Eating Out in the Northern Mariana: 6 Things to Expect


If you were to make a bucket list of things to do in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), what would you put? Alongside island hopping, going to the beach, hiking, and shopping for good deals, there’s one item you shouldn’t miss: having a restaurant crawl. Dining out is one of the things you should look forward to doing in the Northern Marianas, especially if you are a foodie.

Whether it’s local Chamorro cuisine or something more familiar to your palate, you can expect some awesome things on the menu. And once your trip ends, you’ll leave with a blissful belly and the desire to come back for more. The key is to roam the islands on an empty stomach and with an openness to try new things. Here are six things you can look forward to when you discover restaurants in CNMI.

There’s a Lot of Variety

When you arrive in Saipan, Tinian, or Rota, the first thing you’ll notice is that you’ve got a lot of choices for where to eat. There’s appetizing food available in both big establishments and holes-in-the-wall. There are restaurants where you can order individually, eat family-style, or tuck into a little bit of everything at a buffet.

One thing’s for certain—you should take advantage of that variety and eat beyond what’s served in your resort or hotel. That’s the way to get the most delicious and most complete dining experience in the Northern Marianas!

Eating Out in the Northern Marianas
Eating Out in the Northern Marianas: 6 Things to Expect

Local Eats Will be the Highlight of Your Trip

CNMI is where you can partake in Chamorro cuisine, which draws amply from fresh produce and spices. You should seek out iconic Chamorro dishes like chicken, fish, or shrimp kelaguen, estufao, escabeche, and beef tinaktak. Staple carbohydrates that you can expect to eat with these meat dishes are achoti (annatto), potatoes, and taro.

If you want to know which Chamorro restaurants to visit, ask for recommendations from hotel staff, from business contacts, or from friends who’ve visited the Northern Marianas. They’ll tell you which places to go to first and where you can find the most variety.

CNMI Food is Big on Taste

Get ready to experience strong, piquant, and interesting flavors when you dine out in the Northern Marianas. Chamorro dishes, in particular, have generously salty, spicy, and acidic notes. They draw these flavors from familiar ingredients like lemon, chili, coconut, as well as relatively uncommon ones like annatto.

The cooking methods and ingredients found in Northern Mariana cuisine may be unfamiliar to you at first. But expanding your palate is part of the fun! The best approach is to taste the dishes little by little and decide which ones you like.

Get Ready for Some Seriously Good Barbecue

Grill and barbecue connoisseurs will have a great time in the Northern Marianas, because it’s where one can eat the famed Chamorro barbecue. It’s marinated with simple ingredients, but for a long time and with smoky, flavorful wood. It’s then cooked until it’s fall-off-the-bone tender, and it goes perfectly with piping hot rice.

If you’re craving Chamorro barbecue, you can expect to find some in either a grill restaurant or a buffet. For best results, wash it down with a cold beer or a fresh fruit shake!

You’ll Be Able to Sample Food from the Many Diaspora Communities on the Islands

Other cuisines that are quite well-represented in CNMI are the Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese cuisines. These constitute CNMI’s biggest diaspora communities, and their foods are just as common around the islands.

If you crave authentic teppanyaki, Korean BBQ, pho, or Filipino crispy pata, you’ll definitely find it all in CNMI. Expect to eat food from the Chamorro, East Asian, and Southeast Asian cuisines that are a signature of the Northern Marianas.

There’s Kiddie-Friendly Dining

Parents who are traveling with small children need not worry, either. There are restaurant options that can keep even the pickiest eaters satisfied. Your kids are sure to love local CNMI renditions of home staples like pizza, burgers, and pasta. There’s also a wealth of local specialties, like Chamorro sponge cake and lantiyas custard, that they’ll be excited to try.

In addition, there are several kiddie-friendly establishments in the islands that are furnished with their own play areas. Kids won’t feel left out, diet or otherwise, when you take them with you to the Northern Mariana Islands.

A Northern Mariana Food Crawl You’ll Never Forget

Food speaks a lot about a region’s culture, and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands is no exception. The cuisine reflects the community’s way of life: vibrant, dynamic, true to homegrown resources, diverse, and good for the soul (as well as the stomach).

When you travel to CNMI, you can set high expectations food-wise. There are many options here that will leave you full and satisfied. Come to the Northern Marianas soon, and see why visitors love to dine out!


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Paul Osborne