BITE-SIZED

TERRIFIC Pacific

A taste of the islands right here in River City

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Marianas Grinds offers traditional Pacific Islander fare of the Chamorro culture. What’s Chamorro? Picture palm fronds waving softly at sunset, the tidal pools ebbing and flowing as beautiful people stroll the shore. I mean, seriously good-looking, mingling Southeast Asians, Spanish colonials and Americans, who landed during WWII. The culture is rich with mystery, history, modern influences and a strong adherence to the ancient ways as well.

This is all evident in the décor, the dishes, the staff (most are family) and the ambience at Marianas Grinds, a hidden gem on the Southside. Menu items are familiar–apps like lumpia ($1 each), beef or veg empanadas ($1.50 each) and Spam musubi ($2.75), my favorite. With a base of white rice, grilled Spam sliced on top, tied up neatly with a strip of seaweed, it’s like Spam sushi. It includes a side of fina’denne’(pronounced feenadenay), rather than the usual soy sauce. The delicious combo of vinegar, white or green onions, peppers and soy sauce is not a too-spicy mélange, but it is a too-delicious one. Don’t be shy–ask for several of the little cups of the stuff to douse on the rest of your meal.

Moving on: Loco Moco ($8.25) caught my eye. This dish is legit loco, and it works: A heaping pile of white rice with a burger patty, nicely seasoned, atop a fried egg, smothered in brown gravy. Check your taste buds with the pickled papaya. The paper-thin slices of tropical fruit are really nice tart accompaniments to all the fatty, starchy dishes.

There’s a board listing the specials; it boggled my mind–what more can I order? Sometimes I see things like full snapper (market price) and go weak at the knees. We skipped that in favor of a more traditional oxtail stew and Chamorro Ramen. Of the two, the Ramen was the more impressive. A heady, savory broth and lots of noodles, it’s served in a huge bowl. What makes it Chamorro are the crisp, thinly sliced katsu chicken pieces, dressed in Japanese panko breading.

Several breakfast meal options with a $6.75 price tag are actually served all day. Each includes a fried egg and fiesta rice (which just sounds like a party, doesn’t it?!), your choice of Portuguese sausage, fried Spam or chorizo. The chorizo sausage is sliced rather than ground. We didn’t even think twice: chorizo! The slices were thin, crispy and delightfully fatty. Mix with the rice and yolk from the cooked egg and ta-da! A new way to start each day (or finish it).

After digging through all this tasty (and appealing–the visual presentation adds to the experience), we somehow still had room for dessert. We were lured by the brown sugar-covered, banana style, fried eggroll with scoops of vanilla ice cream. I could eat those little sugar bombs for dessert any day … every day!

For the most authentic, homemade-style Chamorro food this side of Songsong, Marianas Grinds is the place. As they say, “Eat local, stay local.” Check it out!

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