Reading and food go hand in crumb-y hand. Newspapers marked with buttery croissant fingerprints. Slowly spooning soup while engrossed in the newest installment of a favorite series. Having to stop in the middle of Ruth Reichl's latest book because you can't live another second without whipping up a batch of pink deviled eggs. You're probably munching on a sandwich as you read this.
I liken this article's selections to the staff picks at your favorite local bookstore: unexpected, quirky, affordable and fun. Everything is under $8, and while some are probably already on your radar (if you haven't been eating at Ray's Place since you were born, you might as well start flagellating now), I hope the others are a delicious surprise. Like opening up a well-worn copy of "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" and finding a $20 bill.
Tasty Traveler Food Truck
This is the little indie magazine of food trucks that only rolls out periodically (ha, get it?) but is fresh enough to make it worth seeking out. Plus, while the menu is predominantly Mexican, owner-operators Jim Adkison Jr. and Mackenzie Moen throw in culinary cameos from Cajun country, Asia and India. The $8 burritos are served with rice and beans and can be filled with adobo pulled pork, citrus-roasted chicken, curry roasted sweet potato, fajita veggie or the blackened fish of the day (add $1). This summer, look for salmon tempura rolls, curried chicken wings and quinoa tabouleh on the expanded menu.
Search for Tasty Traveler food truck on Facebook for locations; 907-980-0293
Qwik Cup Espresso
Almost everything at this full-service coffee shop is under $8 and they offer delivery to boot. It's like sitting at home with your Kindle and having books magically appear. There's nothing fancy here, and that's OK; sometimes you just need a 1-pound breakfast burrito ($7.75) and a quad-shot latte to get your day started. The drive-thru is convenient and the baristas are pleasant; they don't judge when one furtively orders jalapeño poppers ($4.75), chicken nuggets ($7.75) and nachos ($3.50) for a midday snack.
5881 Arctic Blvd.; 907-562-7945
I eat here so often that the servers automatically bring out a plate of the crispy pork rolls with a side of chili oil. Ray's Place is fast, the service is some of the best I've ever experienced and the food is soul-crushingly good. The small bowls of pho are a super-steal. Beef, chicken, vegetable or meatball bowls are ideal portions at just $7.50. With all the trimmings, it's more than enough to satisfy a lunchtime appetite, and is perfect for a light dinner. You know that best-seller that gets so many rave reviews that you find it hard to believe the hype? Believe.
2412 Spenard Road; 907-279-2932
Top Bop is a new and welcome arrival to the fast-food scene. Quick Korean meals ranging from $6.99-$8.99 are a wonderful alternative to grabbing a tired hamburger and fries. The Top Bop ($6.99) features meatballs and vegetables over rice. The Bibim Bop ($7.99) has all the classic elements — thinly shaved meat, crisp-tender vegetables, a gooey egg — for a fraction of what other restaurants charge. True, there is no banchan, which for me is the multifaceted theater of Korean dining, but every so often, the Cliffs Notes will do.
220 Muldoon Road; 907-334-3377
Lucys at UAA
Sometimes you want a little bit more panache for your pesos. Lucy's, a student-run dining room representing the future of Alaska's culinary stardom, offers a beautifully curated and innovative menu for a ridiculously low price. Listen, as I read aloud from this evocative and lyrical poem: wild mushrooms, leeks, Havarti and cream cheese baked on puff pastry and served with petite frisee truffle salad and roasted red pepper coulis ($7.50). Or this composition: thin-sliced Honeycrisp apples and Comice pears layered with Camembert cheese, baby arugula, mint, blueberries and blackberries served over strawberry balsamic reduction and garnished with candied pecans ($7.75). The dishes are delicate, but they feed the soul.
3211 Providence Drive; 907-786-1122
Alaska Dispatch Publishing