A visit to Fairbanks, Alaska, offers outdoor activities and fantastic food. I discovered that Thai food in Fairbanks is as good as any in Bangkok—and so much more great food. Read on for the best food in Fairbanks.
Winter in Fairbanks, Alaska, offers breathtaking views of the Aurora Borealis, periwinkle skies at sunset, and outdoor activities like walking with reindeer. But did you know this town is home to Thai food as good as any in Bangkok? Exceptional Thai food in Fairbanks is just one reason to visit this friendly Alaskan city.
Discovering Thai Food in Fairbanks
Potato-chip-sized snowflakes fell from the sky as our server delivered two bowls of steaming Tom Yum at the Thai House on my winter visit to Fairbanks. One taste of the lemongrass-laden hot and sour soup, and I felt transported back to the streets of Bangkok, where I spent three months in the late 90s. The Tom Yum at Thai House was as good as any I had enjoyed in the capital city of Thailand.
The fiery food warmed me as temperatures outside hovered at a measly one degree.
In Fairbanks for a conference, I had expected to dine on salmon, halibut, moose burgers, and the like. Imagine my surprise to find one Thai restaurant in Fairbanks, let alone two dozen in this city of 32,000.
In addition to Thai House, there’s Lemongrass, Phad Thai, and Simply Thai. And the list goes on. There’s even a food trailer that sells Thai food to go.
Why are there so many Thai restaurants in Fairbanks? I asked my server, two taxi drivers, staff at my hotel, and a couple of other residents. The answer was simply that there is a strong community of people from Southeast Asia who live in the area.
Come for the Aurora Borealis; Stay for the Food in Fairbanks
While I could have happily eaten Thai food for every meal, I discovered other options, including Soba, which serves authentic Moldovan cuisine. I didn’t know anything about Moldova, let alone Moldovan food. Some quick research showed that Ukraine and Romania border the small, landlocked Eastern European country.
Families and locals packed the restaurant the day we were there. The dumplings with minced pork were tasty and hearty. Soba also serves schnitzel, mashed potatoes, cabbage wraps, and grilled lamb sausage.
The following afternoon, I wanted to eat at a place with the atmosphere of Alaska. I chose Pike’s Landing next to my hotel, Pike’s Waterfront Lodge.
With wooden beams, logs burning in the fireplace, antlers on the wall, and customers dressed in Sorels and cold-weather gear, this place screamed Alaska.
It was a tough decision between halibut, broiled king salmon, or crab au gratin, but I chose lobster bisque and a local IPA. I was dining solo, so I sat at the bar. The bisque was so exceptional I returned that evening and ordered it again.
More To Do During Winter in and Around Fairbanks
Winter brings a certain beauty and magic to Alaska, and outdoor activities abound: think dog sledding, walking with reindeer, and ice carving. I also wanted to learn about the history and culture, so I visited the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center and the nearby iconic Antler Arch. Artist Sandy Jamieson from Fairbanks crafted the Antler Arch.
Made up of dozens of moose and caribou antlers, the arch provides the ideal spot for a photo.
A sign nearby reads, in part, “This arch of antlers might also be called an arch of stories. Hunting stories come to mind first. Each antler was given in the spirit of linking experiences from around Alaska.
“Knitted and knotted together are memories of campfires, meat-cutting tables, and warm kitchens shared with family and friends. Also are memories of discovering remains of a winter kill or a shed antler settling into a favorite berry patch—relics of wild animals whose language and life stories we know only fragments.”
I also explored the town’s shops, including Blue Door Antiques, a two-story former home brimming with treasures.
My favorite item? A pair of baby moccasins, which looked to be vintage.
The Blue Door’s Facebook page describes the store as “the largest and farthest north antique store in North America.”
Make Mine an Appletini at the Aurora Ice Bar, Chena Hot Springs
Belly up to the Aurora Ice Bar at Chena Hot Springs, a scenic two-hour drive from Fairbanks, and order an appletini. Just don’t expect to find a beer or glass of wine at this bar made completely of ice. The Aurora Ice Bar Appletini is the only beverage on the menu.
After you warm up from the boozy appletini, you can take a dip in Chena Hot Springs or explore the Ice Museum, where temperatures remain at a chilly 25 degrees Fahrenheit (minus seven degrees Celsius).
Fairbanks Bar Where Everybody Knows Your Name
I competed in a friendly contest with five other photographers as part of the conference I attended. We each had 27 hours to photograph the area and submit ten photos, judged by a panel of local experts.
As I explored downtown, I walked into the Big I Pub and Lounge on Turner Street across from the Immaculate Conception Church. It took time for my eyes to adjust when I walked into the dark bar. One person must have noticed my hesitation and hollered, “Come on in!”
I explained the contest to the bartender and the photo I had in mind of two people toasting beers.
The bartender looked at a man and woman sitting at the bar and asked, “Mom, Dad… what do you think?”
“Mom” was drinking coffee, and “Dad’s” beer glass was two-thirds full. I explained that it would be best for a photo if the glasses were full.
“Hey, Bill,” she yelled across the room. “You just got a beer. Wanna be in a picture?”
Photoshoot and Shooting the Breeze
Bill had hands like shovels and looked like he could be an Ice Road Trucker. He smiled and gave a quick thumbs-up. Along with the barkeep’s dad, we all stepped out onto the back patio, followed by three other patrons who came out to watch. The two guys raised their glasses to the sky while their buddies teased them about being hand models.
After I explained I still needed more photos of the area, everyone had an idea of where to get the best image. One person showed me photos of sunsets on his phone and, like a proud parent, boasted about the beauty of his state.
He told me how much he and his family love Fairbanks. They would have talked about their town for hours if I hadn’t interrupted to say daylight was burning.
Looking back, I wish I had settled on a bar stool, ordered a beer, and listened to them talk about how much they love the area.
They had a right to brag about Alaska. There is something magical about being in a place with a “blue hour,” the time during twilight when the sun is just below the horizon, and everything takes on an icy sapphire shade.
From sitting in a cozy restaurant eating fiery food in Fairbanks to gazing at the Aurora Borealis, winter—for me—was the prime time to visit. My image of the two guys holding their beer didn’t win a prize. But the time I spent with these Fairbanks-loving locals was all the reward I needed.
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If You Go: Lodging, Aurora Viewing, Car Rental, and Food in Fairbanks, Alaska
Foodies may be surprised at the food choices in Fairbanks, and Aurora-chasers will delight at Mother Nature’s show.
Pike’s Waterfront Lodge is an ideal place to stay in Fairbanks. The lodge is a five-minute drive from the airport, and they provide a shuttle service to and from the airport 24/7. Hotel staff will, upon request, call your room at all hours of the night if there’s an Aurora Borealis sighting. (Staff walk outside and check the skies every 30 minutes.) The best time to see the Aurora is from 10 p to 3 am.
You can even request an Aurora view room, which means you’ll be on the side of the lodge where you might catch a glimpse if you open the curtains. The best place to view the Aurora Borealis is far from the lights, but this is a good option if you’re not up for an all-nighter.
Another excellent option is to make the 15-minute drive to Aurora Pointe, where you can warm up inside, prepare your camera and tripod, and then go outside to wait for the skies to change.
If you’re planning to rent a vehicle, contact Alaska Auto Rental. A staff member delivers your rental to your hotel, so if you’re not up for driving when you arrive at midnight, which many flights do, the car will be waiting for you the next morning.
When planning your next trip to Alaska or a food destination, let Wander With Wonder be your guide.