I like to explore a new place fork first. A destination’s culinary landscape is often as interesting as its topographical one.
And Alaska is no different. If you want to break the ice with a local, ask them about their favorite pizza. Or burger. Or bowl of pho. You’ll definitely hear about Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria, which might be described as one of the city’s most important social hubs. You’ll hear about the broth-to-noodle soup ratios at old-school Vietnamese eatery Ray’s Place vs. the trendy Phonatik in South Anchorage. You’ll hear about Tommy’s Burger Stop, Lucky Wishbone and Arctic Roadrunner, where the loyal locals have gotten their burger-and-fries fixes for decades.
Landlubbers, quit reading here.
For most visitors to Alaska, fork-first travel means seafood. Fish is at the top of our gourmet (and recreational) food chain. Many residents love to fish, and those who don’t make sure to befriend someone who does. How else will you keep your second freezer packed tight with salmon and halibut? However, if during your Alaska vacation you’re not lucky enough to finagle a dinner invitation from a well-stocked local, never fear. The seafood-savvy chefs at Anchorage’s best restaurants have got you covered. From sweet king crab legs to humble halibut tacos, dining out in Anchorage means eating the way many Alaskans dine in. Which is to say, beautifully.
Salmon, in Alaska, is both a luxury and a staple. Flaky, fatty (the good kind of fat) and full-flavored, salmon stands up to a wide range of preparations, including the smokiness and heat of an open flame. There are five salmon species found in Alaska but the king variety is, well, king.
If you’re going to tuck into a glistening piece of Alaska king salmon (also known as chinook), you might as well get the royal treatment at The Crow’s Nest, the elegant restaurant at the top of the Hotel Captain Cook. A recent king salmon preparation is served with a cauliflower emulsion, roasted floret, couscous, crispy chickpeas, raisin, and sherry jam. Food comes to the table with flair and finesse, and every dish comes with 360 degrees of stunning views.
For similarly beautiful views with a more relaxed vibe, check out the 49th State Brewing Co., serving where grilled king salmon served on a bed of brown and red rice, kale, red quinoa with a lemon cream sauce can be paired with a house-brewed IPA. Bonus points for grabbing a spot at the best deck in town.
Or keep your eyes peeled for the Salmon HookUp Truck, which makes appearances at festivals, breweries and food truck fairs around Anchorage throughout the summer. Owned and operated by commercial fishermen, the Cook Inlet salmon in their sandwiches, quesadillas, tacos and kebabs is as fresh as it’s possible to get anywhere. It’s like a taste of the ocean on wheels.
For a meal with a little Latin flair, duck into the chic and trendy Tequila 61 for salmon tacos garnished with crispy fried onions, grilled pineapple and chipotle slaw. Make sure to wash them down with one of their top-notch scratch margaritas.
Or get your seafood fix at the most important meal of the day and hit up Snow City Café for a Ship Creek Benedict made with smoked salmon cakes. This laid-back local favorite also offers a Kodiak Benedict with Alaska red king crab cakes. Or go all out with the Deadliest Catch Benedict, which is a sampling of each. When it comes to Alaska breakfasts? It’s go big or go home.
Considering the size of this behemoth catch (some exceed 400 pounds), Alaska halibut is prized for its delicate, buttery flavor. Its name derivation comes from half (holy) and butte (flat fish) and a beautifully prepared fillet can indeed be a spiritual experience. Its immaculate white flesh, firm textured and clean tasting, lends itself to a wide variety of flavor profiles.
At Simon & Seafort’s Saloon & Grill, an Anchorage seafood landmark with a classic culinary sensibility, the halibut is stuffed with crab and macadamia nuts. This upscale eatery also boasts a bustling bar with beautiful views of Mount Susitna (known locally as the “Sleeping Lady”). The halibut filet at Glacier Brewhouse is coated with basil pesto and spent grain breadcrumbs and will pair nicely with a house-made beer. Or for a more playful take on this revered fish, head to Haute Quarter Grill for pecan beer-battered halibut and chips with a lemon caper tartar sauce and fries. (Pro-tip: order the zippy salmon dip to dip the crisp fries in).
At the new downtown hot spot, Tent City Taphouse, try the Halibut Alaskana served Olympia style with fresh dill, lemon crème fraiche, smoked lemon pan jus, and braised fennel. Across the street, Pangea serves up a banana cashew crusted halibut with green curry and mango chutney on jasmine rice (or on a sandwich or in tacos, depending on your mood). Crush Bistro serves a pan roasted halibut with edamame and wakame mash, baby bok choy, miso cream & house XO sauce if you’re looking for a bit of Asian flair with your fish.
