city diner

March 21, 2007

city dineroriginal photo by Steve Nigl
The City Diner opened up in February to long lines and high expectations. You can’t have missed the place, with it’s smart neon, glass block, and chrome exterior. It stands out like shiny beacon in an otherwise typical Anchorage drab intersection, promising serious comfort food, vegetarians and dieters be damned. The initial buzz was mixed: There are no substitutions, it’s too expensive, the breakfast menu isn’t going to satisfy any traditionalists, and the long wait for a table seemed to make a few reviewers testy after they realized that they had waited an hour for what was, well, diner fare. A few scattered reports had me a bit nervous: The place sits almost across the street from my office and I’d been anxiously awaiting its opening. City Diner is co-owned by a few other familiar names from the Anchorage dining scene, Jens Nannestad from South Side Bistro and Chef Al Levinsohn from Kincaid Grill.Chef Kelly Thompson was brought in to run the kitchen. She told the KTUU News that

“The food is American comfort food, diner food, a little bit retro, ‘Back to the good old days,’ but modernized. We use fresh herbs; we use as much fresh ingredients as we can to make it taste more palatable and little more upscale.”

At first glance the menu is expansive, and a little confusing. The diner motif has carried onto the page, with apparent genuine diner slang staff substituting for useful descriptions. Order it with tears, and you’ll get onions, diner browns are potatoes. A bun pup is a hot dog, and if you’re looking for a cup of joe, order the hot mud. There’s a key to the slang on the menu, but the use is pervasive enough you’ll refer to it a few times before you catch on. The menu covers a lot of ground, from Halibut Olympia to the aforementioned bun pups. The dinner entrées include mostly old standbys you probably haven’t had in years, and your doctor will likely insist that it remain so. Chicken fried steak awash in sausage gravy, pork chops with gravy and apple butter, chicken pot pie, meat loaf with gravy. There’s a lot of gravy going on here. While the sandwich section is deep and wide, from the Flatfoot (fried bologna egg on a shingle) and BLT to the ubiquitous (up here, anyway) halibut sandwich, the burger section is laudably sparse. One or two patties, with the usual choices of condiments, but the only other burger options are an open-faced version covered in chili and cheese with tears, and something called the 1080, a burger on on rye toast with grilled onions. I’m not one for much more than the traditional burger, so a place that doesn’t offer every possible burger flavor/condiment/topping available is fine with me.

Our first visit was late on a Thursday, and although the place was fairly full we did not have to wait for a booth. The inside is as finely diner-detailed as is the architecture outside, and the kitchen is on full display. They have an army of staff back there, too. I counted eight cooks/chefs on the line in some capacity, probably a reflection on the wild disparity in the dishes on the menu. The Partner ordered the chicken-fried steak, we split the fried “O strings” with Parmesan, and I went with the burger. If it’s a diner, it’s gotta have a good burger, right? First, a helpful reminder to those of you not from the South: Chicken fried steak is typically battered and fried BEEF, and it should arrive with sausage gravy. Sausage gravy is not like the other members of the gravy family. It is white, and it has chunks of sausage in it, and these are all good things. The City Diner version was good, in a down-home Swanson dinner kind of way. A large portion, drowning in gravy with “smashed” potatoes, and I took “smashed” to mean whipped to a gluey paste. The baby green beans were sautéed with red pepper and butter, and were tasty. The “O-strings” were surprisingly good. I was very much afraid of something like “Bloomin’ Onion” being set down in front of us, but these were simple: lightly battered crispy strips of onion with fresh Parmesan grated over them. The verdict on my burger was positive. Nice size, cooked to medium rare, crisp & fresh condiments alongside a steamed bun with a pile of diner browns. It didn’t land on my lifetime burger list, but it was fine and will make most folks happy. The prices were reasonable on everything, from the beer and wine selections to the full meals, and ranged from about $4 dollars to $18.95. Nice place, and something different for Anchorage. A greasy spoon without actually having to endure the greasy spoon part.

