It seems like swapping news about restaurant openings is a local pastime. In the last few years, there has been a flurry of openings all over town, and a lot of well-deserved buzz about the newcomers. But what happens after the initial wave of patrons? What keeps a restaurant going after the confetti blows away? The best restaurants stick around by serving reliably amazing food and fostering a loyal clientele. You don’t stick around if you’re so-so. Three Anchorage favorites stick out as proof.
Take Jens’ Restaurant as the first example. Proprietor Jens Hansen and his wife, Annelise, opened the restaurant in the ’80s. You’d think after 30 years in business, the secret would be out, but if you’re reading this and learning about them for the first time, seek them out. The innocuous storefront off Arctic Boulevard hides some exceptional food. Danish standards, amazing pepper steaks and fish, and American classics make it hard to choose. Jens passed away in 2012, but there are few other chefs who had such a lasting impact in Anchorage kitchens; I’d bet every restaurant in Anchorage has a connection to Hansen.
In fact, Hansen’s first job in Alaska was at another now venerable spot: the Crow’s Nest. Incredible service, amazing food and fantastic views of the city and inlet are all at the top of Tower 3 in the Hotel Captain Cook. In a state and city as young as this one, a restaurant with a 50-year track record is something special. That time has not put a dent in the Crow’s Nest or its menu. And if you’re ready for a winter warmup, I’d suggest the Café Diablo. Flames, caffeine and a dose of a few choice bottled warming agents.
Since 1979, the little 14-table Marx Bros. Café has been an Anchorage staple. With scallops, roast lamb, duck, seafood, it’s hard to go wrong with this menu. But they’re probably best known for a ritual before the main course: the tableside Caesar salad. How well known? Word is, in the course of a year they wear out the massive bowls used to mix all the ingredients. When was the last time you had to get rid of a bowl because you made too many salads in it? That’s how popular the Caesar is. If you don’t feel like cooking for Thanksgiving, they can take care of you too. Their full Thanksgiving dinners feed eight to 10 people.
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If you just arrived in Anchorage, you can count on each of these restaurants to deliver an exceptional meal with consistent service every time. If you’ve been here a while but one of these is a revelation to you, go. Trying something new doesn’t have to happen right after a ribbon cutting.