The best places to eat in Anchorage range from food trucks to fine dining restaurants. On our trip, I tried to sample it all. Of course, salmon is to Alaska the way lobster is to Maine, so if you arrive during salmon season, as most visitors do, do as the grizzlies and feast on it. Keep in mind that different kinds of salmon run at different times, with king salmon starting off the season and silver salmon finishing it off.
In addition to salmon, look for crab, oysters, steelhead trout, and halibut. Due to its price, king crab can be found mostly in more expensive restaurants. The listing of reindeer on a menu can give out-of-state visitors the willies, but perhaps not as much if you think of it as venison.
Due to the city’s outpost town vibe, even upscale dining does not require the dressiness that you might find in a major lower-48 city. When in doubt for dinner, adopt business casual.
I’ve divided the best places to eat into categories, so scroll down to find what you’re looking for. The sidebar contains only some of the restaurants I review below.
Special Occasion Restaurants
Whether you are celebrating a birthday or anniversary or just want a memorable experience, you will likely gravitate to one of two restaurants. Yes, you can find good food elsewhere, but these two restaurants, albeit completely different in ambience, prepare some of the best food in Anchorage.
The Marx Brothers Café
You could be excused if you passed by The Marx Brothers Café without a second thought. Located in one of the oldest houses in Anchorage, the restaurant looks unassuming from the outside. The name suggests a casual restaurant or maybe a coffee shop. But behind the humble exterior lies the best food I ate while in the city. Even if a particular dish sounded ordinary on the menu, it looked and tasted extraordinary.
Because The Marx Brothers Café has only fourteen tables and serves around sixty people per night, reservations are essential.
We started by sharing caviar on blini and Alaskan oysters on the half shell. While the caviar lent a special note to the dinner, the real stars were the oysters. The chef topped each plump oyster with a small dollop of pepper vodka ginger sorbet that added surprising complexity. If I could frequent The Marx Brothers Café, I would order these every time.
The macadamia-crusted halibut and the rockfish en papillote with shrimp were delicious and perfectly cooked, with flavors that brought out the best in all the ingredients.
The Crow’s Nest
Atop the Hotel Captain Cook, The Crow’s Nest offers a more traditional fine dining ambience. While The Marx Brothers Café is intimate, The Crow’s Nest has a wide open dining room that offers panoramic views of Anchorage and Cook Inlet. In keeping with the Alaskan vibe, diners wore everything from jeans to evening gowns, with most of us in-between. The servers were formal but, except for the white tablecloths, the décor was not.
Every dish we sampled at The Crow’s Nest excelled in preparation and presentation. Less innovative than The Marx Brothers Café, it still offers impeccably fresh ingredients.
As we did at The Marx Brothers Café, we started with oysters on the half shell. These oysters starred nothing other than themselves — plump and fresh. The mignonette sauce added the traditional tartness to offset the brine.
Because we were in Alaska, my husband ordered the Alaskan king crab legs – a full pound. I ordered the duck breast. The crab legs, with drawn butter, tasted as sweet as they should; however, because the restaurant served smaller legs, the shell-to-meat ratio was high. Perhaps because the chef had more to do, the duck breast impressed me more. Cooked medium rare and cut into two, the succulent meat tasted wonderful. The blackberry pan sauce included whole berries, and the duck-fat cornbread added a rich but not overwhelming counterpoint.
Because it was our anniversary that evening, our server presented us with a special dessert.
For a Small Plate Dinner
Crush Bistro and Wine Bar
Because we wanted a light dinner our first evening in Anchorage, we looked for a place that offered small plates. Crush Bistro ended up as the perfect spot. The restaurant has a full bar and, of course, wines by the bottle and glass in addition to both large and small plates. I ordered a flight of red wines to sample with my meal.
The food and service were excellent. The pork & ricotta meatballs with smokey tomato sauce and the prosciutto-wrapped dates especially scored high points from me.
Excellent Pacific Rim Cuisine
Sometimes you need a change of flavors and cuisine. We had read great things about Ginger, and I’m glad we heeded them. Even though the dishes don’t hue exactly to familiar Pacific Rim recipes, the chef uses ingredients that evoke several of those cuisines, particularly Thai, Hawaiian, and Chinese. You will find both mild and spicy dishes on the menu.
My husband, always a sucker for French fries, wanted to start with those. I’m snobbish when I come to fries –- if they don’t have the right texture and flavor, I won’t eat them – but I loved the fresh-cut fries with wasabi aioli. We also shared the spring rolls with vermicilli noodles and a cilantro/mint dipping sauce. The spring rolls were good, but ordinary.
I took our server’s recommendation and ordered Me Krob, a deliciously spicy mix of chicken, pork, and shrimp. The bed of regular and crispy vermicelli noodles added interesting texture in every mouthful.
My husband ordered the almost-as-delicious poke bowl with sashimi-grade tuna, served over a bed of Napa cabbage and jasmine rice. Bits of mango added a sweet fruitiness. For dessert, we shared Ginger Pear cheesecake with Jim Beam caramel sauce. Although I’m not normally a cheesecake fan – that’s my husband’s realm – I enjoyed the combination of flavors, even if it tasted too rich for me to eat much.
