Lunchbox: Ginger

Ginger serves these mu shu tacos ($11) with a choice of soup (seen here), fries or salad. Fountain drinks are $2.50 each.

425 W. 5th Ave.
$7-$19 per plate
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday-Saturday

I've been headed Downtown a lot lately since many of Anchorage’s newer restaurants tend to show up there -- and good word of mouth has had this one on my to-do list for a while.

Ginger is part of the dense Downtown core of restaurants along 5th Avenue, near previous Lunchbox stops Club Paris and Fat Ptarmigan. While it doesn’t call much attention to itself on the street, only a modern-looking sign and a red-and-black color scheme making it stand out from the numerous businesses nearby, its location just north of the 5th Avenue Mall is definitely a high-traffic area, one which offers a chance to catch drivers before they stray farther west into the restaurants of the hotel belt. Finding parking on 5th is notoriously difficult, but with tourist season not yet in full swing I caught a spot about a block away in just a few minutes.

A hostess directed me to Ginger’s long, arty bar rather than its 20-table dining room for lunch, where about three or four groups were tucking into their meals. The ambience felt quiet but formal, a few windows up front offering a view of the street but not breaking the subdued level of light prevailing over the bar area’s roughly 10 table/booth hybrids, with chairs facing the seating against the wall. Quirky photo art adorns the walls of the bar section, with my table near a closeup of a woman’s legs clad in XtraTufs and a tutu; a token TV was airing baseball at the bar but muted in favor of swing music.

Ginger’s lunch menu is similarly eclectic, hosting a mix of pan-Asian cuisine ranging from pork satay to pho alongside a few more conventional choices. About half a dozen each appetizer, salad, sandwich and entrée selections accommodate culinary ambitions as simple as a French dip or complex as Panang beef curry. I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy meal, so I ended up choosing the mu shu tacos ($11); offered a choice of fries, salad or soup to go with it, I was surprised by the soup of the day and ordered a cup. Service was quite fast despite my arrival near the end of lunch hours, with the food on the table in a little over 10 minutes.

The cheddar beer soup was my first target, its incongruous presence on an Asian restaurant’s menu practically forcing me to sample it. Even the short trip from kitchen to table had let it build up a modest skin of cheese, supporting a garnish of sprouts which I scooped up and sampled on my way to the soup proper. Smooth and rich, unalloyed by anything save a rare bit of unmelted cheese, the cup had a lot of flavor packed into a small portion, notes of the beer restrained but still tangible on my tongue with every spoonful; it may have been a soup of the day, but it tasted like a mainstay.

The tacos arrived as a pair of generously sized flour tortillas tightly wrapped around their contents, every bit as unpretentious as the soup I’d just enjoyed so much. A single bite let me know that the ground chicken listed in the menu was a gamble that completely paid off; its use wasn’t a sign of cheapness but rather calculated effect, its own seasoning before cooking soaking in the tangy hoisin sauce which tied the dish together. A Chinese coleslaw blended into the tacos offered some crunch and even a little surprising heat to go with the meat, raising the spice level to warm overall without threatening to overpower the taste buds.

Ginger is a great addition to the Downtown dining scene, the kind of eatery that impresses not with a flashy facade but rather with an overall attention to detail I found quite enjoyable. Lunch is also a good opportunity to try out selections from its different but pricier dinner menu, although some of the higher numbers still show up early; I asked to see a dessert menu, but couldn’t justify a $9 final course after an $11 meal. If you stick with the main menu, however, you can readily enjoy a tasty lunch that treats your pocketbook gingerly.