There’s something very Alaskan about food truck culture. Scrappy, light-on-their-feet (or wheels) and spontaneous, these traveling MacGyver-style kitchens mirror the can-do spirit of the Alaska adventurer. After all, rain or shine, summer is takeout season in Alaska. Why sit in a restaurant or café when you can chow down under a tree, atop a mountain or at a scenic pullout?
I for one am not content to fuel my adventures with a diet of gorp. I’ll leave power bars to the harder-core outdoorsman. There’s always room in my backpack for a burrito.
The Old Seward corridor south of Dimond, once a bit of a dining desert, is home to a lively and growing food-truck community. Established names like Bear Mace Bites and Glacier Bowl have pioneered the area and a few new spots have recently hit the scene.
The parking lot of 12100 Coffee and Communitas is newly home to a food-truck collective anchored by Glacier Bowl. Three carts live in daily harmony, and you can park your car and then park yourself on the lovely deck of the adjoining coffee house or inside if the weather is inclement and you need a side of caffeine with your calamari salad.
New truck (to me at least) Pollo Loco is serving up — you’ll never guess — chicken. When cooler heads prevail, I might opt for their delicate, almost transparent pot stickers served up with a dipping sauce and a generous sprinkling of fresh green onions. But when I’m feeling decadent, I’m more likely to go for the classic fried chicken sandwich. Crispy on the outside, moist within, it’s served simply on a soft roll with a quick swipe of a nicely seasoned aioli. Alongside this handheld bundle of guilt are thick, crisp, hand-cut fries and the absolute best coleslaw I’ve had in years — spicy, fresh, crispy and zingy. The slaw alone is worth the trip.
Another member of the collective is Polar Dip, and it’s one of my favorite newcomers of the summer. This inviting and rather well-heeled little cart is serving up a variety of classic soups and sandwiches with a side of Alaska eclecticism. Think garlic-scape soup, jack fruit tacos with nettle kimchi, pickled fiddleheads and rose-hip jelly. I’m partial to the classic polar dip, a beautifully executed take on a French dip served with a cup of intensely flavorful jus (I fished a few whole garlic cloves out of mine). Sublimely cheesy with threads of soft, cooked, sweet onions throughout, this is a highly craveable sandwich. I was also in love with the day’s special: a crab bisque that was, magically, both rich and light — not the unapologetic bowl of cream that sometimes masquerades as a bisque. The broth is dark and, well, crabby. I found a few bits of shell in my bowl and was not a bit mad about it. An added bonus that day was the offer of a bright green cupcake sitting on a cake plate at the takeout window. “I’m working on my piping skills!” said the proprietor as he popped the cake into a soup cup for me to take home. Love to win the baked goods lottery.
The Spenard Food Truck Carnival (Thursdays and occasionally Saturdays in the Chilkoot Charlie’s parking lot – check their Facebook page) and K Street Eats (open Fridays and located, charmingly, on E Street) are must-visit hubs of food-truck favorites, and a few newcomers this summer have caught my attention. I’m particularly taken with the pork ribs at Toya’s Soul Food. I had originally planned to order fried chicken but the spicy, smoky smells wafting from inside the truck changed my mind. These ribs pass the all-important plastic fork challenge, effortlessly sliding off the bone and pulling apart in flavorful, easy-to-eat shreds. The barbecue sauce that slathers them is a beautiful balance of savory, sweet and smoky. I ordered mine with sides of creamy mac and cheese and a heap of tangy, earthy, vibrant collard greens.
Also new this year is the Da Poke Man Express truck serving up fresh and flavorful poke including ahi, crab, mussels and shrimp along with a few landlubber options like a teriyaki burger and musubi. I opted for the sweet and spicy bowl, which came with a scoop of seasoned rice, a handful of edamame and a generous heap of glistening, watermelon-pink cubes of tuna. These are large, generous bites of fish and they’re mild, pleasantly fatty and almost creamy on the tongue. The sweet-and-spicy seasoning was exactly right – playful and prominent yet not overpowering. I could eat this every day. Added bonus: A variety of imported candies, beverages, and snacks (including dried octopus) for sale give you something to browse while you wait.
The Salmon Hookup Truck is another up-and-comer. I had been craving a plate of fish and chips but my daughter talked me into sharing their salmon burger, a grilled salmon fillet on a soft pretzel bun. It was out of this world. The salmon was perfectly cooked — tender, flaky and full of flavor. A light, lemony sauce brightened up a simple and deeply satisfying dish, and my only disappointment was that we decided to share. I’ll be thinking about this dish all summer, and this truck will be my first stop when entertaining out-of-state house guests for a taste of what Alaskans most prize.
Not far from the Chilkoot Charlie’s windmill is a new version of an old friend. DD’s Burgers (motto: “We plead guilty of assault with a delicious weapon”) opened late last year and shares DNA with the sadly lamented Quickie Burger, a personal favorite. The new digs are a bit more commodious and offer a drive-up window as well as a walk-up one (though I’d still love to see a picnic bench or two). These burgers are spot-on. We recently opted for a Denali, a double-decker construction that “Makes the Big Mac look like a kid’s burger,” according to the menu. It’s a classic with two juicy beef patties, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, sweet onions, and what can best be described as “special sauce.” This is a cheeky spot with friendly service, a pun-rich menu, and some excellent beer-battered onion rings. The closing of Quickie Burger left me bereft but now I can begin to heal. I’ve been very brave.
Anchorage’s food-truck scene is burgeoning and new ones are popping up with the season like wild mushrooms. I’ve already started a list of the ones that got away (before my deadline, at least), but would love to hear from readers about their favorite best-kept secrets (full disclosure: I’m terrible at keeping secrets). For my thoughts on Yeti Dogs, Smokehouse BBQ & Catering, Adobo Grill/Jeepney by Adobo Grill, Main Event Catering & Event Planning, Glacier Bowl, Bear Mace Bites, Mochileros, Tiki Pete’s and Baby Cakes Cupcakes, Etc., among others, check my past reviews. Spoiler alert: Everything tastes better when eaten on a picnic table.
12100 Communitas Food Truck Collective
12100 Old Seward Highway
Spenard Food Truck Carnival
2435 Spenard Road
K Street Eats
225 E St.
440 W. Fireweed Lane
Food trucks are, of course, mobile and small food stands often keep erratic hours, so be sure to follow your favorites on Facebook to catch their latest locations and schedule.