After staying in the Philippines for a month in 2014, I've had a craving for classic Filipino dishes, like ube, adobo and lumpia — and you'd think it'd be easy to find them at a good Filipino restaurant in Anchorage.
After all, there's a big Filipino population here — about half of Asian-Americans in Alaska trace their heritage back to the Philippines, according to 2014 statistics from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Yet the food of the Philippines has remained largely under the radar in Anchorage's dining scene.
Then, through several of my Filipino friends, I heard about Lucky Kitchen. It's a small, cafeteria-style restaurant attached to Lucky Market on the corner of International Airport Road and Arctic Boulevard, and I decided to give it a chance to curb my cravings.
For a restaurant that's part of a grocery store, it's surprisingly spacious, with comfortable seating for about 30 people. It was clean and well lit, and on a recent visit the smell of freshly made adobo filled the room. Lucky Kitchen features a mix of buffet-style Filipino, Thai and Chinese food, as well as made-to-order options.
On my first visit I brought three friends, one whom was familiar with Filipino cuisine. We ordered a two-entree combo, which comes with fried rice or lo mein, two main dishes and either a vegetable egg roll or a longanisa sausage ($9.49). We also ordered a whole pompano fish ($6.99), longanisa sausage (89 cents each) and lechon (deep-fried side pork, $11.99 a pound).
The combo was a pretty good deal, considering it was enough for two people. Ours consisted of fried rice, sesame chicken, pork adobo and a longanisa sausage. The sesame chicken was fine, basically the typical Chinese-American style of the dish. The pork adobo, on the other hand, propelled me straight back to Cebu City.
Adobo, the national dish of the Philippines, is typically pork or chicken cooked with vinegar and soy sauce. The dish should be sweet, sour and salty, with none of the flavors overpowering the others. That was how it tasted at Lucky Kitchen, and the peppercorns, my favorite part, were abundant and gave the saucy pork dish a punch of sharp flavor.
The pompano fish was fried and served whole, with just about everything but the eyes. A small fish, the pompano looks similar to tilapia and barely filled the Styrofoam plate we were eating on. Peeling back the skin of the fish revealed a surprising amount of white meat. With our plastic forks, we pulled the meat from the bones and ate the whole thing very carefully. The flavor of the fish was buttery and mild like cod, but slightly fishier.
Everyone ordered a small longanisa sausage to try. Longanisa is a good representation of Spanish influence in the Philippines; it's a sausage similar to chorizo, but sweeter and can be made with chicken, beef or even tuna. The sausage varies from region to region, but at Lucky Kitchen it tasted like pork sausage and was more sweet than spicy. My lunch dates fell in love with the tiny sausages.
For a snack to share we got an order of lechon from the buffet table. Chopped into bite-sized pieces, the fried outer layer of this dish is extremely crunchy at first and then gives way to juicy, fatty pork. Lechon should ideally be eaten piping hot and accompanied with a dipping sauce of some sort — this lechon, unfortunately, was not hot enough. However, on a follow-up visit I got it made-to-order, and it came out just right. So for the optimal lechon experience at Lucky Kitchen, make sure to ask for sweet and sour sauce and order it made fresh.
Other Filipino dishes Lucky Kitchen brings to the table are pinakbet (a mix of vegetables steamed in fish or shrimp sauce), ginisang upo (bottle gourd sauteed in garlic, onions and tomatoes with pork), ginataang kalabasa (shrimp and vegetable dish cooked in coconut milk) and ginisang ampalaya (sauteed bitter melon). All were $11.99 for a large entree portion.
The most convenient thing about Lucky Kitchen is that if you find something you love in the deli, you can walk next door to Lucky Market and buy what you need to make it at home. For a Philippines-inspired meal or snack, visit the market for a package of longanisa sausage, calamansi juice or even ube cake.
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 12 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.
Location: 5011 Arctic Blvd. Suite B.
Contact: 907-929-2229 or look on Facebook for "Lucky Kitchen"