My love for food is an expensive affair. I once spent $25 on a burger because I couldn't decide which toppings I wanted the most so I panicked and ordered them all. When a new restaurant opens up, I am the first in line, salivating over the delicious possibilities and insisting that we order at least half of the menu. It is money well spent and I regret nothing, but sometimes I want something cheap and satisfying. This can be a conundrum in Anchorage, where food prices are often sky-high; I joke that my homemade guacamole costs as much as caviar.
These are my favorite places to treat myself without breaking the bank. The denim of dining out -- not fancy, eminently comfortable and looks good on everyone. And at around $8 a pop for a filling meal, you can set aside the savings to purchase all the avocados you want.
Bennys Food Wagon
This place makes me so happy. Benny's little wagon of joy has been feeding locals for decades and I'm grateful they're still around. The lunch special ($8, rice and beans plus two items) is a perfect amalgamation of cheese, beans and spice. The choices are straightforward. Tacos, beef burritos, cheese burritos, tamales, tostadas and enchiladas constitute the whole of it, but that's all that's necessary. I like to stand in the steamy wagon and watch them work; culinary alchemy is created from five or six simple ingredients. My favorite combo is the hard taco and cheese burrito. That burrito has been my comfort food since before I knew that was a term. I take my little foil-wrapped plate to the car, turn the heat on full blast and pretend I'm eating street food in Mexico.
913 Photo Ave., 907-350-5711
Happy hour at Orso (3-6 p.m. and 9 p.m-close every day) is a lovely way to try new flavors without fully committing to an entire plate -- like speed dating for your tastebuds. We tried the crispy cauliflower ($2.95), rosemary potato bread ($3.95), polenta ragu ($3.95) and crispy ravioli ($6.95). The ravioli has been a staple at Orso for years and I love it still. Alaska Pasta Co. five-cheese ravioli is served with a pesto and tomato sauce duo and is as addicting as you would imagine deep-fried cheese to be. What caught my attention were the newer additions of polenta and rosemary bread. The bread was really fantastic, warm and crusty, fragrant with herbs. Tomato chutney, sweet cream butter and hummus are served on the side, while the polenta ragu comes topped with a yolky fried egg. Happy hour is perfect for groups, the closest thing we have to tapas in Anchorage.
737 W. Fifth Ave., 907-222-3232
Bear Tooth Grill
Sometimes I think the nicest thing about being an adult is brunch. On the weekends, the Bear Tooth's cheerfully raucous dining room is my go-to. It's always packed, the drinks are spot-on and for a mere $6, you, too, can eat a giant fluffy pile of biscuits and gravy. This is for the half-order, which is what I recommend unless you plan on lying down for the rest of the day. The buttermilk beauties are house made and the gravy is straight from Grandma. I add plenty of freshly ground pepper and hot sauce, and I always share so that I can guilt people into giving me bites of their food, too. It's shocking how many things taste great when dragged through sausage gravy.
1230 W. 27th Ave., 907-276-4200
Midnight Sun Cafe
Downtown, tucked into a corner of the Fifth Avenue parking garage, is this gem of a cafe. I would always stop there on my way to bartending gigs to get freshly baked cookies and a sandwich. It's a huge step up from the food court and still very reasonably priced. The breakfast croissant ($5) with cheese, sausage or ham and a fried egg is a killer way to start the day. The veggie croissant ($4.75) with a fried egg, spinach, tomato and Swiss is less of a gut-buster but no less satisfying. The Cafe's Daily Special ($8.25) is what keeps me coming back. Half of a sandwich, the soup of the day and baby carrots make me feel healthy and responsible. I swear I can taste the love. Plus, they always let me pick out the biggest cookie.
245 W. Fifth Ave., Suite 106, 907-743-0572
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