Bravo Buku-Buku

SIBLINGS Nico and Jessica Santiago have a mission: Bring the northern food and pop culture crazes to the south.

And the duo, with the help and support of their parents, has accomplished just that after establishing two book cafés on their turf, the first in Cavite, and, just recently, in SM Southmall in Las Piñas.

“It was a chance to give what we knew the south wanted,” Jessica said. “Not just the food but the indie scene—we wanted to bring what’s monopolized up north down south.”
The southern café prides itself with a menu dominated by Filipino and Southeast Asian fusion dishes. Offering casual dining, it presents comfort food favorites with some ingenious, if not local, twists.

And in a space full of art, books and good food—which doubles as a venue for expression and exploration for creatives—what is there not to love?


Buku-Buku Kafe makes you fall in love at first sight (yes, it exists). Potted plants and geometric displays sit on top of wooden tables accompanied by mismatched metal chairs. It has the typical relaxed chic and comfy look most suburban diners nowadays flaunt.

But what really catches your attention is their book chandelier—the mesmerizing combination of lightbulb fixtures and old textbooks that hang on the café’s ceiling.

Their walls are adorned by different murals as well as black-and-white vintage photographs. Although we feel sorry for the murder of a precious book, my favorite wall was the one plastered with yellowing book pages.

A good number of books, independent zines and comics have also found a home in Buku-Buku Kafe, which means “many, many books” in Bahasa. The name itself serves as an open invitation for bookworms to pick up (or bring) a book and grab a bite.


While the resto-café is known for its book chandelier, its menu has the equally popular Sisig Nachos on it. Those who have tried dining in Buku-Buku would recommend this genius local twist to a usual favorite—and I'm no exception.

Sisig bits replace the traditional ground meat for a more sinful and indulgent start to a meal. The melt-in-your-mouth meat and tortilla chips are enveloped in a creamy blend of cheese and mayonnaise, and drizzled with the zest of calamansi.

If there’s a lesson other restaurants could learn from Buku-Buku, it is this: First impressions count and the first bite often determines the dining experience. The Sisig Nachos immediately leave a good first impression, and an addictive one at that.

If you’re looking for a healthier start to the meal, try the Smokey Caesar. It’s a fresh and simple toss of romaine lettuce, arugula leaves, cherry tomatoes and grated parmesan paired with smoked Chicken Satay and a hefty serving of Caesar dressing. It’s tempting for those on a diet because the salad is a filling meal on its own.

Vegetarians can go for Tofu Sliders.

Don’t leave without trying the Isaw Fries either (“It’s our own version of Potato Corner,” Nico boasted). The street food favorite is deep-fried to a crisp before it’s dusted with cheese, barbecue and sour cream flavors. Its availability is often limited, so order it when you can.

Buku-Buku serves up hawker-style roast chicken with a Filipino twist. The spices and ingredients of the classic adobo are used in innovating on a foolproof Chinese delicacy.

The white meat of the Asian Fried Chicken Adobo has a subtle peppery soy and garlic taste, but what truly makes the dish adobo-inspired is its serving of liver paté. You’d want to smother your chicken in the savory meat paste that has a tarty hint of vinegar similar to adobo sauce.

The meal can be ordered in quarter, half and whole chicken proportions. It even comes with flavorful yang chow fried rice, but we wish it was partnered with the simple sinangag instead, as the carbs tend to steal the show from the dish’s main character.


Everything is simply made better with chocolate.

At Buku-Buku, the Flat Tops S’mores is a dessert no-brainer, and lives up to its name because you’re bound to bring home some more. You just definitely have to save space for it.

This dessert perfection is freshly torched when ordered, with Flat Tops chocolate sitting on melted marshmallow fluff over layers of moist brownie crust and graham crumble.

It’s a mud pie and revel bar hybrid embellished with childhood treats—marshmallow and Flat Tops—that bring back sweet memories.

There’s a macaroon cake as well, nicknamed “couple cake,” which is dense and heavy yet decadently moist. It has a buttery flavor, and laced with a generous amount of desiccated coconut.

Layered and enveloped in cream cheese frosting, the dessert reminds us of the British teatime sponge cake called lamington; it even has the signature lemony aroma.

Don’t forget to pair your sweet treats with a cup of joe—because what’s a café visit without taking in some caffeine, right? Buku-Buku offers Barako Mocha, a barako blend made sweeter with tablea chocolate.

This post was previously published as a newspaper article on Inquirer Super.

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