65° F

Lunchbox: The Perfect Cup

Published On: Jun 20 2014 01:44:20 PM AKDT
Lunchbox: The Perfect Cup

Lunchbox: The Perfect Cup

The Perfect Cup serves this spicy chicken quesadilla ($9.95), which comes with a cup of soup on the side; fountain drinks are $2.25 apiece.

The Perfect Cup
800 E. Dimond Blvd. Suite 204
9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

For those of us who work them, late-night shifts often leave work and play shoehorned into odd moments when most people are still on the job. A lazy day in South Anchorage led me to this week’s stop.

The Perfect Cup is situated on the Dimond Center’s relatively secluded second floor, tucked away on a dead end near the Regal Cinemas movie theater. Possessing one of the older storefronts in the mall, its wood paneling gives the restaurant a lived-in look many of the building’s newer locations lack, which can be inviting and off-putting at turns; much of the facade is plate glass which also gives it something of a fishbowl feel. Parking obviously isn’t a problem, especially at lunchtime, but the restaurant is a bit of a walk to reach from any of the mall’s entrances; while there are escalators to the second floor, those with limited mobility will find an elevator just south of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream store on the first floor.

Even before I stepped in I could see that the servers were surprisingly busy, with several dozen people seated throughout the space and a bustle few stores in the mall often have on a weekend, let alone a Tuesday afternoon. Numerous tables and booths fill the dining area, with a wood motif giving the place a surprisingly homey feel for a mall restaurant; an espresso stand and cash register sit at the dining area’s center, with a door back to a separate kitchen keeping the room from getting any louder than it already was from residual conversations. Individual lamps above each table back up the relative flood of light from the skylights and fluorescent tubes in the mall proper.

Much of the menu breaks down into soups, salads, hamburgers and a mix of quesadillas and wraps, with a fair amount of depth behind each category -- there are half a dozen soup choices on hand, with roughly a dozen items listed for each of the rest. It’s a decent selection which could use a bit more personality beyond simple breadth (a Philly cheesesteak, a chicken Caesar wrap, a chef salad), apparently optimized for simplicity over personality. Intrigued by the concept of a quesadilla as a main dish rather than an appetizer, I ordered a spicy chicken quesadilla ($9.95); the service was lightning-fast, an apparent evolution of being adjacent to a multiplex, and both my meal and a soda (in a lidded disposable cup) were set before me in just under 10 minutes.

I found the quesadilla to be surprisingly well-made, a product of both experience and the ingredients chosen for it. A garlic-herb tortilla matched the tender chunks of garlic chicken cooked inside it, the surprisingly potent hit of flavor from both arguably stealing the show from the dish’s supposed stronger elements. While the cheese and sliced jalapenos incorporated into the dish were completely average, I found myself impressed not by the quality but the amount of cheddar used, a crucial question in the average quesadilla -- enough to be a presence on my taste buds, but not enough to drown out the other ingredients. I sampled some of the four wedges into which the tortilla was cut with the included tub of slightly spiced “Southwest” ranch dressing, but the quesadilla held up well on its own with or without the added richness.

In line with the restaurant’s name, the default accompanying item for burgers and sandwiches isn’t a mound of French fries but rather a cup of soup -- you can get some potato or tortilla chips in lieu of one, but it seems a travesty on par with ordering a hamburger at a Mexican restaurant. I tried a cup of the beef vegetable soup, which came out slightly above room temperature rather than piping hot; it was more of a Chinese-restaurant take on the concept, abandoning the stew-like heaviness of other versions I’ve tried in favor of a light broth and a tomato-potato blend of vegetables alongside bits and pieces of hamburger. An unexpected ball of fine noodles in the bottom of the cup added some carbs, but didn’t weigh things down too much; it’s a good side dish, but it’s not enough of a standout to order alone.

While there are plenty of other eateries near the Dimond Center, The Perfect Cup’s location lends it to comparison not with other restaurants in the region but other restaurants in the mall. On that front it occupies a unique and enviable position, better than anything faster and faster than anything better. While you might find more elaborate items at the Olive Garden and Chili’s restaurants recently added to the mall’s northwest corner, it’s an open question whether they can seat you let alone serve you in less than 10 minutes. Judging by the traffic it still attracts despite the arrival of those restaurants, The Perfect Cup scratches an itch for “real food” in a mall which remains dominated by fast food.