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The 13 Essential Restaurants in Fairbanks

From thick-frosted cinnamon buns to loaded cheesesteaks to tons of exceptional Thai, here’s where and what to eat in this unpretentious town

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Fairbanks isn’t the most glamorous town in Alaska (which, in itself, is short on glamorous towns), and it’s easy for visitors to brush right past it — there’s no majestic mountain panoramas, no glaciers and fjords, no cute baby sea otters. But it’s a fascinating town surrounded by — quite literally — thousands of miles of wilderness. There’s a military base on one end of town and a university on the other, and a whole lot to discover in between.

Wintertime visitors generally come to see the northern lights; summertime travelers often see Fairbanks as a brief stop on their tour bus itinerary. It’s easy to miss all the things that are so beautiful about this low-rise town at the edge of nowhere. Fairbanks’ pleasures are the small moments: the intimate glass of wine under the summer sun, the campfires, the surprisingly artful graffiti on the dumpsters, and the wildlife you see as you go about your day.

Maybe it’s the drastic swings in daylight and climate: –40°F in winter and 90°F in the summer are not uncommon, and in the summer the daylight runs 24 hours. Maybe it’s the isolation from what everyone else thinks of as the Normal World. But Fairbanks is very much the kind of place where you have to make your own fun, and that ethos is on display every day in its vibrant dining scene.

Fairbanks (also known to Alaskans as Squarebanks or Bareflanks) is an unpretentious town with unpretentious restaurants. Even the most uptown places will let you in wearing jeans and a T-shirt with a hole in the front, smelling of fish guts and bug spray. They’ll seat you at a fine table and serve you a filet mignon with herbed oven potatoes, grilled asparagus, and a glass of pinot noir— and never bat an eye.

And there’s never been a better time to be an eater in Fairbanks. New restaurants with new cuisines keep popping up, even during the time of COVID-19, and older places are stepping up their game while maintaining the classics they’re known for. Here are some of the essentials.

Note: Businesses in Alaska are highly seasonal. Check hours and opening status at restaurants before venturing out.

Kris Farmen is a writer and editor based in Fairbanks, Alaska; his books include Blue Ticket, Edge of Somewhere, Turn Again, and The Devil’s Share.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Sam’s Taste

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If you’re in for a nice drive and some take-out Thai food from a beloved local favorite, Sam’s Taste of Thai on Sheep Creek Road near the junction with Ester Dome Road is just the ticket. It’s more of a tiny drive-through shack than a full restaurant, but it’s easily one of the most popular places on the west end of town. The menu focuses on the greatest hits of Thai cuisine in America, but the flavors are spot on and the portions large. There will almost certainly be a line of cars as patrons grab dinner on their way home, but it’s worth the wait. Call ahead, then pick it up and enjoy. The spring rolls are first-rate, as is the pad gra prao.

The Pump House Restaurant Fairbanks

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The Pump House started its life in 1933 as an industrial water pumping station that sent water from the Chena River to gold dredging operations in the nearby town of Ester. In 1978 it was refurbished into a fine dining restaurant featuring upscale Victorian gold rush décor. The bar is one of the best in town for both food and cocktails; it’s full of dark wood, polished brass, and antique furniture and pool tables from the 1890s, and is a great place for a quiet, intimate conversation over a whiskey. The corrugated tin walls  add to the ambiance, but it’s the outdoor deck facing the river that really makes the place. It’s a perfect spot on a sunny summer afternoon to drink and eat and watch the water roll by. The deep-fried halibut cheeks appetizer is a must, and the mains are just as good. Their 16-ounce ribeye steak is reliably perfectly cooked, and the bacon-wrapped Alaska scallops are nothing short of divine. You definitely won’t go away hungry.

white umbrellas on a deck over looking a river where a riverboat rolls by.
The deck at the Pump House.
The Pump House/Facebook

Lemongrass Thai Restaurant

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For a city of its size, Fairbanks is flush with Thai restaurants — a fact that has become part of the city’s identity. But all roads lead, ultimately, to Lemongrass. It’s a little hard to find, tucked away in a nondescript strip mall off Old Chena Pump Road, but it is absolutely worth the effort. It wasn’t the first Thai place in town, but over the years it’s become a Fairbanks institution, especially with the university crowd. Like a lot of Thai restaurants in Alaska, the menu covers the spread between northern and southern Thailand, but they also offer some lesser known regional dishes that you don’t often find in North America. Try the panang curry, the pad plick khing, or the moo yang ribs. Better yet, order all three.

