Taste of Alaska
It’s easy to conjure up images of giant king crab legs, bright red king salmon filets and flaky white halibut when anyone mentions eating in Alaska. But if you’re a fan of good food, and face it, who isn’t? Then we’ve got the scoop for you.
Alaska cuisine has been influenced by the Indigenous groups across the state, Russian explorers, Gold Rush pioneers (sourdough pancakes, anyone?), as well as Scandinavian and Pacific Islander immigrants. Sure there’s a heavy hand of local, wild-caught seafood in these dishes, but there’s just as much meat from wild game, like caribou and moose, and local produce. Did you know Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Valley drew a whole colony of farmers in the late 1930s as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal?
Alaska’s bounty inspires local chefs and draws others to the state. Chef Jason Porter says, “Our close proximity to harbor communities like Seward, Cordova and Homer means that seafood served has been harvested locally and delivered fast. Over the years with Alyeska Resort, having been both Executive Chef and Food & Beverage Director, I’ve built relationships with farmers in the Homer area, as well as the Palmer Valley, allowing me to directly buy locally grown greens, vegetables and even some grains. Nothing instills a sense of pride in me like seeing the finished plate all come together. I know how much hard work went into making the farm-to-table product and I’m proud of our chefs who do an incredible job with artful presentation and exceptional taste that’s 100% Alaskan.”
While you can count on just about any meal you have in Alaska to be a knock-out, we asked chefs like Porter, Mandy Dixon of Within the Wild Alaska Adventure Lodges, Erik Slater of Seward Brewing Company and Oscar Ortega of Red Spruce to weigh in on their favorite food experiences in the state.
1) Eat local.
Slater says, “The thing I love to do most is visit the small, local mom-and-pop places and get a real taste of the area. I’m talking about stopping at a food truck or small brewery doing hyper local food and beer that you can’t get anywhere else. Grab a bite at a local bakery like Two Sisters Bakery in Homer, eat fresh oysters at The Cookery in Seward or a 20” Bossio sub sandwich at Jersey Subs in Soldotna. I love seeking out food niches in communities that have access to local ingredients and that showcase them at their best, and we have some of the best!”
Dixon added a stop at the Homer Farmers Market on her list, but just about any farmers market in the state will do. “At the Homer Farmers Market, not only can you find the best vegetables around, but you can also find fresh halibut, crab, Kachemak Bay oysters on the halfshell, the best halibut tacos you’ve ever had, Russian pastries baked by the local Russian community, great live music and Stoked Honey, which is an amazing gift to bring someone or just enjoy with a sliced apple and cheese.”
Ortega likes to put an Alaska twist on global street food at Red Spruce in Juneau and recommends travelers keep an open mind about local ingredients. “We never know what we’ll be adding to our plates but everything has something Alaskan about it. It might be pickled fiddleheads, dehydrated spruce tips, elderflower syrup, and of course our batch kimchi.”
"Many chefs enjoy the luxury of creating their cuisine in a city large enough to bring in whatever product they wish all year around. In Alaska, we have to work with what we have. Working with small local businesses that supply fresh greens and vegetables, oysters, seafood and native ingredients is a cherry on top," says Ortega.
2) Go foraging.
Foraging for berries and mushrooms is a pretty awesome adventure, according to Slater. Blueberries, salmonberries, highbush cranberries and more can be found all over the state. If you’d rather follow an expert’s lead, head to Dixon’s Cooking School at Tutka Bay near Homer. Visitors will forage wild edible greens, seaweeds, berries and mushrooms and learn to cook local halibut on the beach.
3) Dine with a view.
It goes without saying that Alaska offers views on views on views, but you can pair all kinds of foods with just about any awe-inspiring backdrop for a memorable meal. For fine dining, Porter says, “I love dining at Seven Glaciers, it’s truly a spectacular experience starting with a tram ride to 2,300 feet above the Girdwood Valley. The mountaintop views of the surrounding Chugach Mountains and Turnagain Arm are special to me because I’ve spent a lot of time skiing and hiking in the area with my two sons.”
For a casual meal, Dixon recommends grilled reindeer sausages from Red Umbrella Reindeer in downtown Anchorage. “They offer a variety of differently spiced dogs and toppings to grab on the go. They’re messy and delicious, and fun to eat laying in the grass watching the fisherman catch salmon in the urban creek of Ship Creek.” She adds, “Jakolof Bay Oysters in Homer are the best oysters in the state, nevermind in the world. They grow in the crisp clean waters of Kachemak Bay. Buy a dozen on their online store for pick up. Head over to Grace Ridge Brewery and pick up an Otter Bay amber or a Kayak Beach blonde and shuck the oysters down at a bonfire on the Homer Spit beach. These are memories I will never forget!”
4) Don’t skip the festivals.
Alaskans celebrate food any chance they get. For example, the Sitka Seafood Festival was launched just 10 years ago to celebrate Alaska’s famed natural resource. Ketchikan’s Blueberry Arts Festival has been running for 44 years and Kodiak’s Crab Festival is 62 years old. Dixon recommends the Salmonberry Festival in Seldovia. “You can take the ferry or water taxi from Homer to the adorable town of Seldovia. You can rent a bike there and cruise around the town with small art galleries and shops and an active fishing harbor, picking your own salmonberries. Every July they have a salmonberry festival with music, great food at a local cafe and a salmonberry cookoff! Judged by three local chefs, contestants make savory and sweet salmonberry dishes judge on taste, texture and look. There's enough for the whole crowd to try! The winner is crowned and dancing continues into the night.”
5) Don’t skip dessert.
Forget the Baked Alaska, and head to the micro-creameries like Coppa in Juneau, Hot Licks in Fairbanks or Wild Scoops in Anchorage for an ice cream cone. There’s nothing old-fashioned about these Alaska flavors: rhubarb sorbet, Alaska honeycomb, blackberry and more. Dixon recommends Wild Scoops’ "Sleeping Lady," a swirl of Alaska black currant jam and earl grey ice cream. And save room for the baked goods at Pingo Bakery if you’re visiting Nome. They are a delicious surprise!
What’s a hungry traveler to do when an Alaska trip isn’t coming up soon enough? One of the newest ways to have Alaska treats delivered to your doorstep is the Taste Alaska! box subscription. Seasonal shipments feature Alaska-made products, art, recipes and travel info. Here are a few of our other Alaska favorites that ship: kelp salsa, sea salt, birch syrup, potato chips and blueberry jam. And don’t forget the seafood. We’ll even share a few of our favorite recipes.
Ready to learn more about eating and traveling around Alaska? Order a vacation planner today.
Editor’s note: The health and safety of Alaska’s visitors and residents, along with its member businesses, remains a top priority to the Alaska Travel Industry Association throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Alaska tourism businesses are open under the Reopen Alaska Responsibly plan and can help you decide if it’s right for you to travel now or in the future. We encourage you to stay in touch with your travel providers for the latest updates and travel requirements.