Fish cheeks? I didn’t know fish had cheeks until I came to Anchorage. This Alaskan city is famous for adventure on the frozen frontier. It also has a lively food scene, which I sampled on a winter weekend visit.
Moose’s Tooth: World’s Best Pizza?
Ranked as Alaska’s #1 restaurant on Trip Advisor, this Anchorage institution offers so much more than just pizza. Don’t be scared off by the full parking lot and the crowd waiting for tables. It’s part of the Moose’s Tooth experience. Approach the friendly front desk, grab your pager and then belly up to the bar for one of the tasty craft beers from Broken Tooth brewery. They also have wine, but the unique beer on tap is one of the reasons you came. My creamy ale, a Chugash Session, was just right for the February chill on a Friday night. Join the hipsters around the fire pit and the 40-minute wait will fly by.
As a solo traveler, I bypassed the wait by snagging a seat at the bar. The regulars — mostly enjoying a beverage while they waited for their takeout pizzas — were so friendly that you could rename this place “Cheers.” But General Manager Dan Fiacco filled me in on the real story behind it. He’s been here almost since the beginning 21 years ago. Staff members feel like an extended global family; not just because some are actually related to the owners, but because they bring new pizza ideas to your table. Apricot chicken pizza from New Zealand? Of course.
Moose’s Tooth was started in the late 1990s by two college buddies from the University of Washington. Avid outdoorsmen, they brewed beer in their bathtub and experimented with craft pizza recipes until they opened a tiny hut on the Seward Highway, naming it after one of Alaska’s scenic peaks.
The pizza pub quickly expanded with tents in the parking lot and grew into the sprawling restaurant you see today. Music festivals attracted more customers, once Alaska’s trendiest bands got over the idea of playing in a parking lot at a pizza place. A second location, Bear’s Tooth, also shows movies. “It’s a culture,” explained one smiling dad who was picking up pizza for his daughter’s birthday party.
After all that buildup, the pizza did not disappoint. The biggest seller is the Avalanche, featuring pepperoni and blackened chicken. A top veggie choice is the Wild Mushroom, rich with plump sun-dried tomatoes and an extraordinary green pesto of spinach and ricotta. But you can’t go wrong with whatever freshly flown-in ingredients you put on top of the Moose’s Tooth pizza crust. It’s cooked on a stone in a conventional gas oven to achieve a light and crunchy texture that can make you forget about wood-fired pie from Italy.
There’s a choice of sizes: my small pie for $11.25 was perfect for one hungry person. For extra points, try the Diablo sauce, which gives your pizza a spicy pepper kick. As you are savoring the unusual combinations, you’ll taste why Trip Advisor reviewers named Moose’s Tooth the 3rd best. Not just in Anchorage, or in Alaska — but in the entire United States. It’s definitely a contender for world pizza domination.
Start Your Day the Middle Way
I prepared for a Saturday of Anchorage adventures by filling my belly at Middle Way Cafe. This busy bee in an unassuming midtown strip mall is brightly decorated with local art. Bring your big appetite for fresh, healthy breakfast food. Look over the menu while standing in line to order. I tried the new avocado toast, served with Instagram-worthy fresh fruit. My companion’s breakfast burrito was so huge she couldn’t hold it together.
I loved the Kaladi Brothers coffee, which is an Alaska thing. Another Cheers moment, as It turned out a guy we were planning to meet later for a bicycle tour was also having breakfast here, by coincidence. It was the perfect starting point for my indoor/outdoor Anchorage winter experience, which ended up at a local favorite for fancy fish.
Simon & Seafort’s: Margaritas and Fish Cheeks
Definitely start your evening here with the “scratch margarita,” a house recipe that is served from a shaker like a martini. I arrived after sunset, too late to really appreciate the water view, but the old Alaska ambience of the Gold Rush days set the mood for a festive meal. One of my dinner companions recalled coming to Simon & Seafort’s for dinner before her high school prom and many tables were filled with locals celebrating special occasions, so it didn’t feel touristy.
Most of the seafood is locally sourced. The prized delicacy known as “halibut cheeks” was part of the evening’s seafood special, which also included delicious stuffed halibut. It was served over smashed potatoes and crisp green beans. And Alaskans are very serious about their salmon — in all its different local varieties.
The entrees were so filling we didn’t need to order appetizers or salads and had no room for dessert! Generous pour of New Zealand sauvignon blanc by the glass paired well with the fish. The tab worked out to about $60 per person with tip, but good value for the quality and service.
Other Foodie Favorites
For Pacific Rim fusion goodness and creativity, you can’t beat Ginger. It’s located in the heart of downtown Anchorage on 5th Avenue. It was vegetarian and vegan friendly, and the cheerful waiter didn’t even flinch when one of my companions asked for a dish to be modified due to a food allergy. I’ll have to come back to try the craft cocktails, including a spicy little number named after a local news anchor, the “ChupaKari.” Grapefruit and vodka with jalapeño? Definitely will keep you warm.
A short drive from downtown, you’ll find the Rustic Goat in the Turnagain neighborhood. This hip, two-story hangout was busy with people sharing drinks and tasty small plates, like the pan-seared calamari.
Terry’s Travel Tips
I was blown away by the freshness and creativity of the Anchorage restaurants I experienced, but I also heard from local residents that it can be difficult to find such photogenic foodstuff in the grocery stores. The necessity of importing many ingredients from the lower 48 means that prices might seem a bit high to the visitor.
And no, this seafood-loving vegetarian didn’t try reindeer meat or the indigenous peoples’ delicacy called Akutaq, made from animal lard and flavored with fruit. I’m told that it is proudly served to “cheechakos” or newcomers and it’s impolite to refuse a taste of the dish nicknamed “Eskimo Ice Cream.”
Disclosure: This post was partially sponsored by the Moose’s Tooth and Visit Anchorage. Observations are my own, and reflect the typical experience any visitor can expect. Thank you in advance for clicking on the Trip Advisor restaurant links, and while you’re there please browse the hotels. Any bookings made by clicking through my links may result in a small commission to me, but no extra cost to you for supporting my travel journalism. I stayed at My Place, a budget midtown hotel that is pet friendly. You can get around easily by taxi or ride-sharing, but many visitors rent a car to use Anchorage as a jumping off point for further adventures in what city residents call their “big backyard.” Check out my post on visiting the Anchorage Museum and snowbiking the coastal trail.
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