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Lunchbox: Inka's Chicken

Published On: Feb 21 2014 01:31:23 PM AKST   Updated On: Feb 21 2014 01:31:40 PM AKST
Lunchbox: Inka's Chicken

Lunchbox: Inka's Chicken

Inka's Chicken serves (clockwise from top right) side dishes of papa a la huancaina ($5) and salchipapas ($7.50), as well as a quarter chicken ($8.50) served with fries or rice and beans. Most cans of soda are $1, with a can of Inca Kola costing $2.

Inka’s Chicken
640 Gambell St.
$5-$10 per plate
11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday; closed Sunday

February brings a fast pace to Anchorage journalism, with the Iron Dog, Fur Rondy and the Iditarod playing out against the backdrop of the legislative session. Sometimes it’s hard to detach from your desk long enough to eat, but I recently headed north for a midday pick-me-up.

Inka’s Chicken inhabits a bright and cheery yellow stand on the west side of Gambell Street, just south of its intersection with 6th Avenue. It can be a bit hard to reach from the south or east, given that both 6th and Gambell are one-way streets, but when you get there you’ll find plenty of parking. As with most stand-based Anchorage restaurants there’s not much in the way of seating; Inka’s does have some, with a picnic bench gamely perched beneath a small metal awning on the stand meant to cover ordering customers. With temperatures in the teens on my visit the table sat coated in snow, as customers universally opted to take food back to their cars.

While Inka’s specializes in Peruvian food, the menu isn’t solely committed to the cuisine; rotating specials, burgers and hot dogs offer a core of common stand fare, making it easy to mix and match. That’s exactly what I did to sample a few headliner items from the Peruvian selection, ordering a quarter chicken ($8.50), an order of salchipapas ($7.50) and some papa a la huancaina ($5). The cashier suggested that I go back to my car and wait for the food, which she brought in a delicious-smelling plastic bag after about 15 minutes. I took it to the station to unpack it and see how everything fared.

I was hoping for more from the salchipapas, a sort of Peruvian poutine built on a blend of French fries and sliced sausage; many restaurants doctor the dish with chili peppers and other additions, serving it alongside a sauce based on ketchup and mayonnaise. What was in the box was simply the base dish and some ketchup packets, with the fries nicely cooked but out of a bag and the sausage cuts delicious but added in modest proportions. I took the fries from my order of chicken, added them to the box and invited the newsroom to chow down -- while they didn’t last long and there was nothing inherently wrong with the dish, it’s the kind of item where a little personalization goes a long way.

Any concerns I had, however, were quickly dispelled once I tore into the chicken itself, the main dish for which I’d visited. Juicy, aggressively spiced and citrusy throughout, the meat quickly went from something I sampled while posting stories to something I had to stop and attack for a good five minutes. The skin was a decadent treat in its own right, adorned with the bird’s rub and even more flavorful than I’d anticipated, and the moment I finished it I regretted not having more. If ever there was a meal worth naming a restaurant after, this would be it.

The second side dish I’d ordered, the papa a la huancaina, held up markedly better than the first. Somewhat akin to a heavier version of potatoes au gratin, papa a la huancaina is a based on boiled yellow potatoes, served cold with a white cheese sauce and various optional garnishes added for personal effect. What looked like a whole potato had been boiled and sliced in the box, accompanied by a generous portion of sauce -- while it wasn’t incredibly heavy or cheesy, it was strongly spiced with the kind of slow-burn heat in a Mexican restaurant’s hot salsa. The mix had a lot more attitude than the sum of its parts, precisely what I’d sought in the salchipapas, even before the addition of half a boiled egg and a leaf of lettuce to accentuate its savory and cool elements. I’m not at all ashamed to say I didn’t share this one.

Inka’s is a little out of the way for many Anchorage diners, but it’s definitely worth the trek to Fairview to give it a try. The side items could use a little more flair, but they’ve got good fundamentals which carry through highlights like the flagship chicken. With a decent selection of specialized and generic items available on the menu, prices roughly in line with other restaurant stands in town and a rarely explored cuisine to mine, I’m hoping to see Inka’s produce more treasures.