People flock to Anchorage for a few reasons—breathtaking natural beauty, incredible wildlife sightings and an abundance of active adventures. Most, however, don’t make a trip to Alaska’s largest city just for the food—it’s the most overlooked component of any Last Frontier expedition. What Anchorage lacks in superficial cosmopolitan charm it makes up for in the best possible ingredients—from the sockeye salmon caught that day to the pure, glacial water coming out of the tap. It may not have the celebrity chefs of Charleston or the world-renown reputation of New York, but it’s a city that deserves far more credit than it gets—especially in the food and drink department. On your next voyage up north, book a few more days in the quiet, charming city of Anchorage and make a stop at each of these restaurants. You’ll find yourself leaving the city full and immensely inspired.
Anchorage might be Alaska’s biggest city, but it’s still a small town—especially when it comes to the food scene. So it shouldn’t surprise you that the restaurateurs behind South Restaurant and Coffeehouse (pictured at top) are also the masterminds behind two other stops on this list—Snowcity Café and Spenard Roadhouse. What differentiates South isn’t just the décor, the slightly off the beaten path location next to an industrial plot or the vibe—it’s the menu, which has over 25 gin varietals, a rotating draft of local beer and high-end cuisine. The dishes are served tapas style and are meant to be shared, and all feature as much Alaska produce, seafood and meat as possible. Start with the house cured charcuterie board, which comes with fresh artisan cheese and stone mustard. After that, move to the truffle polenta fries (which will be almost impossible to share because of how good they are), fresh oysters or the albondigas—a mix of housemade meatballs served with roasted tomato sauce. If you can’t make up your mind, go with the tapas sampler to get a taste of everything.
Photo courtesy of Snowcity Café
Known throughout the city as the place Barack Obama had eggs when he was in town last September, it’s no surprise there’s often a queue outside Snowcity Café during weekend brunch hours. With a breakfast menu served all day, modern and bright décor and a location convenient to the rest of downtown, Snowcity isn’t just a favorite for tourists and visiting politicians—the locals love it, too. The eclectic menu serves all the brunch staples, like eggs Benedict, omelets and pancakes, but they all come with an Alaskan spin. The benes come loaded with house smoked salmon or Alaska king crab legs while the fluffy pancakes are filled with freshly plucked blueberries or Snow City granola.
Photo courtesy of Downtown Anchorage Association
Located right across the street from Anchorage’s performing arts center, Orso’s (which means bear in Italian) central location makes it a favorite post-theatre spot for locals and tourists. Serving up what’s best described as “Alaskan style Italian,” Orso boasts décor that is actually more reflective of a Tuscan villa than a bistro in Anchorage (you won’t find deer antlers or bear rugs anywhere). With an expansive wine cellar consisting of wines from around the world, Orso also pours fresh from the tap Glacier Brewhouse beer (thanks to its address next door to the brewery). You’d be remiss not to order a dish topped or mixed with fresh caught Alaskan seafood—like the hearty king crab mac ‘n cheese, the housemade crispy ravioli served with pesto or the fresh Alaskan sockeye with parsley and roasted garlic.
Photo courtesy of Ginger
Part Asian fusion, part Pacific rim, Ginger’s food is always described as fresh, which isn’t surprising considering the oysters for the Alaskan Oyster Shooter are caught that day and the prawns for the Thai Noodle Soup are plucked right from the ocean. More than just seafood (even though we can’t comprehend why you’d order anything else), the menu offers a mix of both healthy and hearty dishes, like a 10-ounce grilled New York strip with hoision-Sriracha sauce or a seared tofu with coconut curry sauce. One of the stars of the menu is the spicy ahi-tuna tower, which is as beautiful as it is delicious with layers of marinated big eye ahi with fresh avocado salad, wasabi and wonton crisps. Also serving brunch, Ginger has favorites like chicken and waffles served with a pan-Asian twist, like honey-sriracha glaze.
One of the few restaurants that’s truly packed with locals 365 days out of the year, Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria serves the city’s best pizza, hands down. The reason for the popularity is simple—the restaurant makes each pie from scratch using fresh cheeses, locally sourced meat and succulent seafood and the beer is crafted in the pub’s own brewery, Broken Tooth Brewing. The most popular ale on tap is the Fairweather IPA, which pairs like a dream with the crispy and spicy Shrimp Fiesta pie made with jalapenos and red peppers or The Backpacker, made with sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts and garlic oil. Although there’s ample seating (for up to 300 guests), it’s pretty much common knowledge that you’ll wait at least 45 minutes for a table during the endless summer nights.
6. Crush Wine Bistro & Cellar
Photo by Shane Taylor
Ask any local about Crush Wine Bar & Bistro and they’ll most likely tell you one thing—Anchorage has needed it for decades. In a town heavily reliant on California wines, it can be hard (and expensive) to find a decent bottle of Bordeaux or Spanish Rose by the bottle, let alone glass. That’s why owners opened up Crush wine shop in 2008 and the bistro in 2010. The small bistro is reminiscent of a French cafe, with a rolling bar cart touting wines and a few cozy tables lining floor to ceiling windows. The food is as impressive as the wine selection, and even earned chef Chris Vane a place on the James Beard Foundation’s list of best chefs in the Northwest in 2011 (and the ability to brag for being the only Alaskan chef on the list). In addition, Crush made Wine Enthusiast’s coveted 100 Best Wine Restaurants list. The food is served tapas style and most hit well below the $10 range, making it both delicious and affordable. The baked mac and cheese and the beet pickled and smoked salmon stuffed deviled eggs are musts as appetizers, while the spaghetti with chorizo fondue and pickled mustard greens is a favorite for dinner.
7. Spenard Roadhouse
The only thing Spenard has in common with the roadhouses that decorate the sides of Alaska’s main highways is the name (and maybe the sign). Despite being pure Alaskan, the décor is bright and modern—with hanging globe lights around the bar, abstract artwork on the beige walls and fresh ferns and potted plants throughout. Not located in the downtown corridor, Spenard is a main stopping point for tourists looking to grab a quick bite before they drive off to Denali or Fairbanks. Most, though, leave completely surprised by the innovative menu, which offers everything from house-infused habanero bloody marys to salmon Carpaccio with ponzu to black garlic pasta made with fresh rigatoni and prosciutto. Don’t skip the tator tots, which can come plain or fully loaded with melted cheese, fresh herbs, bacon and sour cream.
Claire Gallam is a seasoned writer and photographer with a passion for food and travel. She has spent time in more than 40 countries and hundreds of cities.