113 E Northern Lights Blvd.
$3-$10 per plate
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week
All too often, we mentally make a divide in restaurants between the type of place where you order over a counter and the type of place where you ease into a booth. A quick drive down Northern Lights Boulevard offers a broad array of each type of eatery, but the one I recently visited combines elements of both.
Taco King is an Alaska-based chain with five restaurants in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks, all of which rest somewhere between fast food and traditional sit-down fare. While the simplified picture menu posted above and behind the counter suggest Taco Bell, the slightly longer wait for food and the conventional flatware on which it’s served approximate what you’ll find at lunch in establishments like Vallartas Mexican Restaurant or La Mex.
I chose to visit the location on Northern Lights Boulevard, since it was close to the station and in a highly competitive area of town for lunch. The same strip mall alone hosts three other eateries including the Alaska Bagel Restaurant, Charlie’s Bakery and Chinese Cuisine and a KFC location, with numerous other stops like Ruby’s Café, Kriner’s Diner and Panda Oriental Cuisine mere blocks away. While the parking lot is heavily trafficked and tightly packed, I didn’t have much trouble turning in off Northern Lights and finding a space.
Beyond the obvious, Taco King’s menu is largely focused on other specialties like burritos, enchiladas and salads, supplemented by a small selection of appetizers and desserts. I’d come to try the taco menu, however; while I could have saved a few dollars by selecting one type of meat from the five on offer in a combo plate, I sampled much of the core menu by ordering three special tacos ($8.75), adding a combo charge ($2.95) for a double portion of rice on the side. The restaurant was busy with the lunch rush but I didn’t take too long to get served, with my plate arriving in about 10 minutes. I used the time to pick up a few sides from a useful condiment bar, featuring everything from salsas and jalapenos to pico de gallo and sour cream.
Of the three tacos I tried, the adobada was by far the most memorable. Described in the menu as pork “marinated in a red chile sauce, then grilled to perfection,” the spicy flavoring seared into the meat was deep and powerful, easily making itself known over the standard special-taco condiments of onions, cilantro and salsa. The pork itself was perhaps the wettest meat in the three tacos, but the pair of thin corn tortillas on which it was served held up and kept my hands dry while I was eating it -- which wasn’t a long time, given how delicious their filling was.
I sandwiched the chicken taco in between the red-meat options I’d picked up, reasoning that it’d be the weakest flavoring on hand to try, but I was pleasantly surprised: not only was the meat moist and appetizing, it also registered hints of garlic and lime as I chewed. While my hands were full keeping the taco level as I ate it, it occurred to me that the chicken might have benefited from a squeeze of the lime wedge on the edge of my plate as a garnish. I’ll have to find out on a future visit.
The carne asada taco was the most ordinary item I’d chosen, although it wasn’t a slouch either by any stretch. Nicely grilled up and blackened at points yet tender on the inside, I thought it rivaled any other example of the dish I’ve had for taste and quality, its flavor surrendering to the condiments as a counterpoint to the stronger tacos I’d just finished. While I’d recommend it if you’re looking for steak, you’ll probably get a better feel for the menu if you try one of the items with stronger spices.
The rice was a good complement to the tacos, simple but carrying a good hit of tomato flavor despite its lack of meat or veggie bits found in more ambitious versions of the dish. Just about the only thing on my plate which I didn’t like was the portion of refried beans the kitchen had mistakenly served rather than the extra rice I’d requested, which tasted as the stuff usually does: bland, mushy and heavy, with a vaguely greasy aftertaste. All of those are qualities inherent to refried beans rather than defects in their preparation, however, so I wasn’t that offended by the mistake.
Taco King is a surprisingly good value for the money, and its locations across Anchorage offer a decent alternative to fast food. Even a single taco comes in at about the size and weight of a burger you’d pay perhaps twice the price for, and the condiments on offer let you customize a dish with a lot more than just ketchup and mustard. While you’ll never mistake the menu’s depth for that of sit-down Mexican restaurants, it’s a strong stop to remember if you’re looking for something fast, fresh and filling.
Contact Chris Klint