Eat With Your Eyes

First Look: Gado Gado’s Playful Chinese-Indonesian Eatery

The buzzy noodle-centric pop-up opens the doors to its brick-and-mortar restaurant on Monday.

By Benjamin Tepler May 30, 2019

The dining room at Gado Gado

Pop-ups are a dime a dozen these days. But Gado Gado, which has held court at local spots like Langbaan and Expatriate, was one of the year’s best. Thomas and Mariah Pisha-Duffly, whose combined experience roams around New England, from Boston legend Barbara Lynch’s Sportello to Maine’s noodle-centric Honey Paw, dive deep into Thomas’s heritage. Peranakan Chinese—a subset of Indonesian culture—is the inspiration. From there, things get wild.

On Monday, June 3, Gado Gado will open its doors for dinner at its brick-and-mortar restaurant at 1801 NE Cesar Chavez Blvd. Early hours will be Wed-Mon, 5-10 p.m., with brunch coming in the next few months.

Curry laksa, a one-time offering from Gado Gado’s Langbaan pop-up, featuring handmade rice noodles, shrimp and crab tofu puffs, fresh fishballs, crab fat, and fermented chile paste. 

Image: Gado Gado

Inside a former Vietnamese pho shop, the space has been gutted down to the studs: bright, tropical wallpaper from local artist Kate Blairstone (she did the floral designs at Besaw’s and Solo Club) covers the walls, plastered in wild-looking birds and curls of shrimp. A 12-seat horseshoe bar, lined with pink Moroccan tile, anchors the room. Long booths and tables with mismatched robin’s egg blue chairs fill out the rest of the 82-seat dining area. A four-foot portrait of Thomas’s grandmother—a major recipe inspiration and fellow historian of the Peranakan Chinese food culture—hangs in back.

Gado Gado’s menu, broken down into Snacks & Salads, Rice & Noodles, Chef’s Specialties, and Desserts only holds a few straight-laced recipes from Thomas’s family tree: beef rendang, with coconut-braised beef in roasted chile and tomatillo sambal, and babi kecap (pronounced, delightfully, as “Bobby Ketchup”—a sweet dish of soy-braised pork, boiled egg, pickled celery, and shrimp sambal.

Clockwise from top left: tropical wallpaper from local artist Kate Blairstone; Gado Gado's kitchen is stocked with inspirational cookbooks and an old-school boombox; a neon crab glows in the window.

The rest take that inspiration and run, drawing on the Pisha-Duffly’s cooking education at a half-dozen well-regarded kitchens in the Northeast: pork and blood sausage corndogs with pickled chile and “hoisin-aise,” twice-fried Dungeness crab with chiles, garlic, and salted egg butter sauce, and a smoked beef cheek Bing sandwich, just to name a few. A family-style prix fixe option ($55-60) will let you sample a massive board of curries, sambals, sides, and dishes, with a centerpiece of aromatic rice.

Cocktails, meanwhile, are the domain of front-of-house, do-it-all Mariah, who goes deep on zero proof drinks—a nod to her teetotalling husband and the largely dry, Islamic culture of Indonesia. “Wonder Juice,” a tonic of turmeric, tamarind, ginger, and palm sugar recalls the street side juice bars of that country. Booze-lovers can order for one of Gado Gado’s DIY highballs of whiskey or rum, customizable with soda water, lime, and various syrups and vinegars.

This place is one to watch, folks.

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