Best Place For a Sit-Down Lunch
Simon & Seaforts
After spending all morning at The Anchorage Museum and needing to fill the time between that and our trolley tour, we stopped at Simon & Seaforts for lunch. My husband opted for the Salmon B.L.T, while I went for the Grilled Salmon and Chilled Shrimp Louie, hold the egg. Both of us enjoyed our selection. Although we made a reservation, we didn’t need one, as many tables sat empty. During June and July, demand might be higher.
Best Place For Breakfast
Snow City Café
The iconic Snow City Café had a lengthy wait no matter when we tried to eat breakfast or lunch there. We tried early. We tried late. Finally, we resigned ourselves to enduring some kind of wait if we wanted to eat there. Instead of sitting on a bench outside the restaurant for a full hour, we decided to take a walk to pass the time. Good thing we decided to return early since I received a text saying our table was ready fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.
To take the edge off our hunger, we ordered two mini cinnamon rolls while we awaited the rest of our order. Yum! I had the house-made granola and yogurt parfait with fresh fruit with a much less healthy side of thick-cut bacon. My husband went for the fried egg sandwich on toasted sourdough bread.
Because Snow City Café is also an espresso bar, I ordered a skinny cappuccino that came in a glass to show off the layers. The restaurant offers an expansive coffee menu that includes selections such as Almond Joy (coconut and almond mocha), Kaladi Latte (vanilla, chocolate, and coffee latte), and Raspberry Dream (raspberry white chocolate mocha.)
Best For a Late-Night Snack or Meal
49th State Brewing
When we arrived late on the train from Seward (see Best Things to Do in Anchorage), we needed a place that still served dinner. Not surprisingly, the local brewing company proved to be our best option. Located not far from the train station, 49th State Brewing ended up as the best choice for an informal meal and a beer. We ordered their famous giant pretzel, a pizza with olives and pepperoni, and an IPA. Especially since we hadn’t eaten since lunch, the comfort food hit the spot.
Best Place for Happy Hour
Although many people swear by Sullivan’s Steakhouse for an excellent and traditional steak house dinner, we chose it instead for its Happy Hour. We needed an early and somewhat light dinner before our red-eye flight back to the East Coast. The restaurant’s Happy Hour menu allowed us to get a quasi-meal and a cocktail.
Despite some serving and kitchen issues – the chef had quit and walked out just as we arrived – we found the bar and its bartender both welcoming and conscientious. Of course, Happy Hour food is never the most nutritious, and I’m always left craving vegetables. For my husband, however, it couldn’t have been more perfect.
We ordered Signature Beef Burger Sliders, Cheesesteak Egg Rolls, and Spicy Shrimp Egg Rolls. The big surprise for me was how much I liked the cheesesteak egg rolls since I’m not usually a cheesesteak fan (heresy here in eastern Pennsylvania.) I most loved the sliders, however, since they were both juicy and flavorful. I’m not sure the sliders always appear like the ones we ate since “they” were really one burger cut into thirds. With the absent chef no longer supervising the kitchen, the staff could have improvised.
For an On-the-Go Lunch
International House of Hotdogs
“House”? Ha! The International House of Hotdogs is a food truck with a permanent location not far from Snow City Café. You can order your food and sit at the picnic-style area behind it. Where else can you choose from fourteen different hotdogs and styles? You can even substitute a vegetarian sausage for several of the options.
While the crinkle fries in the combo meal were so-so, the Alaskan reindeer sausage tasted great – for a hotdog. (Again, think venison, not Rudolf.)
Best Coffee Shops
My husband and I usually prefer a light breakfast of coffee and some kind of baked good over a full breakfast. In the downtown area where we stayed, we found that many coffee shops did not serve on the weekend. And the coffee shops that were open didn’t necessarily have adequate seating. We did find two places, neither of which were perfect.
Dark Horse Coffee
Extremely popular with a relatively small interior, Dark Horse Coffee can get tight with diners. If you hesitate being so close to people, especially during a pandemic, plan on eating outside at one of the few tables or taking your coffee to go. Both the regular and the specialty coffees were excellent, and the bakery items were good enough.
Side Street Espresso
Side Street Espresso has both less space and fewer (but delicious) bakery items. Like Dark Horse Coffee, it has a loyal following. While I ate my chocolate croissant and my husband his Danish, a parade of customers came in for their morning coffees. Most seemed to know the owners since they all stayed a few minutes to chat even after receiving their orders. Here, the coffee was good and the bakery items, albeit limited, better than those at Dark Horse Coffee.
Even though Anchorage as a city seems unassuming, it hides some true gems such as Marx Brothers Café and Ginger. Something as simple as grabbing a hot dog can reward the foodie in you. Not surprisingly, seafood reigns in this city just an inlet away from the Gulf of Alaska; however, non-fish eaters can still find plenty of excellent meat and vegetarian options. Because Anchorage is small compared to cities in more populous states, your options might be fewer than you expect. If you choose the right restaurants, you can find excellent and even innovative meals.