You should know going in that Mexico in Alaska prepares "Mexican style" food -- not Mexican-American, not Tex-Mex. The restaurant doesn't use ground beef in its tacos or pour yellow-orange cheese on corn chips for nachos.
What it sells is authentic Mexican cooking, prepared and presented "the way I serve it at home," says Maria Elena Ball, who opened the restaurant 41 years ago.
That includes a mole ("mo-LAY") so savory it will haunt your dreams. If you can't get enough of that rich, dark sauce then Mexico in Alaska offers a frugal way to feed your addiction: a lunch buffet that includes pollo en mole (chicken in mole sauce). A full lunch menu is also available, but for $12.75 you can eat all the mole you want. You can even spoon out extra to pour over whatever else you choose.
It's a modest selection for a buffet, just eight dishes plus an ample supply of house-made flour tortillas and corn tortillas from Taco Loco. A nearby cart contains house-made guacamole and salsas (including pico de gallo and salsa verde) plus crema, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sliced onions, lime wedges and fresh cilantro.
The pollo en mole is sensational: mahogany-colored chunks of chicken so tender that they flake apart at the barest touch of a fork. The sauce has moderate heat with a rich pepper flavor (Ball uses five different kinds) and a barely discernible sweetness.
Pollo machacada is shredded, seasoned chicken cooked with onions, jalapeno, tomatoes and beaten eggs. Like the pollo en mole, it's delicious drizzled with crema and eaten with a soft, warm tortilla (there's a griddle there for heating). Try it with a spoonful of that house-made pico de gallo, bright with diced yellow pepper and fragrant with cilantro.
Carne asada - tender strips of beef seasoned and cooked with peppers, onions and a hint of lime - is delicious eaten on its own or atop a bit of rice. While it's tempting to roll it up in tortillas along with beans, rice, cheese, salsa, cilantro and crema, try at least a few pieces by themselves. Flavors that robust should be enjoyed on their own, not smothered in add-ons. (Except for a bit of mole, maybe.)
Pollo frito is chicken marinated in lime and fried as-is, with neither batter nor crumb coating. The thighs and drumsticks turn a deep brown and are a tangy, tasty alternative to the kind of fried chicken whose skin peels off, peach-like, at the first bite. With pollo frito you get a bite of slightly citrusy flavor with each mouthful.
Also on the buffet table are Spanish rice, refried beans, plain cheese quesadillas and deep-fried bean burritos. That last dish should look familiar to anyone who's ever shopped at Carrs, since Ball has been selling burritos to the grocery chain for several decades.
She sells them in bulk at the restaurant too, along with those freshly made tortillas and containers of mole. All would look good on your own buffet table if you're planning to celebrate Mexican Independence Day on Monday.
• Donna Freedman writes about personal finance on several internet websites, including her own, donnafreedman.com.