Alaska Coffee Roasting Company

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The Alaska Coffee Roasting Company (better known to locals as ACRC) provides a fine venue for chilling out with a book or catching up on emails with a cup of something special. ACRC founder Michael Gesser is a master roaster who learned his craft while living in Kenya and by visiting roasting operations all around the coffee-growing world. Even the humblest mug of drip is made with the very finest beans. They also have a full-service coffee bar with baristas who can make most any specialty drink you desire, but it’s the food menu that really puts the place a cut above every other coffee house in town. From scones to breakfast pockets (you need to try one) to cinnamon rolls, everything is made in inhouse. The personal pizzas, cooked in a wood-fired oven, are worth a drive across town.

Oasis Restaurant & Lounge

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What used to be the northernmost Dairy Queen in the U.S. is now a bar and grill that offers, among other things, one of the best breakfasts in Fairbanks. Both the eggs Benedict and the biscuits and gravy are culinary triumphs, and the full bar can supply you with that 11 a.m. bloody Mary you crave. The Oasis also does a fine lunch and dinner service — burgers, steaks, curly fries, that sort of thing. It can get a little crowded and loud on the weekends, so plan accordingly.

College Town Pizzeria

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Fairbanks has the usual assortment of pizza joints you’d expect in a town its size, but one of the big standouts is College Town Pizza. It has the feel of a hometown round-the-corner hangout, with simple white walls, low-back booths, and a few tables that look out onto College Road. It’s the perfect place to come on a Tuesday night, order a large pie and a pitcher or two of local beer, and park it for the long haul. They have thirteen vegetarian pizza combo options, and nearly twice that many with animal protein. It’s all classic New York style. They also offer calzones, strombolis, and house-made cannoli.

Bun on the Run

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College Corner, as the west end of College Road near the University of Alaska is informally known, boasts several seasonal and food truck eateries crammed into just a few hundred yards. First among them is Bun on the Run. The operation has been around more or less forever (or since the late ’80s, at least), slinging mind-blowing cookies, scones, cinnamon buns, and muffins. But it’s the deli sandwiches on their artisanal rolls that keep a loyal clientele coming back year after year. This trailer offers a half-dozen sandwich combos like roast beef and cheddar or avocado and cream cheese; you can build your own creation. Sit at one of the tables by the parking lot drinking a lemonade and contemplate just how wonderful life can be.

This & That Grill

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This & That Grill makes no pretense of being anything other than what it is: a cheesesteak and hamburger shack. The food is phenomenally delicious and served up quick. Hot dogs, ribeye steak sandwiches, BLTs, Cubans, and Reubens are all on the menu; if it comes between two toasted buns with a pile of onion rings or french fries, they probably have it.

Pita Place

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Don’t be put off by the long line; the staff at this beloved falafel shop keep things moving at a brisk pace. This is at least in part because falafel is the one and only thing on the menu. You can choose white or whole wheat pita, and spicy or mild, but beyond that it’s best to surrender yourself to chef-owner’s Nadav Weiss’ culinary talents. There’s a charming indoor dining area and some covered picnic tables outside. If you arrive on a bicycle, you get a free drink.

Lavelle's Bistro

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If you stop a Fairbanks local on the street and ask them what the nicest restaurant in town is, chances are they’ll say Lavelle’s Bistro downtown on Second Avenue. It’s a very chill fine dining house serving some of the finest plates in all of Alaska. The waiters wear ties (a decided rarity in Fairbanks), the wine selection is probably the best one for a couple hundred miles in any direction, and the menu uses as much Alaska-grown produce as possible. Both the lollipop pork chop and the roasted duck are worth every penny, and diners can expect plenty of solid vegetarian and gluten-free options as well. Look for it on the ground floor of the Marriott Hotel.

Fairbanks’ only Moldovan restaurant, Soba is a cute, quiet place run by a Moldovan couple who immigrated to Alaska nearly 15 years ago. The staff is friendly, the portions are generous, and the chefs are not afraid to pair their traditional Moldovan offerings with a pile of golden french fries when it’s what the dish calls for. Meat, polenta, wine, and spiced vegetables feature prominently on the menu. The mici plate with grilled lamb sausage comes highly recommended, as does the tocană cu mămăligă.

Wood chairs and tables in a dining room lined with booths, with a fireplace in the back. White walls, wood floors.
The dining room at Soba.

