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Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

  • 4 min to read
Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

NEW RESTAURANT UP NORTH: Sao Mai, not to be confused with restaurants with similar sounding names, is located in Yigo. It's a hard to miss orange building near the traffic light intersection across Peggy's. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

When you’re trying to decide where to eat, the usual restaurant hot spots of Hagåtña and Tumon probably spring to mind. But in recent years some island residents have begun making the trek up to Yigo for fresh lumpia and the friendly prices at Sao Mai.

If you’ve ever driven through Yigo around lunchtime, you may have noticed the bright orange restaurant surrounded by cars as you head toward Andersen Air Force Base. Seating about 75 people, Sao Mai doesn’t seem to have any problem getting customers in the door, despite its far north location.

“We got a lot (of customers): construction, you know GTA, DOCOMO workers, military and Filipino ... yeah even local families come in,” said Sao Mai manager Tiffany Wang, whose husband, Jay Wang, now owns the restaurant after years working in the kitchen under former management.

Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

SOUPS ON: On rainy days, owner Tiffany Wang says that the combination soup ($8) is a top seller. The ingredients include shrimp, squid, chicken, pork, rice noodles and the daily chicken stock. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

And if you’re wondering, Sao Mai is different from Hoa Mai. Wang, who said she and her staff often get calls from people asking about Hao Mai locations, said Sao Mai and Hoa Mai are two completely separate restaurants. After her husband purchased the former Yigo Hoa Mai location about three years ago, he changed the name to Sao Mai and started mixing up the menu.

Today, the Vietnamese restaurant offers a more global menu, with a large Chinese section, Thai dishes, fried chicken, and also tucked into the menu is the CHamoru dish and local favorite – kelaguen.

For the Wangs, it’s all about giving their customers what they want.

“We have 80 (menu items) already,” Tiffany Wang said, noting that new menu items are only added if there seems to be a lot of demand. For example, she said, a lot of customers asked if they serve chicken panang?

From there, Jay Wang went to work concocting his own recipe until — through trial and error and lots of customer feedback — they found the winner.

“The first time ... they say it tastes good but maybe a little bit hot. And the second time we try to fix it and fix it. And then now they like it,” Tiffany Wang said of their recipe development process for another oft-requested beef dish.

Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

FRIED GOODNESS: The beef fried flat noodles ($9) are stir fried with bean sprouts, egg, yellow onion, green onion, with oyster and mushroom sauces. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

BRING FRIENDS: This hefty serving of Sao Mai beef mushroom dish comes with white rice for $9. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

Tiffany Wang says she handles the management while her husband handles the cooking, and that’s a good thing, saying if he cooks it "it’s gonna taste good.”

Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

CRUNCHY LUMPIA: The top selling dish at Sao Mai in Yigo is the fried lumpia. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

FULL ORDER: The fried lumpia is served in the full order, shown, for $8.50, or the half order, 3 pieces, for $6. Norman M. Taruc. The Guam Daily Post

The Vietnamese restaurant has a friendly vibe once you step inside, with bright blue walls and red vinyl seating reminiscent of classic mom-and-pop diners. Large booths and big, round tables equipped with Lazy Susans are perfect for families or friends looking to share a bowl of egg noodle soup or a plate of lumpia, served fried or fresh — without a doubt, the house favorite, tempting customers from as far away as Tamuning.

“They’re going to order our lumpia,” Tiffany Wang said. “They just tell me, ‘oh I’m in Tamuning right now I’m gonna come to pick up, it’s gonna be a little bit longer.”

“They come in here for the lumpia,” she added.

Supervisor Remie Balanag said the lumpia was her favorite dish too, but also recommended the combination crispy fried noodles.

Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

CRISPY DELICIOUS: The combination crispy noodle ($13) is prepared with shrimp, chicken, beef, mushroom, squid, cabbage, broccoli and yellow onion. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

“It looks like a bird’s nest,” she said. “Yellow egg noodle and then there’s a chop suey veggie on top with chicken, shrimp, beef and squid.”

For families, Tifanny Wang recommends the combination soup. At just $8, the soup can feed a family of four, she said. “It’s big. ... Chicken, shrimp, pork, everything inside.”

Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

LEMONY SPICY: The Sao Mai chicken lemongrass ($8) is a little spicy and served with white rice and a salad. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

TAKE A BITE OF THIS: Fried spare ribs ($9) at Sao Mai are served with rice and salad. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

If that’s not enough, Sao Mai also offers a frequent-customer card. With every $10 spent, customers earn one stamp. Once you get 14 stamps, you can get a free order of combination soup, fried lumpia or combination fried rice.

Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

LITTLE BIT OF SWEET: The honey walnut shrimp at Sao Mai can be ordered as an entree, 12 pieces for $11.50, or the lunch hour special at eight pieces for $8.50. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

WORTH THE DRIVE: The fried pork chop ($9) is served with two scoops of white rice and salad. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

COMBO FOR THE TASTE BUDS: The combination crispy noodle ($13) is prepared with shrimp, chicken, beef, mushroom, squid, cabbage, broccoli and yellow onion. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

“The price is good, the food is good,” she said.

Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

MOUTHWATERING: The beef kelaguen ($9) is served atop a bed of lettuce with a side of white rice. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

Despite the long hours and the demands of running a restaurant, Wang seems to truly enjoy what she does, joking around with her staff and seeing the looks on customers’ faces when they dig into their food.

Go north, where Sao Mai stands apart

GO EAT, GO OFTEN: Regular customers at Sao Mai can take advantage of their customer frequency card. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

“I see customer eating and they say, ‘Oh, really good food,’ and they enjoy and they say it’s good food here, good service here,” she said. “That’s why I really love it.”

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