In Midtown, the refined but relaxed Kinley’s Restaurant offers a range of creative offerings like lightly pan seared halibut cheeks with pancetta and pea risotto, lemon brown butter, basil oil, and a balsamic reduction.
But if you want to eat halibut like a true local, look for the hand-held variety. The White Spot Cafe, established in 1946, is an old-school lunch counter that serves up a lightly battered halibut sandwich revered by Anchorage residents for decades. At El Green-Go’s food truck, you can customize your fish tacos with either halibut or salmon and enjoy them al fresco. At F Street Station, a thick slab of perfectly grilled halibut is served as a classic sandwich with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce. (Also, make sure to check out the bar’s famous communal block of cheese). And Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse serves up ever-popular halibut tacos that most locals could describe from memory.
The king of crab
Alaska king crab legs have such a subtle and unique flavor that I’m resistant to experimental recipes. Drawn butter and perhaps a few lemon wedges are, for me, the ideal accompaniment to this peculiarly sweet delicacy. Happily, many of Anchorage’s best restaurants share my view. Haute Quarter Grill, Crow’s Nest, 49th State Brewing Company, Simon & Seafort’s, and Tent City Taphouse all offer this decadent treat, by the pound, in its simplest form. And if you want your old-school dish served in an old-school dining room, head to Club Paris, which has been serving seafood and steak since the 1950s, and where you can eat your crab with a side of nostalgia and a dash of “Mad Men” flair.
Of course, I’m still open to a cheeky king crab offering like Altura Bistro’s deeply decadent red king crab macaroni and cheese featuring fresh gemelli, hatch chilies, aged white cheddar, fontina, grana, and gremolata. And while there do not — I repeat, do not pass up a bowl of their sweet prawn bisque.
A fine-dining destination with low-key charm is The Marx Brothers Café, located in a diminutive, freestanding, historic house on Third Avenue in downtown. A bit of planning is called for to snag one of the 14 tables at this cozy culinary gem. Once there, try their Kodiak scallops like the ones served over butternut squash puree, sherry gastrique, and carrot-parsnip salad. Marx Brothers also boasts one of the best wine cellars in the state and will be happy to help you find the perfect sip for your scallops.
Or head over to Ginger Restaurant where seared diver scallops are served atop a basil-pine nut crusted three-cheese pasta, tomato brunoise, and finished with truffle oil and fresh basil. This is not your grandma’s mac and cheese.
Altura Bistro’s recent Kodiak Weathervane Scallop special featured forbidden rice, mint-pea puree, togarashi bacon, pickled onion, dashi tuile, and basil flowers if you’re looking for a dish that looks as beautiful as it tastes.
And the always exceptional Kincaid Grill serves a French take on scallops in an upscale environment with their Kodiak Scallops Nicoise served with haricots verts, roasted cherry tomatoes, Castelvetrano olives, roasted garlic, mashed potatoes, and lemon butter nage.
As my family will tell you, I love oysters. Every year, I dutifully bring my family to the Alaska State Fair. I like giant pumpkins and baby piglets as much as the next person, but secretly, I go for the oysters. When I arrive, I saddle up to the Pristine Products oyster booth and down a quick dozen of Prince William Sound’s finest while watching the pros shuck the next plateful. At the end of the day, after my family has stuffed themselves full of funnel cake and onion blossoms, I’ve been biding my time. My farewell gesture to the fair is to slurp back another dozen oysters. They’re that good.
If you aren’t lucky enough to be in town during the Alaska State Fair, you’ll just have to suck it up (so to speak) and get your fix without the funnel-cake palate cleanser.
Many restaurants serve fresh-shucked local oysters with a traditional mignonette or cocktail sauce, including Fletcher’s (the more casual dining option in the Hotel Captain Cook), F Street Station, and Sullivan’s Steakhouse. For something more refined, the Crow’s Nest offers theirs with a melon sorbet and serrano chili, Haute Quarter Grill offers a cold oyster dish served with a strawberry-ginger mignonette.
In midtown, Altura Bistro serves fresh oysters with cucumber caviar, yuzu mignonette, and ruby grapefruit while nearby, Kinley’s serves them cold or au gratin in roasted shallot cream sauce topped with basil and sauteed spinach.
That said, the cold salt waters of Alaskan’s coast produce the most delicious oysters in the world — plump, sweet and briny — so after dabbling with dips, toppings and sauces, do yourself a flavor and end your meal with at least one oyster eaten au naturel. A little taste of the sea is the perfect dessert.