Frontier food: The best places to eat and drink in Anchorage, Alaska

Beer and bar food from Glacier Brewhouse, Anchorage.
Beer and bar food from Glacier Brewhouse, Anchorage. Photo: Robson Abbott/Visit Anchorage

 Alaska is a magnificently supersized landscape. Mighty glaciers tumble ocean-wards, serried snow peaks fang the horizon, and fir-topped islands scatter a coastline of endless convolutions. You'll feel like Bear Grylls when you visit this chilly, untamed edge of the world, but you won't have to abandon civilisation's pleasures. Not in its largest city Anchorage, anyway.

True, you'll find plain food designed to be gobbled by exhausted ice-road truckers, but you'll also discover fine-dining restaurants that showcase fresh Alaskan seafood, especially salmon, halibut, king crab and oysters. Nor is the food just local. One of the more surprising facts about Anchorage is that it has three of America's top 10 neighbourhoods for ethnic diversity. The result is Asian and African restaurants, food trucks that serve Filipino, Russian or Cajun food, and international influences on nearly every menu.

The weekend Anchorage Market is a good place to get an overview of Alaskan produce. It brings together 300 vendors offering food and handicrafts, and has an Eat Local section where you can taste elk, bison, smoked fish, reindeer sausages, fireweed honey and birch syrup, Alaska's smoky-sweet answer to maple syrup. You could also try earthy, somewhat bitter Chaga tea, made from a tree-growing mushroom said to be good for the health.

Pasta from Orso Restaurant.
Pasta from Orso Restaurant.  Photo: Jody Overstreet/Visit Anchorage

Rather start your day with coffee? Head to Snow City Cafe, where you might have to queue with locals for a table. The buzzy atmosphere is great, the walls hung with photos of dog-sled teams, and the menu offers everything from hash browns and chorizo to seven varieties of eggs benedict. You could make your first acquaintance with Alaska's terrific seafood by ordering spicy fish tacos made with cod and pineapple-pepper salsa, or king crab cakes atop poached eggs.

Alaska has some of the world's top fishing, and even in downtown Anchorage you can bag salmon, trout or Arctic grayling. Head to Ship Creek to find locals standing in the water or slumped on folding chairs along the riverbanks, clutching fishing rods. (Rent a rod and obtain a fishing licence from a sports shop if you want to try your luck yourself.) Ten-kilo salmon are commonly caught here. Locals will tell you how they smoke their catch over apple chips, or dry brine it in canning salt, brown sugar and garlic.

No surprise that the city has excellent seafood restaurants. Jens' Restaurant (named for the late owner-chef Jens Hansen) matches Scandinavian minimalist decor with inventive Nordic quality on the plate in dishes such as fennel-dusted Kodiak scallops with couscous, and almond-crusted cod with cherry relish and balsamic reduction.

A flight of ciders from Double Shovel Cider Co, Anchorage.
A flight of ciders from Double Shovel Cider Co, Anchorage. Photo: Jody Overstreet/Visit Anchorage

Unassuming Marx Bros. Cafe, inside a 1916 cottage housing just 14 tables, has an ever-changing menu but always features its perennially popular macadamia halibut, served with coconut curry and mango chutney. Other fusion dishes might include gnocchi with king crab, or oysters with pepper vodka and pickled ginger.

Also excellent for seafood is Orso, a venue made cosy with colourful Middle Eastern rugs and jazz music. Try the sockeye salmon with a parsley-lime aioli or the crab-stuffed rockfish – although the slow-braised lamb shanks aren't bad either.

For a change of pace, the cavernous Glacier Brewhouse is right next door, its vats gleaming behind glass and its wood-fired pizza oven smouldering in one corner. A flight of beer gives you a good sampling of the brewery's West Coast and English-style beers, which you can enjoy with bowls of crab legs, barbecued ribs or a flatiron steak.

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Double Shovel Cider Co. has at least 10 ciders on tap at any time, some with unusual flavours such as cherry, habanero and rhubarb. Its flagship semi-dry cider has an agreeable tartness and bite. Sit out on the terrace and you can snack from whichever food trucks happen by on the day.

Wine more your thing? Then Crush Wine Bistro is Anchorage's best wine bar, with a choice of 600 wines (40 by the glass) and an impressive selection of small sharing plates such as Moroccan octopus stew, pork-and-ricotta meatballs, and duck cassoulet with white bean ragout. The most sensational nibble might be prosciutto-wrapped dates stuffed with baked chicken skin, feta and caperberries.

Meanwhile, Crow's Nest Restaurant has a 10,000-bottle cellar big on Pacific Northwest, French and Italian wines. You can do a cellar tour or cheese-and-wine pairing with the sommelier. Israeli-born chef Reuben Gerber's food is a delight, ranging from fire-roasted red capsicum soup to pork chop with burnt apple, and views from the restaurant windows are staggering. You can see the Chugach Mountains and all the way to Denali National Park, a brilliant reminder that you're in the wilderness even as you tuck into champagne and caramel poached pear with gorgonzola gelato.

Anchorage's best wine bar, Crush Wine Bistro, has a choice of 600 wines.
Anchorage's best wine bar, Crush Wine Bistro, has a choice of 600 wines. Photo: Crush Wine Bistro

DETAILS

Anchorage Market, anchoragemarkets.com

Snow City Cafe, snowcitycafe.com

Jens' Restaurant, jensrestaurant.com

Salmon fishing at Ship Creek. Even in downtown Anchorage you can bag salmon, trout or Arctic grayling.
Salmon fishing at Ship Creek. Even in downtown Anchorage you can bag salmon, trout or Arctic grayling.  Photo: Ken Graham/Visit Anchorage

Marx Bros Cafe, marxcafe.com

Orso, orsoalaska.com

Glacier Brewhouse, glacierbrewhouse.com

Double Shovel Cider Co., doubleshovelcider.co

Crush Wine Bistro, crushak.com

Crow's Nest Restaurant, captaincook.com