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.Read More