Ta-da! a new Mexican restaurant has opened in San Antonio.
I’m pausing here for your reaction, which is, unless I’m mistaken, “Are you nuts? How is that news?” But it is, because La Gloria, located in the burgeoning Pearl Brewery Complex, is not your father’s Mexican restaurant. The usual enchiladas and combination plates have been axed in favor of what chef-owner Johnny Hernandez calls the street foods of Mexico. More surprising is that La Gloria’s location is not the predictable, embracing Hispanic West Side but a decidedly more Anglocentric neighborhood north of downtown. That is something worth noting.
The idea for the two-month-old venue evolved over five years as Hernandez traveled around Mexico, seeing how people eat when they’re in a hurry and don’t want to spend a fortune. Anyone for tlayudas (crispy “pizzas” made with giant corn tortillas, pictured)? What about molcajetes (volcanic-rock mortars filled with bubbling stews)? Or sopes (bite-size masa tarts)? Being a practical businessman, Hernandez has also filled the menu with tacos, quesadillas, and tamales. The revelation is that after just one visit, even the “exotic” dishes seem familiar.
When our group arrived, just after noon, the line at the industrial-looking space was snaking out the door. The crowds suggested that Hernandez was more prophetic than he knew (they also indicated a need for a shady waiting area for triple-digit summer days). A greeter handed us detailed menus to read as we inched toward the counter, giving us time to enjoy the artwork on the walls, including colorful hand-carved wooden angels from Guerrero.
Over three visits, the favorites every time were the ceviches, my personal choice being the cucumber-and-serrano-sparked shrimp Nayarit. A close second were the tacos potosinos: rolled corn tortillas filled with a chile pasilla sauce and topped with pan-fried potatoes and snowdrifts of queso fresco. The tlayuda tradicionál reminded me of a big comal-baked chalupa, and like that Tex-Mex staple, it erupted in a cascade of black beans, avocado, and Oaxaca cheese when I bit into it.
We all liked the panucho, filled with refried black beans and topped with moist, near-fluffy cochinita pibil (shredded citrus-splashed pork). But we hit a rough patch with two other meat dishes: the torta de carnitas (with dry, unwieldy chunks of pork on a tough bolillo) and the not-as-tender-as-it-should-have-been stewed skirt steak. Compensating on the latter, luckily, was a flavorful sauce of tomatillos with ancho and pasilla chiles. And speaking of sauces, they’re fantastic, especially the two table salsas: roasted tomatillo and creamy cilantro-avocado.
Given that the menu is almost all small plates, you can plan your intake with precision and thus save room for one of the flans, like the velvety coconut. Since we visited during the day, however, we didn’t try any of the fifteen tequilas or two mescals. A nighttime return is mandatory to assess how authentic the drink menu is, and with any luck, that could take a long, long time. Bar. Pearl Brewery Complex, 100 E. Grayson (210-267-9040). Open Sun, Mon, Wed, & Thur 11—10, Fri & Sat 11—2 a.m. Closed Tue.$$ W+
Try this recipe for Tlayuda Traditiona from La Gloria Ice House, San Antonio.