Shirley's Coffee Shop - Satisfying Local Appetites One Bite at a Time
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
If you were asked to name one local restaurant that has literally grown up with Guam over the past two decades, chances are you would name Shirley's Coffee Shop. From its humble beginnings in Agana's Downtown Hotel in January 1983, to its recent renovation of the old Sizzler's in the Agana Shopping Center, Shirley's has won the hearts and loyalties of thousands of Guam's (and Saipan's) residents with its famous fried rice and its unique combination of Oriental and American cuisine styles.
Although I've eaten at Shirley's various locations since 1983, well over a hundred times (I used to have offices directly across the street from Shirley's Harmon restaurant), I'm always impressed with Shirley's consistency in providing prompt service and certainly too much food (I usually require a styrofoam container for my considerable leftovers). Shirley's service philosophy is based on Shirley Lai's personal beliefs in making sure that every customer gets their money's worth of good, freshly-prepared food.
Shirley's is not about gourmet food - you don't go there for haute cuisine. It is a restaurant that has enjoyed enormous success because it has taken the pulse of the local market and its food tastes, and is serving exactly what the people want. Pork Chops and Salmon! An unheard of combination in mainland restaurants, but on Guam, it's standard Shirley's fare. This combo was one of the lunch specials at the new Agana location the other day when I did my review. Priced at $7.95, it had one large piece of grilled salmon paired up with a juicy fried pork chop, accompanied by a mountain of fried rice, a small pile of corn, a bowl of corn chowder soup with chicken bits, and plastic ramekins of tartar and finadene sauces. I even asked several customers (some business types) how they liked it and received positive comments. You don't even have to ask to know what most people's impressions are of Shirley's meals. If you sit down at Shirley's, just watch their facial expressions when their plates are set in front of them (don't worry, they won't notice you watching!). You'll see raised eyebrows, widened eyes, satisfied grins, and lips being moistened in anticipation of eating.
Shirley's menu has evolved over time to include a wide variety of food types based on local preferences. Breakfast Scrambles (scrambled eggs with green onion and freshly chopped garlic) can include your choice of chicken, Portuguese sausage, Chamorro Sausage (most popular - go figure, Guam!), or Shrimp. Eggs can be cooked any way you like them with meat choices ranging from bacon, ham, SPAMô, link sausage, Louisiana spicy sausage, turkey sausage, corned beef patty, Longaniza sausage, boneless chicken breast, salmon, mahi mahi, steak and a seafood combination. Shirley's doesn't care to fight over price - you won't get a "cheap" meal here (the lowest price breakfast special is $5.25, which is Spicy SPAMô with two eggs.
There are ten omelette choices available, with prices ranging from $5.75 - $7.25. On all breakfast entrees, steamed white rice is standard, with the option of substituting Shirley's fried rice for an extra $1.00. I seldom see white rice at Shirley's. Pancakes, hash browns, toast (white or whole wheat) or English muffins are also among the breakfast options and sides. You better be hungry when you order breakfast at Shirley's.
My lunch choice for the review was the New York Steak with Salmon ($14.95). The 10 oz steak was USDA Choice and weighed 10 oz. The two grilled salmon filets were North American (Canada or Alaska), and were good. Though not my personal favorite, Shirley's fried rice seems freshly made and has a generous sprinkling of cubed ham, green onions, egg, and carrots. For vegetarians, a meat-free version is available on request. There are actually four different fried rice entrees available, with Chicken, Hot & Spicy SPAMô, and Shrimp Fried Rice dishes joining Shirley's standard. Shirley's fried rice has been voted the "#1 Best Fried Rice" on Guam since 1983, according to the menu. Of course, that's usually the opinion of a food critic, however, some recent public polls ("PIKA's Best Of Guam") seem to reflect that opinion.
Boasting one of the largest menu selections on Guam, Shirley's has appetizers, 20 sandwiches, Sweet & Sour combinations, chop sueys, cashew nut specialties, broccoli specialities, and Tao Si (a piquant sauce made with black beans and hot peppers that is stir-fried in a wok with meat) combinations, mushroom dishes, curry dishes, salads, yakisobas, chop steaks, steaks, grilled seafood, mixed grill, seafood specialties and house specialities, which brings me to one of my personal favorites: Shirley's Special Fried 1/2 Chicken ($7.95)!
I can't tell you how many times I've ordered this entree, but I will say that the waitresses in the Harmon location knew enough that when I came in they'd look at me and say, "the usual?" Described as "tender young chicken simmered Chinese style and finished the American way," this chicken is not covered in batter nor flour, and always retains its moisture even when it's crispy outside. Dipping this bird in finadene takes it up a few notches to another level. For you first-timers, tell the waitress you want it cut up...this will save you having to carve it up yourself, since it's normally served as one large piece.
During this past year, Shirley's has been aggressively promoting seafood specials, such as New York Steak and Jumbo Shrimp ($13.95), Salt & Pepper Shrimp ($9.95), Grilled Pork Chop with Jumbo Shrimp ($11.75), and amazingly, a Whole Lobster Special for $13.95! These are available at the Hagatna, Harmon, and Tamuning locations. Each location has their own daily specials available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I've not had the lobster yet, yet have heard some positive comments, along with some complaints on the size - what do you expect for $13.95?
Shirley's is a family style restaurant, offering something for everyone's appetite and preference. It's been a convenient meeting place for business meetings and appointments. The new Hagatna location has a large meeting room, with a capacity of 48 to 60 people, that is separated from the main dining area. The smoking section has special air filters that de-ionize the smoke particles - you can hardly tell there's any smoke in that section. Powerful new ventilation has been installed in this spacious restaurant, and the circulation of cool air (almost wind) assures that no one will get hot enough to sweat, even if you are eating Hot & Spicy SPAMô! One has to give Shirley's some credit. They are the only Guam restaurant that has it's Fried Rice recipe published on the back of the Hot & Spicy SPAMô cans. There are those who don't think much of SPAMô, much less eat it, however, it certainly hasn't been a problem at the bank! On Guam, SPAMô rules!
If you've not yet been to the new Shirley's in Hagatna, it's certainly worth a visit. They've engineered a remarkable renovation that demonstrates their confidence in Guam's economy, as well as created a comfortable, clean dining environment for diners to enjoy. Try Shirley's - Guam's favorite American/Oriental restaurant!