Soba Restaurant

The Crepery

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Crepes are all they do at The Crepery, and the menu runs wild with both sweet and savory options. Try one filled with cheesesteak, chicken caprese, or a sweeter mix of brie, figs, and honey. Mimosas, beer, and espresso are available to wash it down, and the vegetarian and vegan offerings are also worth serious consideration. The restaurant occupies a funky refurbished old downtown retail building, and if you choose the right seat you can watch the crepe makers at work on their large griddles. There’s outdoor seating too in the warmer months.

Jazz Bistro on 4th

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The food at this acclaimed bistro is decidedly Latin, with dishes mostly inspired by the cuisines of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Think bistec Cubano and shrimp with laguna sauce. They also do a Cuban sandwich that is probably the best in Alaska. There’s live music most nights, big and small acts, featuring Latin jazz beats. If you crave arroz con pollo with congas and a horn section, you’ll dig Jazz Bistro. Reservations are highly encouraged.

Sam’s Taste

If you’re in for a nice drive and some take-out Thai food from a beloved local favorite, Sam’s Taste of Thai on Sheep Creek Road near the junction with Ester Dome Road is just the ticket. It’s more of a tiny drive-through shack than a full restaurant, but it’s easily one of the most popular places on the west end of town. The menu focuses on the greatest hits of Thai cuisine in America, but the flavors are spot on and the portions large. There will almost certainly be a line of cars as patrons grab dinner on their way home, but it’s worth the wait. Call ahead, then pick it up and enjoy. The spring rolls are first-rate, as is the pad gra prao.

The Pump House Restaurant Fairbanks

white umbrellas on a deck over looking a river where a riverboat rolls by.
The deck at the Pump House.
The Pump House/Facebook

The Pump House started its life in 1933 as an industrial water pumping station that sent water from the Chena River to gold dredging operations in the nearby town of Ester. In 1978 it was refurbished into a fine dining restaurant featuring upscale Victorian gold rush décor. The bar is one of the best in town for both food and cocktails; it’s full of dark wood, polished brass, and antique furniture and pool tables from the 1890s, and is a great place for a quiet, intimate conversation over a whiskey. The corrugated tin walls  add to the ambiance, but it’s the outdoor deck facing the river that really makes the place. It’s a perfect spot on a sunny summer afternoon to drink and eat and watch the water roll by. The deep-fried halibut cheeks appetizer is a must, and the mains are just as good. Their 16-ounce ribeye steak is reliably perfectly cooked, and the bacon-wrapped Alaska scallops are nothing short of divine. You definitely won’t go away hungry.

white umbrellas on a deck over looking a river where a riverboat rolls by.
The deck at the Pump House.
The Pump House/Facebook

Lemongrass Thai Restaurant

For a city of its size, Fairbanks is flush with Thai restaurants — a fact that has become part of the city’s identity. But all roads lead, ultimately, to Lemongrass. It’s a little hard to find, tucked away in a nondescript strip mall off Old Chena Pump Road, but it is absolutely worth the effort. It wasn’t the first Thai place in town, but over the years it’s become a Fairbanks institution, especially with the university crowd. Like a lot of Thai restaurants in Alaska, the menu covers the spread between northern and southern Thailand, but they also offer some lesser known regional dishes that you don’t often find in North America. Try the panang curry, the pad plick khing, or the moo yang ribs. Better yet, order all three.

Alaska Coffee Roasting Company

The Alaska Coffee Roasting Company (better known to locals as ACRC) provides a fine venue for chilling out with a book or catching up on emails with a cup of something special. ACRC founder Michael Gesser is a master roaster who learned his craft while living in Kenya and by visiting roasting operations all around the coffee-growing world. Even the humblest mug of drip is made with the very finest beans. They also have a full-service coffee bar with baristas who can make most any specialty drink you desire, but it’s the food menu that really puts the place a cut above every other coffee house in town. From scones to breakfast pockets (you need to try one) to cinnamon rolls, everything is made in inhouse. The personal pizzas, cooked in a wood-fired oven, are worth a drive across town.

Oasis Restaurant & Lounge

What used to be the northernmost Dairy Queen in the U.S. is now a bar and grill that offers, among other things, one of the best breakfasts in Fairbanks. Both the eggs Benedict and the biscuits and gravy are culinary triumphs, and the full bar can supply you with that 11 a.m. bloody Mary you crave. The Oasis also does a fine lunch and dinner service — burgers, steaks, curly fries, that sort of thing. It can get a little crowded and loud on the weekends, so plan accordingly.

