Mar 14, 2008

Only in Saipan: Four of the Best Restaurants in the Whole World

That's right folks, four of the best restaurants IN THE WHOLE WORLD just happen to be right here on this one little spot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What are the odds?

Here on Saipan, we may lack a healthy economy, a competent government, and a fresh coat of paint for many of our buildings. We may lack consistent access to ricotta cheese, i-tunes music store service, and concerts by acts bigger than K.C. and Sunshine Band. But one thing we do not lack is good food. At least in my opinion, there is an extraordinary amount of great food to be found on Saipan. You can eat well here. There's crepes at that little French place in Garapan. There's great coffee, internet service and laundry in one stop at Java Joes, dollar tacos at Oleais's Bar and Grill, burgers at Hamilton's, premium ice cream at the Big Dipper, deli style sandwhiches at Bobby Cadillacs, several excellent sushi joints such as Shen Shen and Sushi Land, heaping bowls of pasta at Capriciossa's, the delightful lunch buffet at the Taste of India, the best hotel buffet on Saipan at Pacific Island Club--perfect for lunch after a morning of swimming in their gorgeously landscaped water park, garlic-infused everything at the Garlic restaurant, fine dining at Giovanni's at the Hyatt, and dramatic dining at Micronesia's only revolving restaurant, the recently opened 360. There's probably a hundred other places I've yet to discover or forgotten to mention as well. For the mass-market taste we even have Pizza Hut, Subway, KFC, Taco Bell, the Hard Rock and good old Mickey D's.

But among all this fantastic food, there are four places that stand out because I have yet to find any place in the world--my world anyway--on par with them. These are places I miss when I'm back in the States during the summer, places that will leave a little hole in my life when the day comes that we move away or that, God forbid, they should close. In fact, the fear that these places might someday close is part of what prompted me to write this blog in the first place. It's a legitimate worry, as we've lost more than a few restaurants to the aforementioned diseased Saipan economy (including the magically delicious Magic Lamp, a Mediterranean themed restaurant that featured one of the island's largest vegetarian menus. The owner, Linda Stephinian, a dear friend of ours, closed up shop several months ago). In fact, I first started thinking about this post when I embarked on the Herculean task of trying to keep Shelly's pizza open--singlehandedly. I decided I was going to buy pizza from them every single week. I'm not saying they are on the brink of collapse, but they are a new business and that puts them at risk. And the pizza really is that good. We can't lose this place!

I wanted to encourage readers here on Saipan to frequent Shelly's and the other restuarants here to keep their business booming, and I wanted to encourage off island readers to look these places up when they visit (And yes, they might actually be worth flying here just to eat).

But enough talk. Let's eat!

Shelly's Original Boston Pizza: Located in Susupe right across the street from the massive World Resort. You can't miss it and, best of all, it's located three doors down from one of the other Best Restaurants in the World, Ebisyua. The odds are astronomical, I know!

Shelly's was opened a little more than a year ago by two boys from Boston who came to Saipan on vacation and couldn't find a good pizza (apologies to the other two major pizza joints on island). They decided to make their own, and we the residents of Saipan have been the lucky beneficiaries of their dissastisfaction.

What makes Shelly's the Best Pizza in the World? The crust--it's all about the crust. Soft and pillowy, it could be served by itself and be mouthwatering. The rich sauce, melty cheese, and grade-A toppings are just. . .well, the toppings. . .to their exquisite handmade pizza crust.

I make a habit of going into Shelly's and taking a few slices of whatever pizza is hot out of the oven. How many places can you go where you don't need to bother with placing an order for one particular item--because everything is so good?

They've got a great bargain on a medium pizza that sure feels like a large for only $9.99!

I'll never order from Pizza Hut again while Shelly's lives, and I don't feel bad for Pizza Hut either. They've got a multi-billion dollar global brand--they don't need me. Shelly's just has us, here in Saipan.

Ebisuya Bakery and Sushi, a few doors down from Shelly's. The Best Bakery in the World and some of the better sushi.

I don't know if this is really a restaurant, though they do have a small sit-down area. Primarily it's a bakery and a place for sushi and bento. There are three things, Ebisuya does par excellance, illustrated below in photos (I took these pictures near the end of the day and Ebisuya does everything fresh, so by the end of the day the shelves are getting sparse):

Baked Goods

I buy all our bread here--whole wheat, french bread, rolls, you name it. Their's is the best on island.


They've always got a variety of tempting desserts on display in the case next to the cash register: cheesecake, crepes, creme puffs, fruit cups, and so on. The folks at Ebisuya understand the importance of real, rich, cream and they use it wisely and generously in their desserts and pastries.


When it comes to take-out sushi, Ebisuya is unparallelled. The only downside is that they don't have any vegetarian sushi so you're going to have endure real spicy tuna and salmon in your sushi roll.

