It’s been a while since I’ve written about the Anchorage food scene, but that’s not because I haven’t been dutifully chowing my way across town gaining my quarantine 10. Gone are the early days of the hunker down, when I was among the many taking part in “Little House on the Prairie” cosplay, baking bread in a Dutch oven and (I kid you not) making butter in a Mason jar. You have my permission to roll your eyes. It was not long before my children were rolling their eyes at my increasingly vintage casseroles and demanding takeout pho.
And local restaurants — resilient, scrappy and innovative — have been busy figuring out new ways to serve the community. With no-contact deliveries, curbside pick-ups, expanded patios, distanced tables and mandated masks, restaurants and their diners are adapting to the new normal.
Which brings me to the Spenard Food Truck Carnival. I’ve always been a fan, but this year it is especially appealing. It feels like the old normal.
Takeout and social distancing are built into the food truck model. So, on a recent Tuesday evening, I headed over to the Chilkoot Charlie’s parking lot for Trucking Tuesday to score a decadent and eclectic dinner.
There were a lot of familiar faces and perennial favorites that evening, and I’ve already written love letters to a number of them: Yeti Dogs, with its shiny truck, delicious dogs and creative toppings; Salmon HookUp, which has one of the best fish sandwiches in town; Slice of Heaven, with their killer whoopie pies; Da Poke Man Express, with its super-fresh poke; the Smokehouse BBQ, with their sinful, smothered cowboy fries; Toya’s mouth-watering ribs; Mochileros for their addictive pupusas; and Babycakes Cupcakes, Etc. for... well, just about everything they make. To name a few.
But I was in the market for something new.
I started out at Russian Eats, a truck that has been hitting my good-buzz radar since last summer. They specialize in golden-brown, flaky piroshkies in beef, spicy beef and chicken, as well as vegetarian borscht (both hot and cold, for every Alaskan summer weather mood). I opted for the beef pelmeni ($11) because my love for dumplings is truly international.
Russian Eats’ pelmeni are the ultimate comfort food for these discomforting times. A savory meatball of ground beef, cabbage, onions and herbs is wrapped in silky, thin, pasta dough. These delicate little bundles, best served with a drizzle of soy sauce and a dollop of sour cream, are gently spicy and deeply satisfying. It’s like a hug from your grandmother when actual hugs are not recommended.
Next, I dropped by BruceSkis, a baby blue truck with Girdwoodian flair specializing in Turkish-inspired cuisine. I opted for the Adana kebab ($11) made with a blend of ground beef and lamb spiced up with assertive, cumin-forward seasoning. Wrapped up in a warm pita with a little fresh salad and a delectable garlic tahini sauce, this was a nice, one-handed meal designed for noshing while strolling.
I watched a few orders of Turkish fries roll out — fried potatoes seasoned with Mediterranean spices and garlic tahini sauce — but remembered that I was playing the long game and put it on my list of pleasures deferred.
And it’s a good thing I did, because I was happy to have room for my last stop of the day.
Papaya Tree offers a spare and simple menu of Laotian, Thai and Vietnamese classics, including meatballs, chicken and pork skewers, fresh and spring rolls and Thai iced tea. I opted for the pad Thai (a bargain for the portion size at $8) and papaya salad ($8). The pad Thai was comforting and satisfying, but the papaya salad stole the show. The server asked how spicy I liked it and promised not to hold back. I might have broken a bit of a sweat while I gobbled it up.
Papaya salad is an intriguing bowlful of contradictions. A cold dish for a hot day, it’s both fiery and cooling. Crunchy with fresh vegetables, soft with rice noodles, and with a salty, sweet, spicy dressing that hits every part of your palate. It’s a master class in balance. I could eat this every day.
There are so many reasons to love the Spenard Food Truck Carnival, not the least of which is the ability to assemble a Franken-dinner that scratches all your culinary itches. And I don’t know about you, but I find myself a little itchier than usual. Eating good food is, after all, self-care. So, a hot dog amuse bouche? A poke palate cleanser? A french-fry entrée? Why not. It’s 2020. There are no rules.
(Note: There are a few newbies in this food-truck cooperative that I haven’t quite managed to try yet, but I’ll be seeking them out and reporting back. If you know of any other parking lot, picnic table and park-bench pop-ups, let me know at email@example.com.)
The Spenard Food Truck Carnival
Location: Chilkoot Charlie’s parking lot, 2435 Spenard Road
11 a.m.-2 p.m. every Thursday, 5-8 p.m. every other Tuesday (next one scheduled for July 14) and 5-8 p.m. every Saturday (next one scheduled for July 11)
Bites Al Fresco
Smaller, related food-truck pod
Location: 405 B St. in downtown Anchorage
11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday
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