I'm an L.A. hound and will be in Fairbanks with some friends for three nights in about a month. Because of traveling elsewhere - Coldfoot, Chena - we'll be in Fairbanks for three dinners, one breakfast and one lunch. We'd like to have some ideas as to where to eat - preferably food that is as local as possible in the winter in Alaska - seafood, game?, something like that. Or even just some old, traditional favorites in town. (We live in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City, so things like Thai food, Japanese, etc., while among our favorites, we can very easily get at home.) We're looking for local flavor - as much as possible in both senses of the word - culinary and atmospheric. Thanks.
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Sorry I didn't reply sooner, but I rarely check in here unless I am traveling. I have lived in Fairbanks for four years and I can confirm that the food scene here is pretty sad. To put things into perspective, I went from a person who ate out 4-6 nights a week, to being a person who ate out maybe once every other month since we moved to Fairbanks. I actually learned to cook and started a food blog because of my experience here! My biggest recommendation is to get yourselves invited to someone's home or attend a potluck. You will get a true sense of the local food scene and it will be really good! Also, if you could possibly rent a place with a kitchen you can get local meat such as reindeer, elk, etc...from a place called Homegrown Market.
If that doesn't work, I will give you some recommendations if I had to eat out in Fairbanks. From the sounds of it you will be here in February, probably soon. That makes things even worse as the only redeeming thing about the Fairbanks food scene are the food trucks in the summer time. You did however mention you are looking for some places with local flavor including atmospheric. That is a possiblity. Also, let me warm you...it is not cheap to eat in Fairbanks. Our biggest shock when we first moved here was that we went out for dinner for burgers and beers. 2 beers + 2burgers + 1 side salad = $70 with tip. This is pretty standard and it just goes up from there.
So, here are my (reluctant) recommendations:
You didn't mention coffee, but that is always first on my list. Julia's Solstice Cafe will get you the best cup of coffee in town. Don't stay to eat though, the food is pretty bad.
For breakfast, if you happen to be headed north check out the Hilltop. This is where all the truckers stop for food and their way north. It has great local atmosphere. Also, a lot of people make the drive just for their pie. In Fairbanks proper a lot of people recommend Sam's Sourdough Cafe for breakfast, I would ignore this advice. It doesn't have the great atmosphere since they re-built and they are really overpriced. The Cookie Jar is a good option for breakfast although I have been there several times and both food and service is very inconsistent. You may have a really great experience, but it could also be a two hour wait with cold food. A good option for breakfast, with a total lack of atmosphere is the hotel restaurant at Sophie's Station. I used to have a lot of working breakfasts there and the food was always really good. They also have some more "upscale" breakfast options such as salmon and the prices are not that much more than the dive restaurants. It is where I would personally go for breakfast, but again no atmosphere. The bar in Sophie's Station is however a nice place to grab a beer and have dinner.
For lunch I would probably check out Lemongrass Thai Restaurant. The one thing that is good in Fairbanks is Thai food as their is a lot of competition. There are at least 7 Thai restaurants, and Lemongrass is the best of them. They use local ingredients when available and have great seasonal specials. Another very local place is the Chowder House, the food is nothing special and the soups are not homemade, but again this is a local staple and the service is always super fast. I often stop by here for lunch and grab something to go because it usually takes less than 5 minutes to get my food. Another good choice for lunch is sushi at Mt. Fuji. The prices are quite reasonable too. Finally, if you are in the mood for Mexican food, Taco King is one of my favorites. I didn't go there for almost two years when we first moved here because the place looks downright scary, but it turns out it is really good.
For some local flavor as dinner I recommend checking out Silver Gulch Brewery in Fox. I hesitate, but when they are having a good night the food can be really good. The service is usually quite slow, so expect a long wait. Plan to be there at least two hours. I recommend their pizza, the Pear Gorgonzola or the Witte are both good options. Also, do not order any of their Flagship beers, they are terrible. The Barleywine they have right now is nice and recently won an award. Just be warned that is $8.00 for an 8 ounce glass.
The second place I recommend is Lavelle's, again this place isn't exactly Alaskan in atmosphere, but you have a pretty good chance of getting a nice meal and they do have a decent wine selection, the best wine selection for Fairbanks. If you are a dessert person, the banana bread pudding is amazing. I usually go here with a group of girlfriends and order appetizers and drink wine. I can not comment on the quality of their dinners although I have heard it is good.
I'm really struggling to come up with a third place. Normally I would recommend the Two Rivers Lodge first, we have had many nice meals there and it definitely fits the local food and local atmosphere category. Our last experience was so terrible that we will never go back. If you want to risk it, it is probably your best chance for an Alaskan dinner in Fairbanks.
Some other choices:
Pump House- awful service, a bit below average food, nice atmosphere on the river
Ivory Jacks- Good for a burger and definitely a local place
I hope this is helpful in your choices. If you want any additional advice or are looking at other options, feel free to e-mail me at arcticgardenstudio AT gmail
There are some really BAD options in Fairbanks, I'm talking places that will make you sick, so be careful and good luck. Would love to hear how it goes.
re: Arctic Garden
Thanks. It's good to get some response even if it is somewhat discouraging. I probably have enough to get by on for now. We're only going to be in the area for a week - three nights in Fairbanks, two nights at Chena resort and two nights up in Coldfoot on an aurora viewing (hopefully) trip. Chena and Coldfoot we won't have any options in terms of food, but we will have three dinners, two lunches and one breakfast in Fairbanks as we transit in and out to the other places. I'll certainly post back and let you all know how it went. If you need anything for Los Angeles, our board is very active, but you can also get to me through my website that is listed on my profile here. Thanks again. Eric
re: Arctic Garden
When we drove through Fairbanks a couple of decades ago, Cripple Creek Resort in Ester had the most historic feel. Rustic rooms in the bunk house, raindeer stew, halibut and crab in the communal dining room. But I think that place is closed. We also ate at the Alaska Land salmon bake (summer only). But more significantly we restocked our camping supplies and food.