Chamorro cuisine makes waves in San Francisco’s Mission District

Prubechu serves classic flavors from Guam and the Marianas Islands and adds a modern twist to traditional dishes.

Chamorro cuisine is being showcased in the mainland not just through the usual food trucks but through a stand-alone restaurant in the highly competitive Mission District of San Francisco.

Owned and operated by business partners Chef Shawn Naputi and General Manager Shawn Camacho, Prubechu brings a piece of Guam to San Francisco through Chamorro food.

Both are proud native Chamorros and felt that Guam’s unique cuisine has been very under-represented in the culinary landscape of San Francisco and the nation as a whole.

Thus, they opened Prubechu and the Guamanian restaurant located on 2224 Mission Street has been getting rave reviews so far.

When it moved last year to its bigger location, no less than the San Francisco Chronicle covered it.

SF Weekly, the popular publication of the city’s thriving food scene, pointed out that there’s no area in San Francisco that contains a broader cross-section of restaurants and food businesses (and thus competition) than Mission Street between 18th and 19th streets, right where Prubechu is located.

But Prubechu is more than holding its own against the competition.

As Eater San Francisco reported, “Many customers had never heard of Chamorro food, the traditional cuisine of Guam — some even came specifically because they were drawn to a menu made up of words they didn’t know how to pronounce. ‘Now,’ Camacho says, ‘people are walking down the street craving Chamorro food, which is the most proud we can be.’”

Prubechu serves classic flavors from Guam and the Mariana Islands using the finest ingredients from California farmers’ markets while adding a modern twist to traditional dishes.

The latest Prubechu review, coming from “7X7” — San Francisco’s premier online lifestyle guide — gushed about Prubechu’s shrimp kelaguen which is blanched and then marinated in lemon, scallion, coconut, and hot pepper, and then served on “titiyas” made with corn and achiote.

“If shrimp is how you follow your bliss (it is for me), rest assured you’ve come to the right place,” 7X7 reviewer Liam Passmore wrote.

He also had this to say about Guam’s signature chicken kelaguen: “The chicken is barbecued first before marinating in lemon, scallion, and coconut and served with a spicy aioli on ‘titiyas niyok’—a supple coconut flatbread that again recalls a tortilla. The tang on this is perfect, and we held back an impulse to double up on the order.”

In its website, Prubechu describes Chamorro food as unique due to the many different culinary influences that shaped Guam throughout the centuries. “Between trading with fellow neighboring islanders and foreign visitors such as the Spanish galleons, Japanese merchants, Filipino laborers, and the post-war American influence, the people have combined flavors and techniques to create a distinct flavor profile unique to Guam and the Marianas Islands.”

Chef Naputi, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy, interprets the classics by drawing inspiration from what is available seasonally while maintaining the integrity and soul of each dish. Naputi has described his approach to Eater San Francisco as “like grandma’s food done with a little finesse, with a nice lipstick and a beautiful perfume.”

Here’s Eater San Francisco’s Luke Tsai writing about Chef Naputi’s fusion style of combining classic Chamorro dishes with a more modern approach: “So, for instance, Naputi would make tinaktak, a dish of stewed ground beef (‘like a high-acid stroganoff,’ Camacho says), but he’d serve it with seasonal vegetables and handmade noodles instead of green beans, tomatoes, and rice — the traditional accompaniments you’d find in Guam. But he also wouldn’t shy away from serving a stew made with pig’s blood; even with a fine-dining approach, he says he never felt like he watered down the cuisine …”

Despite competition from a number of glitzy restaurants in the area, Prubechu serves its food in a relaxed atmosphere and a welcoming environment.

As Eater pointed out, Prubechu aims to be more casual and approachable — more in keeping with the tradition of the “fiesta tables” that people in Guam have for large community celebrations.

Prubechu’s owners truly believe that hospitality is of the utmost importance.

They are proud of their island heritage and they want to share Guam’s friendly island vibes with the rest of the nation.

And from all indications, they are succeeding.