College Town Pizzeria

Fairbanks has the usual assortment of pizza joints you’d expect in a town its size, but one of the big standouts is College Town Pizza. It has the feel of a hometown round-the-corner hangout, with simple white walls, low-back booths, and a few tables that look out onto College Road. It’s the perfect place to come on a Tuesday night, order a large pie and a pitcher or two of local beer, and park it for the long haul. They have thirteen vegetarian pizza combo options, and nearly twice that many with animal protein. It’s all classic New York style. They also offer calzones, strombolis, and house-made cannoli.

Bun on the Run

College Corner, as the west end of College Road near the University of Alaska is informally known, boasts several seasonal and food truck eateries crammed into just a few hundred yards. First among them is Bun on the Run. The operation has been around more or less forever (or since the late ’80s, at least), slinging mind-blowing cookies, scones, cinnamon buns, and muffins. But it’s the deli sandwiches on their artisanal rolls that keep a loyal clientele coming back year after year. This trailer offers a half-dozen sandwich combos like roast beef and cheddar or avocado and cream cheese; you can build your own creation. Sit at one of the tables by the parking lot drinking a lemonade and contemplate just how wonderful life can be.

This & That Grill

This & That Grill makes no pretense of being anything other than what it is: a cheesesteak and hamburger shack. The food is phenomenally delicious and served up quick. Hot dogs, ribeye steak sandwiches, BLTs, Cubans, and Reubens are all on the menu; if it comes between two toasted buns with a pile of onion rings or french fries, they probably have it.

Pita Place

Don’t be put off by the long line; the staff at this beloved falafel shop keep things moving at a brisk pace. This is at least in part because falafel is the one and only thing on the menu. You can choose white or whole wheat pita, and spicy or mild, but beyond that it’s best to surrender yourself to chef-owner’s Nadav Weiss’ culinary talents. There’s a charming indoor dining area and some covered picnic tables outside. If you arrive on a bicycle, you get a free drink.

Lavelle's Bistro

If you stop a Fairbanks local on the street and ask them what the nicest restaurant in town is, chances are they’ll say Lavelle’s Bistro downtown on Second Avenue. It’s a very chill fine dining house serving some of the finest plates in all of Alaska. The waiters wear ties (a decided rarity in Fairbanks), the wine selection is probably the best one for a couple hundred miles in any direction, and the menu uses as much Alaska-grown produce as possible. Both the lollipop pork chop and the roasted duck are worth every penny, and diners can expect plenty of solid vegetarian and gluten-free options as well. Look for it on the ground floor of the Marriott Hotel.

Soba

Wood chairs and tables in a dining room lined with booths, with a fireplace in the back. White walls, wood floors.
The dining room at Soba.

Soba Restaurant

Fairbanks’ only Moldovan restaurant, Soba is a cute, quiet place run by a Moldovan couple who immigrated to Alaska nearly 15 years ago. The staff is friendly, the portions are generous, and the chefs are not afraid to pair their traditional Moldovan offerings with a pile of golden french fries when it’s what the dish calls for. Meat, polenta, wine, and spiced vegetables feature prominently on the menu. The mici plate with grilled lamb sausage comes highly recommended, as does the tocană cu mămăligă.

Wood chairs and tables in a dining room lined with booths, with a fireplace in the back. White walls, wood floors.
The dining room at Soba.

Soba Restaurant

The Crepery

Crepes are all they do at The Crepery, and the menu runs wild with both sweet and savory options. Try one filled with cheesesteak, chicken caprese, or a sweeter mix of brie, figs, and honey. Mimosas, beer, and espresso are available to wash it down, and the vegetarian and vegan offerings are also worth serious consideration. The restaurant occupies a funky refurbished old downtown retail building, and if you choose the right seat you can watch the crepe makers at work on their large griddles. There’s outdoor seating too in the warmer months.

Jazz Bistro on 4th

The food at this acclaimed bistro is decidedly Latin, with dishes mostly inspired by the cuisines of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Think bistec Cubano and shrimp with laguna sauce. They also do a Cuban sandwich that is probably the best in Alaska. There’s live music most nights, big and small acts, featuring Latin jazz beats. If you crave arroz con pollo with congas and a horn section, you’ll dig Jazz Bistro. Reservations are highly encouraged.

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