Gioia staff

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three months since chef-owner Luca Ricca, his uncle and partner Salvatore Evangelista, and right-hand-woman to both men, Giada Ingegnoso, landed at The River in Rancho Mirage via their home country to spread joy—or gioia—to desert aficionados of genuine Italian cooking. Personally, I’m just happy to hear that more and more people keep discovering this new Neapolitan bistro. It’s definitely worth repeat visits!

I recently sat down with Luca to catch up, and to find out more about this Italian-born lad of 21, who says he was born with a passion for cooking. “My grandmother taught me everything,” he says, adding that he also used to cook at home in Naples with his mother as a bambino. Eventually going pro in his home town—and then graduating to other Italian cities before coming to America and working as a sous-chef in both New York and Los Angeles—Luca discovered the Palm Springs Valley on a random weekend visit from the City of Angeles. It was love at first sight. “I said, ‘Wow!’ It’s beautiful. I like it!” explains Luca. “I like it more than New York or L.A. It’s the weather, the lifestyle, the lack of traffic. It’s just so much more relaxed.”

And so, he did what any other culinary wunderkind would do: He partnered with Salvatore, moved to Rancho Mirage, and set up Gioia Italian Bistro. Now that the business has stabilized, Luca spends from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon cooking in the kitchen. From four to close he’s in the dining room, talking up customers and making sure everything runs smoothly front-of-house. “I love talking to people,” Luca says. “I love to make them happy.”

Just one of the ways Luca is keeping regulars smiling is with his new happy hour menu, which is served from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., right before the crew segues into dinner. Five varieties of panini served with a side of mixed greens are each just $6.99. Antipasti is $7.99. Salads are $5.99. And to wash it all down, wine and beer are buy one, get the second one half off. Sangria is $4.99. Mimosas are $5.99.

I’ve been making regular visits to Gioia ever since Luca and his team opened their doors. Those doors remain open every day except Monday. There’s free delivery, and take-out, too. Oh, and Luca’s even catered some of my small private parties at home. With Gioia, it’s as simple as eat, stay, love!

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