A number of places offer pricey summertime eats just north of the park entrance at the development called Denali Park; most are shuttered when the tourists flee south. Start your day at Black Bear Coffee House (907/683-1656, daily 6:30 a.m.–10 p.m. mid-May–mid-Sept., $5–10) with eggy breakfasts, bagels, espresso, sandwiches, and muffins, along with Wi-Fi and a couple of computers to check email ($5).
Located high atop the bluff at Denali Park, Alpenglow Restaurant (907/683-8500 or 866/683-8500, www.denalialaska.com, daily 5 a.m.–midnight mid-May–mid-Sept., entrées $29–35) has the most impressive vistas in the area. Wraparound windows face Denali National Park, and the high ceilings are accented by a beautiful timber-frame design. In addition to a good steak and seafood selection, there’s a lighter bar menu with burgers, salads, and a tasty Alaskan coconut shrimp appetizer.
In business for more than 25 years, Denali Salmon Bake (907/683-2733, www.denaliparksalmonbake.com, daily 7 a.m.–midnight early May–mid-Sept., dinner entrées $20–37) is extremely popular and quite reasonable for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This rustic old building with slanting floors is open for three meals a day, with a menu that stars halibut tacos, king crab, and cedar plank salmon, along with Wi-Fi and a free shuttle to local hotels and campgrounds. At night it turns into a hopping no-smoking bar with live bands, karaoke, or DJs nightly, plus 21 beers on tap and an enormous frozen blue concoction called the McKinley margarita. Join all the Ukrainian, Russian, and Slavic seasonal workers for Tuesday-night dance parties. Heading into the park? Have the “Bake” make a big box lunch for $12. Hungry late? Halibut tacos are available till 4 a.m.
If you’re just hankering for that old standby, head over to Great Alaska Fish & Chips Co. (907/683-3474, www.alaskafishandchip.com, daily 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m. summer) for a big serving of halibut or cod fish-and-chips. There’s a salad bar and a handful of other choices too, including buffalo burgers and cold pitchers of Alaskan Amber.
One of the better restaurants in the Denali area is 11 miles south of the park entrance at Mile 224: McKinley Creekside Café (907/683-2277 or 888/533-6254, www.mckinleycabins.com, daily 6 a.m.–10 p.m. May–Sept., entrées $14–25). You’ll find great breakfasts (including gigantic half-pound cinnamon rolls), homemade soups, sandwiches, and tacos for lunch, plus meatloaf, pasta specials, and fresh Alaskan halibut in the evening. The little deck is perfect for mid-summer dining. Pop open your laptop for free Wi-Fi. Right across the creek is Panorama Pizza Pub (907/683-2623, www.panoramapizzapub.com), with excellent pizzas and live music some nights. They provide a free shuttle from Denali Park.
At 229 Parks Restaurant (907/683-2567, www.229parks.com, Tues.–Sun. 8–11 a.m. and 5–10 p.m., closed Mon. and in Nov. and Dec.) the name is also the location: Mile 229 on the Parks Highway. Housed within a bright timber-frame building nine miles south of Denali Park, the restaurant serves a bistro-style menu that changes frequently. Organic locally grown vegetables and free-range meats are used whenever possible. Dinner entrées are $24–36, but “tavern fare” options such as salads, tomato flatbread, or king crab cakes offer a less expensive option. Save room for their ice cream sandwich with homemade ice cream between dark chocolate cookies. In addition to dinner, the restaurant serves pastries and espresso for brunch. Don’t come here in a hurry; service can be slow since everything is made fresh. There’s a seasonal Farmer’s Market in the parking lot Saturday 10 a.m.–2 p.m. with local crafts and produce.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition