Photo: Heidi’s Bridge

Come to this artist-owned spot for its tropical flavors, but stay for the vivid colors, walls covered with art, and irresistible energy.

By Lauren Phillips

There’s a tiny piece of the tropics tucked away in the Upstate town of Hudson, New York. More than 100 miles north of Manhattan (and more than 1,000 miles from the actual tropics), Lil’ Deb’s Oasis serves up a carefully crafted menu with a healthy dose of art and color on the side. Plus pink—lots of pink.

Finding the right shade of pink to paint the walls was a challenge, says co-owner Hannah Black. She and partner Carla Perez-Gallardo didn’t want it to be too reminiscent of My Little Pony, or too much like an Easter egg. The result is a blend of near-fuchsia and bubblegum that walks the line, and in what feels like flip-flops, no less.

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Overall, Black and Perez-Gallardo—who studied art at the Rhode Island School of Design and Bard College, respectively—have let their inner artists take the helm, making a Lil' Deb's visit an all-senses-on-deck experience. The former diner feels more like a performance art venue, teeming with art and cheeky touches like capping chair legs wtih tennis balls to keep floor murals unscathed. If any specific destination is getting some homage in the look, Black says, it might be Havana or Miami. “We’re having fun with it,” she says.

Photo: Heidi’s Bridge

But don't get too attached to that provenance—Black confesses that she and Perez-Gallardo often get bored and like to switch things up. For now, though, the motifs are botanical, the colors lean toward neons, and streamers and leis are the accent pieces of choice. It's a mismatched, utterly welcoming exuberance, and a shot in the aesthetic arm to the gorgeously restrained vernauclar of downtown Hudson.

“In a lot of ways, it is an oasis within Hudson,” Black says. Initially a pop-up in a diner named Lil' Debbie's Restaurant, Black and Perez-Gallardo’s spot was supposed to be a one-night endeavor to enliven quiet Tuesday nights in town, but Black calls it the birth of a vibe. (Surprisingly so: Just months before Lil’ Deb’s opened, Black had no idea she was going to open a restaurant.)

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But restaurateurs they are, and Black and Perez-Gallardo have crafted a menu of what they call tropical comfort food, a branding as broad (and yet, appealing) as the aesthetic. The inspirations, while technically global, largely come from tropical latitudes: plantains, ceviche, even larb, a meat salad from Thailand (done up here with spicy chorizo for a Western Hemisphere touch). Other dishes range from odes to of-the-moment cultural favorites (quinoa salad poke bowl) to what are probably new flavors to many customers (llapingachos: a potato and cheese pancake with peanut salsa and fried egg curtido).

There are definitely personal fingerprints on this menu: Some dishes come from Perez-Gallardo’s Ecuadorian heritage; others are from Black’s time working at the much-loved Hartwood in Tulum. Still others may come from the pair’s time working on a Vietnamese food truck, where they met. And the comfort part? “I’m from Alabama," Black explains. "I think that’s where the comfort came from."

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Black and Perez-Gallardo have worked hard to avoid succumbing to NYC-level prices, an unfortunate byproduct of Hudson's profile as a tony urban escape. The price points at Lil' Deb's speak directly to locals, who fill up the crazy pink space along with weekenders. “I got into cooking as a way to bring the community together,” Black says, and in the welcoming riot of Lil’ Deb’s Oasis, that mission has been more than accomplished. 

Scroll on for more photos of the restaurant:

Photo: Heidi’s Bridge
Photo: Heidi’s Bridge

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Check Lil’ Deb’s Instagram, @lildebsoasis, for an explosion of color beat only by the restaurant itself, and for updates on its hours. Lil’ Deb’s is cash-only, and reservations are only for groups larger than four.