Anchorage is a city that exists on its own terms, having a vibe that belongs to it and only it. Perhaps nothing makes Anchorage stand out more than its culinary offerings, though.
Thanks to a melting pot population and a healthy obsession with all things food, we're blessed with a huge number of restaurants (the seventh most per capita of any city in the U.S.) and a wide array of cuisines.
While we love foods of all varieties, no type has seen bigger growth and more quality options arrive in Anchorage than those from Southeastern Asia.
One notable addition has been Pho Jula, a hole in the wall in the strip mall at the corner of International Airport Road and Arctic Boulevard that provides options from across Asia, namely Chinese, Laotian, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.
The restaurant is in an unassuming location, but unlike others, once you get inside, the décor impresses. The environment is very clean and the large marble tables and comfortable seats are inviting for those looking to sit down and enjoy their meal.
Comparable restaurants tend to be built to churn through as many customers as fast as possible, but Jula's setting instead encourages diners to appreciate their meal in a more formal way while still being casual.
With such a bevy of culinary influences, Pho Jula mostly sticks with the greatest hits from each. There are a considerable number of pho options, for example, including pho fused with Tom Yum (a highly popular soup that has origins in Laos and Vietnam) or filled with brisket. The customary Thai curries appear, as well as Chinese standards like sesame chicken.
On my first visit, my fiancé and I both sampled from their lunch special options.
These specials are only available Monday through Friday during the lunch rush, with the entrée portions primarily being derived from the Thai and Chinese sections of the menu. For just $9.95, each comes with a pair of fresh rolls, steamed or fried rice, daily house soup and salad as well as the entrée of your choice.
We went two different directions, ending up with the yellow curry chicken and the Pad Thai chicken.
The way the meal is delivered, it doesn't stand out as a considerable amount of food, but once you get into it you realize just how much it really is.
The salad, although basic, has a lovely citrus dressing that accentuates the quality ingredients within, and the daily house soup was Tom Yum, a classic Pho Jula clearly excels at. My fiancé said it was a bit spicy for her taste, but it was "quite flavorful." The fresh rolls were less notable, as they were bland with a sweet chili sauce that was distractingly heavy on the spice for something meant to be sweet.
The entrees themselves were stellar, even if by the time you get to them you're very nearly full.
Pad Thai is a recipe that easily can be overwhelmed by the sauce prepared for it, but a delicate balance is achieved in the flavor of it and the other elements. Thin, perfectly cooked slices of chicken are bountiful, and as an entrée that benchmarks this restaurant against others, it stands tall.
The yellow chicken curry was savory with just enough spice to have a kick. It's a pitch perfect meal to have on a cooler summer day, or especially during the winter.
On my return, I visited with a few coworkers and the restaurant was packed with people. This time I opted for the pho roast duck ($11.95), and shortly after ordering I was given a mammoth bowl -- certainly smaller than their "Super Bowl" option, but still considerable -- filled to the brim with tender, flavorful duck, appropriately pliable broccoli and Napa cabbages, and a broth that was equal parts sweet and savory.
It's hard to stand out amid the options around town, but the portion size, the heavenly broth and the robust amount of duck made this do just that.
Both times, the service was prompt and exemplary, delivered with a friendly attitude and in appropriate speed for someone looking to fit a stop into a lunch rush.
Having just celebrated its second anniversary on June 1, Pho Jula -- named after owner Noy Morisate's daughter -- has already found itself a loyal collection of regulars in the commercial area that surrounds it.
It's not just because of proximity, however, as it has managed to take the key items from a few varieties of cuisine and created its own distinct but appetizing renditions of each.
Pho Jula is Asian comfort food that is fast, affordable and remarkably tasty, and even amid a litany of similar options, it more than deserves the attention of food mavens.
Want to rave or pan? Write your own review of this restaurant or any other recently reviewed place at adn.com/dining.
By David Harper
Daily News correspondent