There is something uniquely Alaskan about reindeer dogs, and ordering them from the plethora of carts downtown during the summer is as much a local tradition as it is a tourist one.
Downtown Anchorage’s 4th Avenue houses most, if not all, of these locally-owned carts, and that is where TNL went to discover the best reindeer dog in town. Each of the reindeer dogs sampled was judged based on the overall flavor of the meat, how well it was cooked, the flavor and preparation of the caramelized onion topping, the condition of the bun and the overall service.
Fio’s Gourmet Sausages: $5 – Fio’s had the fastest serving time, but the food suffered for the rush. The onions were undercooked, and its raw taste masked any of the flavor of the reindeer dog. When you can taste the meat, all you can detect is gristle. It’s as if the grill was too hot and the cook never flipped the sausage. The bun itself was standard fair, fluffy and fresh from a sealed bag, but even its plainness couldn’t mute the strong and unpleasant flavor of the actual food.
Downtown Dawgs: $5.50 – This reindeer dog, somehow, managed to taste like peppered Spam. It was bland in natural flavor, a little salty and very peppery. Too peppery. The bun felt damp as well, before the grease had a chance to soak in. The onions themselves tasted fairly good and were cooked to perfection, but the helping was very small compared to the other four carts TNL went to. The service time was two minutes.
Urban Hot Dog: $5.50 – This reindeer dog had a little bit of everything going against it, but wasn’t too bad overall. The meat itself was far too peppery (even for a reindeer dog) and a little spicy besides. That being said, the non-pepper spice added flavor that made the pepper bearable, even if it wasn’t characteristic of a typical reindeer dog. The onions were overcooked, almost mush, but were sweet to the taste, offsetting the meat some (which, like Fio’s, was too burned on one side). The bun was stale and almost crunchy. Service time was three minutes.
Tia’s Gourmet Hot Dogs: $5.50 – Tia’s reindeer dog scored some bonus points right off the bat by not being overbearingly peppery. It was cooked perfectly, with no patches of charred meat to put-off taste buds. The onions were good as well, but not all of the chunks were cooked all the way through; this was a bit frustrating, since raw and nearly raw onions are good at overpowering other flavors. This was really the only issue with the food, though; the bun was grilled on one side, and Tia’s was the only cart to do that. It added an interesting and unique texture to the meal. Service time was two minutes.
M.A.’s Gourmet Dogs: $5.50 – M.A.’s has been in Anchorage for 20 years now, and it shows with how good their food is. The reindeer dog was neither too peppery or salty, and it had a nice, distinctive flavor that emphasized the reindeer meat itself, rather than pepper or other seasonings; it was moderately spicy, offering a little kick, but it wasn’t overkill. The onions, which M.A.’s cooks in Coke, were sweet, a little tangy and only a hair overcooked. The bun ended up a little soggy from the grease, but it wasn’t a turnoff. It was by far the best reindeer dog on 4th Avenue.