When it comes to dining out and bar-hopping, we all get into our ruts.
These are our go-to places. They require little effort. We know the menu, we know who will be working, we even probably know what we will eat and drink. These are the establishments we gravitate to after a long work day, hard hike or on a lazy weekend, when we don’t have the energy or enthusiasm to plow through Yelp reviews or risk being disappointed by an unknown chef or bartender.
One might assume that returning repeatedly to a handful of places is a byproduct of a lack of options in the Anchorage area, compared to other U.S. urban centers. Not so. Even friends in New York report the same phenomena, where they orbit to restaurants and bars within a few blocks of their apartments because it’s simple, convenient and a known quantity.
For me, my Anchorage roster of favorites is fairly set. I hit up Ginger when I want to get dolled up for fancier food and drinks. F Street is firmly on standby for dependable food in a casual environment. And when I want a cocktail, I gravitate to Pioneer Bar or neighborly Crossroads Lounge.
Note that the first three of these four places are all within a few blocks of each other downtown. And the latter, Crossroads, is just a few minutes from my house. Convenience, anyone?
I recently decided to mix it up. What were some places I had heard about – in some cases, for years – but never hit up? I even floated an informal poll on Facebook to ask folks to consider the same question: what area establishments had they always heard were wonderful but remarkably never been to?
Their responses came fast and furious. People admitted almost guiltily to never having indulged at some of the region’s finest restaurants, like Double Musky or Marx Bros. Cafe. Some ’fessed up to having forsaken regular lunch haunts like Taco King and Pho Lena.
At the top of my list: Tommy’s Burger Stop at Benson and Spenard boulevards.
To say Tommy’s is an iconic institution on the Anchorage food scene is an understatement. Since moving here 15 years ago, I have heard nothing but glowing feedback.
So, determined to climb out of my food rut, I recently hit up Tommy’s on a weekday, braving the lunch-hour. I have a soft spot for diners, having worked in the Portland, Ore.-area Mike’s Drive-In for years.
Upon immediate arrival, Tommy’s did not disappoint nostalgic, small-town-diner expectations. Its structure is quirky, bright and somewhat cobbled together. Inside, the interior is busy, colorful and cramped. The tiny space was packed, with happy diners shoulder-to-shoulder in four-top booths. The air smelled deliciously of sirloin and fries. From the counter, I could see the modest grill loaded with sizzling patties and bubbling fried eggs.
The young woman who took my order exuded the Spenard-cool vibe, with her teal hair and nose ring and chunky jewelry. She was extremely helpful in informing me that one could order the smaller 3.5-ounce patty on any of the restaurant’s specialty burgers. The menu is vast. Tommy’s offers plenty of versions of its burgers, plus garden burger options, Philly cheese steaks, po’ boys and the usual diner side dishes like onion rings and fries.
Facing a 20-minute wait, I retreated to the entryway, a smaller room with a chest freezer, its walls covered with license plates, framed rave restaurant reviews, and plaque upon plaque celebrating Tommy’s fan-favorite status over the years.
Soon I was on my way. I ate my burger in my car outside, admiring the perfectly toasted bun before diving in. I carefully kept the juicy sirloin, creamy chunks of avocado, buttery mushrooms and gooey Swiss cheese from dripping onto my lap, while reflecting with each bite on how Tommy’s lives up to the hype.
I also thought about how much time I had wasted (15 years!) by not coming to Tommy’s sooner.
What’s your Tommy’s? What restaurant or bar have you always wanted to try but haven’t, due to laziness or lethargy? I challenge you to get out of your rut in the coming months and see what you’re missing out there in our dining and drinking community. Time’s a’wasting.