Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.
I’d always heard that Alaska was in a class of its own, but experiencing the vast landscape and beauty during a recent 10-day family vacation was far beyond what I had pictured. We explored the southern part of the state using nearly every form of transportation: bus, plane, boat, train, raft (and probably others I’m forgetting!) – and I loved sampling local fare along the way.
Of course, Alaskan salmon is famous the world over, so I sought it out at a few different restaurants. The best version was at Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage, grilled over alder wood and perfectly cooked to retain its deep pink color. The Brewhouse is also known for its calamari, which came in possibly the largest segments I’ve ever seen and had a double-jalapeño kick in the form of slices and spiked aioli. I’d go back and order both again.
Seafood was available pretty much wherever we went, so I made sure to try other varieties as well. The king crab roll at Karstens Public House, near Denali National Park, let its local crab shine with just enough creaminess to hold it together. Fish tacos were also common, often with halibut; I enjoyed a rockfish version with avocado crema at Seasalt in the coastal town of Seward.
Humpy’s is a long-time institution in Anchorage, and I was pleasantly surprised that the quality of the food belied the dive-bar vibe. The just-thick-enough salmon chowder had a generous topping of house-smoked salmon and loads of dill. I also adored the crabby patty melt, which fused a garlicky crab-cake patty with lots of melty cheese and other burger toppings for a remarkable result.
Another dining goal for our time in Alaska was trying the game meats that are much more commonly available there. The most successful dish was a mouthwatering caribou meatloaf with sticky glaze in Talkeetna (that my husband ordered and that I regret not stealing even more bites of).
I also indulged in a bacon-wrapped buffalo meatloaf at 49th State Brewing, well-dressed with onion strings and an umami-rich demi-glace. I paired it with what ended up being a favorite beer of the trip: the Golden Dall Belgian tripel (with its own signature glass), named after the mythical sheep that’s said to reign over nearby Denali. Also, in the background, their draft cream soda packed with local blueberries was an excellent zero-proof option.
49th State’s most award-winning beer is the Smōk, which was sold out on draft but available to-go, and the delightfully smoky flavor was even more enjoyable while perched on our hotel balcony during one of the 20+ hours of sunlight this time of year.
I also had the chance to get a little creative with pizza toppings and added reindeer sausage to a Hawaiian-style pizza at Moose’s Tooth in Anchorage, known to have the best pizza in Alaska. I also tried their apple ale, one of several beers brewed at their onsite brewery Broken Tooth, and I loved the punch of apple flavor without the typical sweetness of cider. Their namesake canned root beer was also worth seeking out whenever we saw it on other menus.
Our local brewery trend continued with the memorable Girdwood Brewing. Their proximity to the Alyeska resort informed the ski theme, complete with a chair lift on the wall and as part of the outdoor seating. Their coffee stout was bold yet easy-drinking, and since we visited at dinner time, we also made a stop at the on-site food truck for savory and sweet crepes. My basil pesto crepe with bacon really did transport me to France, to match the après-ski atmosphere.
While we didn’t visit them directly, Alaskan was the most common brewer we saw, and this can of white ale was particularly memorable. It marked our visit to the Sockeye Saloon, the only bar in the tiny town of King Salmon – so tiny that the airport called the bar directly to see if our party of 18 was there, and to tell us our plane back to Anchorage was departing early and that we needed to walk next door to the airport immediately!
That was actually the Fourth of July, when we spent the day at Katmai National Park and entered the habitat of more than 2,000 brown bears. We had a bit of a close encounter with a bear that was mere feet away on the trail (and famously known as 747 in the park for his enormous size), so the buffet lunch at Brooks Lodge was especially satisfying and well-deserved as we recovered from the rather frightening event.
We also made memorable toasts in a few surprising locations. While on a boat ride through Kenai Fjords National Park, the crew harvested ice deposited by the Holgate Glacier (the main attraction on our all-day tour) and used chunks in festive margaritas. Another day, about 90 minutes into a float trip down the Placer River (also glacier-adjacent), our guide magically pulled out a thermos and cocoa mix, and we got to enjoy exceptionally scenic hot chocolate right then and there on the raft.
Alaska isn’t without its baked goods, and the two best were at bakeries in the Girdwood ski area. At Alpine Cafe and Bakery, the raspberry fritter was airy and packed with fruit; meanwhile The Bake Shop’s famously large sweet roll had fluffy, citrusy inner layers with almonds and glaze on a crispy top.
One last pair of standout desserts came aboard the Alaska Railroad train to Denali. We were seated in the Wilderness Express dome car, with sweeping views of the scenery, and our trip included lunch in the lower-level dining area. We couldn’t choose between the two desserts, and I’m very glad we ended up with both. The pie, gooey with five different fruits, and the sundae with local birch syrup (which tasted like a mix of caramel and maple, and immediately made the list for souvenir purchases) and brittle crumble, both matched the extra-special atmosphere of the entire ride.
Finally, on the last day of the trip, I had the chance to stop at one of the ubiquitous drive-up coffee shacks I saw throughout the state (the drive-up part is especially useful during the colder months, I hear). My coconut mocha, with real milk chocolate stirred in, was a luscious morning treat.
The details: Moose’s Tooth, 3300 Old Seward Hwy., Anchorage; Brooks Lodge at Katmai National Park & Preserve, King Salmon; Sockeye Saloon, Mile 15 on Alaska Peninsula Hwy., King Salmon; Alpine Cafe and Bakery, 1 Alyeska Hwy., Girdwood; The Bake Shop, 194 Olympic Mountain Loop, Girdwood; Girdwood Brewing and Crepes de Paris food truck, 2700 Alyeska Hwy., Girdwood; Spirit of Adventure boat with Major Marine Tours, Seward; Seasalt, 133 Fourth Ave., Seward; Placer River Float with Chugach Adventures, Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop; Base Camp Bistro at Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, 23601 S. Talkeetna Spur Rd., Talkeetna; Wilderness Express dining room on Alaska Railroad Denali Star train; 49th State Brewing Company, Mile 248.4 Parks Hwy., Healy; Karsten’s Public House at McKinley Chalet Resort, 238.9 Parks Hwy., Denali Park; Glacier Brewhouse, 737 W 5th Ave., Anchorage; Black Bear Coffee Company, 4300 Forrest Rd., Anchorage; Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse, 610 W 6th Ave., Anchorage; all Alaska.