with their stated mission.
Fifteen dishes are usually offered, many of them gluten-free and ranging from a few guest favorites on the starter menu, such as the octopus with black rice, to their main courses of whole shrimp with hominy, Cortez sauce and Rancho Gordo beans served in a flavorful mussel broth. The wines are natural, with selections from Napa and France.
It’s been a long road for the Gloria team, but some of their proudest moments have been serving the many longtime locals in their neighborhood. “We’re proud of having a vision—a concept and mission—and sticking to it,” says Meibeyer. “It’s been completely gratifying.”