City Diner
3000 Minnesota Drive
Monday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Phone: 277-2489

UPDATE: This place started out well, but fizzled pretty fast. The service is generally challenging, and it is hard to be charitable about the food.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Annette Perkins August 8, 2007 at

Complaint reguarding service during lunch hour. I came in at 10:55 am, breakfast was being served. At 11:00 am your hostess told the couple lunch is being serve. I got up and told her I would like to order lunch to go. She told me I have to wait 10 minutes before placing the order so that all the breakfast check to be paid first. Then I told her to forget it. Another couple came in and she told then lunch is being serve and she proceded to take them to there table. I have never been treated like this before. Any other restuarants will be glad to take the order. I work near by and I always refered customers to your place. But after having ths done to me I will never refer anyone to your restuarant again.

Thank You

Annette Perkins

jared says: Annette, sorry your experience wasn’t good. i’ve heard a few other folks say that the city diner is a bit challenged in the service areas.

2 Marcy September 12, 2007 at

The first time we tried City Diner I thought to myself that we had found a wonnnnderful new place to go eat. I ordered the Flat Iron Steak and my friend ordered the Pan Roasted Pork Loin. The entrees were very good, the diner browns were crispy and the green beans were quite perfect. Aside from the “carmelized” onions simply being translucent it was a very nice dining experience. I left a very generous tip to the waiter, who was very kind to a customer seated next to us who apparently needed some extra attention in a way that was not condescending.

Our second experience I brought my children. We were seated after about 5 minutes wait and it took quite a long time for our server to take our order. 2 children ordered the children’s burger, 1 ordered the halibut sandwich. They were pleased with the food and the portions were good sized. I was in the mood for comfort food so I ordered the chicken fried steak. This was a bad decision! It was very greasy, as though they didn’t even bother to drain it, the cream gravy was tasteless, my green beans were 1/2 good, that is half of them were overcooked and had been mixed in with a new batch.

Our third visit was not even worth the money or time with ONE exception. Ordered take out of breakfast. The corned beef hash was watery vs. nicely fried with very few potatoes in the dish. It was also more tangy than anything. Biscuits were very dry; I would have fared better getting canned biscuits from the grocery store and a can of hash. The diner “browns” were not even close to brown–they were underdone. My son ordered the banana pancakes and that was the only very good thing about this experience.

I so very much wanted to like City Diner. I grew up in NY and loved the diner scene there. I will not be wasting any of my money there; the past 2 experiences were just not worth the expense. I don’t mind paying more money for quality, but to spend my money on food which is barely palatable is not worth repeating.

3 Linda October 12, 2007 at

Not much of a diner, really. More like an overpriced crappy place to eat.

I had the hamburger. Too large and the patty was tasteless. The potato salad could have doubled as wall-paper paste.

The bluberry pie was just ok. tasted like something you get a Fred Meyers.

VERY overpriced. Nothing special at all. Had so much promise but fails to deliver.

4 helena s February 26, 2008 at

the food is pretty good, i have never been treated badly while in there. The food is a little spendy, for only being south -westen american food…. it didnt take long to get my meal, they serve in pretty good portions. friendly staff:)

jared says: glad they treated you well. and you’re right – they aren’t shy with the portions.

5 James April 5, 2010 at

I have been to City Diner a couple of time in the summer when my kids are up from the lower 48. They love the place and I have never been disappointed in the service or food. Prices are a little higher than other diner type places, but the portions are large and the quality of the food has been very acceptable. I would eat there again…..

6 Mark and Carol Woods June 23, 2010 at

I ordered Eggs Benedict but didn’t know they came with the egg shell and not just a small piece but a quarter size chunk and another dime size. The “browns” were way over cooked, more then crispy, more like shoe leather or what I assume shoe leather texture is like. To the waitress’s (Liz) credit and her only credit she offered to replace the meal (too late).

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