Restaurant review

Gugu Hall on the Lower East Side

There are plenty of bars on the Lower East Side. The restaurants too. It’s easy to wander around all evening looking for a place that feels good. But it’s easier to make a reservation at the Gugu Room on Orchard Street and spend that saved time on sips and kebabs.

Gugu Hall opened in May with promising press materials New York’s first Filipino-Japanese izakaya. Previous occupant Tsismis hosted pop-ups in its last days, including what would become the current iteration of space. The once brighter hues of the revamped interior are toned down with a new burgundy and black color scheme for a more romantic vibe. The old copper bar fits perfectly with the refreshed look. Pop-in spots seem like a cinch to grab at press time, and reservation availability is a breath of fresh air. He has real hero potential on nights when no one knows where to go or just can’t get in.

Chef/partner Aris Tuazon (formerly of Ugly kitchen) and Chief Markee Manaloto (Kissaki) the long menu starts on the snack side and extends to larger plates. The skewers grilled here are NYC’s new pierced meats to beat; available in pairs or by the hospital grouping which speaks of a customer-centric operation and lately less common care for value. A large sampler platter includes one each of Gugu Room’s six varieties ($22; choose four for $15).

The seasoning of each skewer amplifies its best shape. The Floating Shrimp’s teriyaki sauce is restrained enough to amp up its ocean-fed freshness. Banana Ketchup Pork Intestine BBQ Sauce makes good use of its tangy sweetness. The longanisa, formed into spheres, has a pleasant citrus kick, and the pork belly, chicken grilled in more teriyaki, and ribeye with homemade steak sauce accurately reflect the flavors expected from these proteins. They are each distinct on a single plate, a quality some other preparations fall short of.

The Agedashi Tofu ($9) doesn’t come close to the expected crispness, and its quick-softening bonito flakes further undermine any snapping, dissolving in sogginess. The mushroom trio (trumpet, shiitake, and oyster) in Truffled Mushroom Sisig ($20) comes off a single note. Most concoctions here seem designed to linger and chat, but they lose a lot of appeal after about a bite.

Spicy yuzu adobo ribs ($24) and hamachi kama ($15) are among the best bets. The first is made with a lively mix of Asian soybeans, vinegar, garlic, yuzu, and pineapple, piled generously and served with garlic fried rice. The latter is particularly moist (like a slightly sweet amberjack necklace should be but often isn’t) and light.

Gugu Room’s cocktails are among the few exceptions to the new rule that most places would be better off stick to the classics. The yuzu tendril combines its titular fruit with gin, orange liqueur and St-Germain to repeat the round invitation, but other drinks like the Spicy Bingo ($15; mezcal, maraschino, plum bitters , apple cider, chilli) are worth diverging.

Many new restaurants are easy to identify as good, but fewer deserve obvious feedback. The menus, atmosphere and essence of ease at Gugu Room make it a great choice for the shortlist.


The atmosphere: Laid back, fun and welcoming with date night potential.

The food: Great skewers and a great variety from small to large plates with standouts like Spicy adobo ribs with yuzu and hamachi kama.

The drinks: Excellent signature cocktails, sake, shochu, wine and beer.

The Gugu Room is located at 143 Orchard Street. It is open Tuesday to Thursday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. and Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.