Lunchbox: White Spot Cafe

The White Spot Café serves this loaded burger ($12), which comes with French fries, coleslaw or macaroni salad; onion rings can be substituted for an additional $2 charge. Fountain drinks are $2 apiece.

Lunchbox: The White Spot Café
109 W. 4th Ave.
$7-$15 per plate
7 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays (summer hours), 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends

As any Anchorage resident can tell you, dining Downtown during the summer can be difficult -- but the crowds I saw on a recent foray into the area pushed me a little farther east to an unexpected stop.

The White Spot Café is one of those restaurants you might only find if you know to look for it, sitting on 4th Avenue just east of the magic line we call C Street beyond which Downtown Anchorage apparently ceases to exist. A block west of C, drivers hovered awaiting open parking spaces as throngs of pedestrians mobbed establishments like the recently opened Hard Rock Café and the Brown Bag Sandwich Co.; a block west a dozen meters stood open, with the White Spot’s windows rendered opaque by painted ads reminding people of its presence. Hungry and curious about the discrepancy, I pulled up and stepped inside.

Internally, the White Spot harkens back to a simpler era in Anchorage dining, one celebrated at establishments like the Arctic Roadrunner and the Lucky Wishbone: much of the seating is at a long bar behind which the staff cooks in a tightly packed kitchen area, with a row each of tables and booths to the side offering seating alternatives to fit other diners. Much of the décor seems to be borrowed from that time as well, with an esoteric collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia on display ranging from clocks to old-school drink trays -- some could use a bit of dusting, but they lend the space a bit of atmosphere. Another piece of atmosphere, however, comes from the ATM near the door; like the Roadrunner the White Spot is a cash-only business, which isn’t well-marked and can hit as a rude surprise at the end of a meal.

The core of the White Spot’s menu is a list of 10 burgers with a similar number of sandwiches, all served with a choice of fries, coleslaw or macaroni salad. There’s also about half a dozen each wraps, salads and sides, with a decent selection of breakfast items which weren’t served by the time of my afternoon visit. I wanted to order a green chile burger ($11), but was told the kitchen was out of the necessary ingredients, so I instead asked for a loaded burger ($12) with a side of onion rings ($2 upgrade charge); the food came out of the kitchen in about 15 minutes.

I rather liked the burger I was served, a simple but enjoyable combination of a bacon cheeseburger with a mushroom burger. For a moment I couldn’t verify what was in it, but after a moment I realized that the burger’s main ingredients had been built upside-down, with four strips of bacon on the bottom forming a deck for the sautéed mushrooms and the patty, lettuce and tomato above them. The result did a surprisingly good job of protecting the bun -- a fine example, freshly baked and surprisingly light like one I had at the Long Branch Saloon -- from being soaked and falling apart under the weight of the wet ingredients. I added a bit of ketchup and mustard for flavor, since I’d been hoping for the spice of my original selection, but I was filled and pleasantly surprised.

The onion rings might not have been a good choice in terms of raw food value, with just seven lightly breaded rings replacing half a basket of fries, but I thought they were a good example of the dish that had a lot to recommend them. Unlike rings which focus on the breading, the White Spot’s instead feature relatively large cuts of onion, the wider equatorial bands which arrive thicker and preserve more of their shape -- even fried they had a lot of inherent flavor left to them, which I appreciated as a change of pace from the discs of solid batter and no flavor that often come from an onion’s ends. The rings’ main drawback -- getting my fingertips moist with oil -- was easily rectified with my napkin, although they might be a bit more of a challenge in a to-go order.

All in all, I think the White Spot recommends itself as a niche stop, if you’re looking for its kind of retro presentation and a throwback to the city’s pre-earthquake days. There’s not a gluten-free menu and there’s not much flexibility to what’s on offer if you’re not looking for a burger, but if you’re in the mood for one it’s one of the best choices in the Downtown area. Clearly enough people agree with that proposition to seek the restaurant out and eat there, which has kept the White Spot in the black all these years.