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A bucket of crab legs.
A bucket of crab legs.Danielle Braff (custom credit)

Alaska has long been known for its glaciers, its wilderness, and its wildlife.

And today, with the addition of a slew of high-end eateries, craft breweries, and gourmet restaurants, it’s entering the gourmet food arena. Yes, Alaska is now a gastronomic paradise.

Chefs here are foraging cloudberries and mushrooms, they’re smoking fish over indigenous alder, and they’re collecting strawberries from the depths of their mountains. Cruises have even added high-end food tours to their excursions, and in 2020, Windstar will be offering James Beard culinary cruises to their Alaska routes. Here are some places to try.

Bocca Al Lupo The Juneau restaurant was a James Beard award semifinalist in the Best Chef category, and chef Laura Cole was Alaska’s first contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef.” The Italian fine dining restaurant — and one of Juneau’s newest — offers handmade pastas along with wood-fired pizza topped with Alaskan ingredients. Their pork is sourced from the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, and the mozzarella is made from local traditional fermented Italian cheese curds.

Salt The focus is on Alaskan seafood that’s paired with locally foraged harvests here. Chef Lionel Uddipa heads to the wilderness every morning to forage the food you’ll be eating that evening, from salmonberries to cloudberries to spruce tips and mushrooms, depending on the season. Uddipa is a third-generation chef who was born and raised in Juneau.

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Her company went bankrupt, so Tracy started Tracy’s King Crab Shack.
Her company went bankrupt, so Tracy started Tracy’s King Crab Shack.Danielle (custom credit)

Tracy’s King Crab Shack It started as a dream that became a reality after Tracy’s company went bankrupt. So she opened a shed on the Juneau waterfront selling Alaskan crab legs. Her little shed was so popular that she opened an actual restaurant (which still resembles a shed) that’s packed from opening till close with customers who crave her king crab and the homemade king crab bisque. Don’t be deterred by the lines that snake around the shack. They move quickly, and it’s worth the wait.

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The Narrows Bar Sure, Alaska may be known for its dive bars. But this is no dive bar. It’s an upscale cocktail bar in Juneau where drinks may contain everything from glacial ice from the Harriman Ford to local blueberry preserve and foraged rhubarb syrup. The syrups and preserves are made in-house from local, seasonal ingredients - and customers devour about 300 pounds of these fresh ingredients weekly via the cocktails.

Rookery Cafe Yes, it’s a coffee shop. Yes, you must try the food (open for breakfast, lunch, and occasional ticketed dinners). James Beard Rising Star Chef semifinalist Beau Schooler owns and operates this cafe, turns out surprises like baked reindeer neck rillettes with smoked cherries and vegetable bibimbap (it’s a special). This cafe in Juneau also loves to experiment with pork, as Alaskan-raised whole hogs are readily available.

 Don’t be deterred by the lines that snake around Tracy's King Crab Shack. They move quickly, and it’s worth the wait.
Don’t be deterred by the lines that snake around Tracy's King Crab Shack. They move quickly, and it’s worth the wait.Danielle Braff (custom credit)

Froth & Forage’s The tiny restaurant seats just 22, and it’s out of the way of any of those cruise ships. Froth & Forage’s lies on a gravel field 23 miles south of Anchorage in a shack-turned building (try getting here during an Alaskan winter!). Zachary Reid opened this spot in 2016, and he bases the menu on whatever is available locally. The food is sourced from Alaskan and Pacific Northwest farmers, foragers, and fishermen. They’re known for their reindeer meat tacos, salmon tacos, and their bore tide burger (a combo of local bison and venison). Plus, their doughnuts are some of the best in the country. Pro tip: Get there early and make a reservation, as they sell out of many of their popular dishes quickly.

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Windstar James Beard Culinary Cruise Windstar just announced that in 2020, it will be offering Alaskan James Beard 11-day culinary cruises that will travel the inside passage between Vancouver and Seward, ending in Anchorage. Guests can go on food tours, local market walks, and take part in cooking demos and tastings with James Beard Foundation guest chefs.

Snow City Cafe This Anchorage restaurant gained fame when former President Obama dined here: he bought every last cinnamon roll, but neglected to try the salmon and crab eggs benedict, which is a favorite of the locals.

229 Parks Within the Denali National Park, inside what looks like a log cabin, sits a cozy dining room covered in work by local artists. You could check out their menu online ahead of time — but realistically, it changes daily depending on the season and the availability of the ingredients they source. So one day, you might find yourself dining on enoki mushrooms in a smoked reindeer broth, while the next day you’ll return to eat the pork belly and duck ramen with spot prawns. They source their food from Alaska’s bounty from the water to the land, foraging the Alaskan low bush cranberries, making the goat ricotta by hand, and working with Alaskan farmers, ranchers, growers, and fishermen.

Danielle Braff can be reached at daniellebraff@gmail.com.