Marlu’s Restaurant: A Delicious Secret in Iloilo City

Cris Antonio |

Story Banner

The historic downtown of Iloilo City has some of the metro’s most notable buildings, long-time merchants, and great eateries. Once known as Calle Real, it’s composed of the lengthy stretch of J.M. Basa, Aldeguer, Mapa, Ortiz, Muelle Loney (Loney Wharf), Solis, Rizal, and Iznart streets.

All Ilonggos have fond memories of downtown, Iloilo. I remember buying groceries with my dad at Gaisano Guanco (near Central Market) every weekend. My grandmother and I used to elbow the crowd at the Diamond Shopping Center before school started. And during college, I would take guests to stroll along the sidewalk and look for bargain buys.

Story Graphic

Calle Real has been witness not only to these amazing memories, but it’s also home to new ones. On the 2nd floor of Socorro Drug (corner J.M. Basa and Iznart), close to the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch, is the entrance to a novel eatery with an awesome view.

In November 2021, Marlu’s Restaurant became part of ‘Old Iloilo’.

The Start of Something New

Story Graphic

Marlu’s Restaurant is a full-service Filipino-Chinese restaurant that serves local favorites like inasal, dinuguan, pancit, and lechon kawali. The owner, Mr. Jake Cocjin, named it after his wife, Marlu.

“I had my first restaurant in New Iloilo Diversion Road 38 years ago in 1983. Payag-Payag Restaurant served Filipino food. It closed after a few years and I moved to the US. My love for cooking didn’t change though; so after 30 years, I moved back and decided to open a new restaurant.”

It came at the right time, too. In recent years, the Iloilo City government together with local and private agencies have been hard at work revitalizing the downtown area. Many 19th and 20th century buildings have been restored. And locals are encouraged to visit on weekends by limiting traffic.

Story Graphic

This wonderful addition should bring back the spark of decades past.

“I don’t think we have a full-service restaurant in our Iloilo Chinatown. We have very good food - plus we offer milk tea and iced coffee.”

A Window To Tomorrow

Story Graphic

Mr. Cocjin wanted a place where tourists (and fellow Ilonggos) can enjoy good food after visiting the long stretch of downtown roads. Once you enter the restaurant, you’ll be greeted by a nearly 180-degree view of the city. The wooden floors and furniture lend a warm, natural feel to the space. From the windows, the busy streets are almost akin to the Shibuya crossing in Japan.

Story Graphic

You’ll immediately want to order coffee and just stare at the lively scene below. Well, lots of people already did. Just browse social media to find their many satisfied customers. With a growing following, it’s not difficult to imagine success on the horizon. While Mr. Cocjin dreams of one day having several Marlu’s Restaurant branches, he believes in taking things slow:

“We’re new so we plan on adjusting to the needs of our customers…They’re my biggest help in promoting on social media.”

Like other entrepreneurs, he also experienced the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. He hopes that his business can help provide employment to Ilonggos when they need it most.

Story Graphic

“Iloilo has a wide variety of good restaurants. They’ve been hit hard…but they’re now showing signs of life…We opened just as they were lifting the restrictions. Hopefully, the city doesn’t go through another lockdown…”

As a hands-on owner, Mr. Cocjin believes in being 100% involved with the business. Indeed, he does his own shopping, planning, and cooking for Marlu’s Restaurant. Should you spot him during your visit, don’t forget to say hello!

What’s on Marlu’s Menu?

Story Graphic

Their menu consists of familiar comfort dishes from Filipino and Chinese cuisines. His personal favorite? The chicken inasal!

Story Graphic

“I am offering my favorite Filipino food. It’s always good to serve what you personally like.

For starters, there’s soup (pancit molo and wonton noodles) or dumplings (pork siomai) to whet your appetite. They also offer affordable rice meals like chicken inasal or pork BBQ (with java rice). Pair these with any of their refreshing milk tea or iced coffee selections. These combos work really well for merienda, too.

Story GraphicStory Graphic

For main courses, they have a wide variety to choose from – their famous crispy pata (deep-fried pork leg), chicken feet, buttered shrimp, fried lumpia, and special pancit are just some of the crowd favorites. If eating with friends or family, we recommend going for the rice platter (plain, garlic, java, or yang chow) so there’s more to share. Of course, you can have these solo as well.

Story GraphicStory Graphic

Marlu’s Restaurant is right at the heart of the city, making it super accessible to anyone at any time of the day. Enjoy all-day breakfast meals such as tapsilog, spamsilog, or tocinolog in the morning and get unli-coffee from 7AM – 10AM. Then pop in again by the afternoon for taro or wintermelon milk tea while watching the sunset. Try a different dish each time you come in!

When asked about their bestsellers, Mr. Cocjin was quite candid:

“…Crispy pata, dinuguan with lechon kawali on top, our special pancit, pancit molo, chicken and pork inasal, our all-day breakfast silogs…honestly, all our items are bestsellers.”

Story GraphicStory Graphic

We couldn’t agree more!

Did we awaken any cravings? Satisfy your taste buds by visiting Marlu’s Restaurant on the 2nd floor of Socorro Drug, beside the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch in Downtown, Iloilo City. They are open from 7AM to 8PM daily.

Check out their Facebook page for more photos and updates.

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to Stories in Studios for more inspiring stories.

Author Portrait

Cris Antonio

Cris Antonio is a freelance Copywriter, Editor, and Speaker. If she’s not writing or editing, she helps business owners and young adults build their presence on the Web.