Counterintuitive as it may seem, I love about both Shelly's and Ebisuya that you never know what's going to be available when you go there. In both places you sometimes sense that the chefs follow their mood and fancy and you're always in for a pleasant surprise everytime you go in. The food has to be pretty darn good that you can go in and be happy with whatever you find in stock.

A few of my favorite things (from Ebisuya):

These are some of my favorite Ebisuya items that I bought yesterday: sushi, french bread, and on the top from left to write the PASTRIES!!!!! from left to right, a cappuccino pastry, a blueberry "pan" (actually that was a new item that I just had to try. "Pan" means bread in Chamorro, I believe), and my all time favorite Ebisuya item--the Best Blueberry Danish In the World!

A little closer to home, we have this lovely little place, located about a 3o second walk from our school:

Spicy Thai Noodle Place located in San Antonio, on the right hand side of Beach Road if you're driving south, just before you reach the Mayor's Office on the left and the SDA School on the right. If you pass the basketball court you've gone too far.

Spicy Thai has the best Thai food I've ever had anywhere (and that includes in Thailand). My favorites are the green curry with eggplant and chicken (though tofu can be substituted), the phad thai, the spicy kangkung greens and well, really everything here. I heart the iced Thai tea with milk as well. And they have a great lunch buffet that features tasty wings and spring rolls every day in additon to their delicious selection of main entrees.

As if amazing food weren't enough, Spicy Thai delivers a warm, comfortable, and quaint atmosphere, perfect for lazy Sunday afternoons or a working session after school. They have lots of "regular" tables too, but these traditional Thai tables are my favorite place to eat, hang out, and hold court. Kick off your shoes, settle on the comfy pillows, and it's like you're at home.

Spicy Thai Noodle Place owners Bob and Waree Bracken.

And finally, my favorite Restaurant in the Whole World:

Coffee Care, located off Isa Drive on the way up to Capitol Hill.

Don't be fooled by the mundane name--this place has it all--a funky-cool, laid-back ambience, great music, a great view, friendly wait staff, great art on the walls (though lately there's less of that as a lot of my favorite pieces have been sold off and replaced by the less original though still cool old 1950's movie posters) and of course the food. Coffee Care sweeps every category--appetizers (try the the mozzeralla emapanada or the melenzane provolone for starters), the salads (Bab's favorite is the rustica salad), the sandwhiches (I've had them all--every one is amazing, the Coffee Care wrap, the philly steak and cheese--all with your choice of bread and cheese), the soups (get the soup of the day--whatever it is, it will be delicious), the pasta (they have a list of sauces--I like the sun dried tomato--and you pick the type of pasta to pair it with), the steaks, the fish (oh, the fish. . .you don't even have to like fish and you'll love their grilled wahoo). All three meals of the day--breakfast, lunch, and dinner--they're all winners.

And did I mention dessert? Humongous slabs of cheesecake are just the beginning. . .

Oh, and they have a large coffee menu too.

And a couple can eat there for about 20 bucks! (Though we always tend to spend more because the food is just so good!)

Even under the new management that's cut some of the nicer details (they've switched from kalamata olives to plain old black for example), in terms of the full package dining experience, no other restaurant I've been to comes close.

I was saddened to hear recently of the passing of the original owner of Coffee Care, a genial man named Dan. I didn't know him personally, and I'm sure he's done many wonderful things and made a difference to those near and dear to him. But if leaving a place like Coffee Care, that's been the source of so many special meals and memories for so many people, is part of what he's accomplished, that's a legacy to be proud of.

The view from Coffee Care.

Well, I'm going to finish this blog and go out to eat with my wife at. . .yup, Coffee Care.


the p.i.c. said...

There's a cool Japanese place on Beach Road in the JP building called Len. Worth checking out.

Beverly Mae said...

Great post on food Sean=) heheh

Mai said...

Yum! I want all that good food right now!

Whimsy Peddler said...

Let's eat!

Your blog reminds me of my dream job--a traveling food critic, then I can eat my way across the globe. Yum!

Marianas Eye said...

Whoa! Just wait one minute! You mean to tell me I missed the Saipan visit of K.C. and Sunshine Band?

Well, we can experience an equally rare event, but an actual rave: the world's best ukulele player, Jake Shimabukuro, will be here this week. If you haven't seen him, he's phenomenal, even if you don't like ukulele. He plays Zepplin on his electric uke.

Sean said...

Ah, David, I would TOTALLY go to see Jake Shimabukuro but I'll still be here in Australia on the night he's playing in Saipan. I'm very disappointed!

Rick said...

My favorites are pretty much in line here:

Breakfast, Coffee Care. Especially the blueberry pancakes!

Lunch, either Ebisuya (sandwich & soup of the day) or Oleai (buck a taco on the weekend)

Dinner, I like the sushi at Abyss (esp. the tuna poki) or the Grotto (near McD's in Garapan). Or Beach Garden Korean BBQ.