The Hungry Chum: Gallo’s, a tale of two cantinas
There are various divides among people: Democrats versus Republicans, cat people versus dog people, early risers versus night owls. In Anchorage, there’s another set: Old Seward Gallo’s versus Arctic Gallo’s.
Gallo’s Mexican Restaurants and Cantinas have been operating in Anchorage since 1981, according to their website, when the restaurant was founded by Abraham Gallo. Since then, the two locations have become a point of contention, a pseudo sibling rivalry.
I decided to put them to the test — visiting both with some friends and I’d order the same dish at each.
Arctic and Dimond
One weekday evening, we entered the Arctic location and got a table for two. Set at the end of a strip mall, the whole place was much larger inside than I’d ever imagined it could be.
We decided to sit in the restaurant, but the hostess seated us near enough to the entrance of the bar that we knew every time a good play was made in the game on the large screens. Our server brought fresh chips and salsas, hot and mild options, free with the meal. The salsa was homemade, but made in bulk, which led to a less flavorful dip. The hot salsa had a nice smoky flavor, though I would dare to say it was still fairly mild.
We both decided on items from the house specials section of the menu. My dining partner ordered the carne asada ($19.25) and the server recommended the chile verde dinner ($17.95), a popular dish that would be my litmus test. We ordered a couple of beers — an Alaskan Brewing Company IPA and a Pacifico ($4.95 each) — to wash it down.
The carne asada was flavorful, cooked to perfection in the center, but sadly a tinge overcooked on the outside. However, it remained tender. The chile verde was chunks of lean pork, surrounded by a vibrant green sauce of tomatillos and chiles. It was specked with spices and tasted great alone or packed into a tortilla with the complimentary rice and beans, which themselves were nothing to write home about.
Because both have attached bars, you can order cocktails with your meal. The table behind us seemed to be about three margaritas deep when we sat down, and as they kept imbibing they ended up being a little loud and rowdy.
Our table neighbors and the bar aside, the restaurant was pretty quiet. A portrait of Frida Kahlo was one of many pieces that hung on the warm-colored walls in the dimly lit room. Up above the dining room was a balcony, which I wondered aloud if it could be rented for events.
The service was friendly, and while not the fastest, we were by no means forgotten.
Old Seward and Dimond
I’d previously visited the Old Seward location multiple times for dinner and for get-togethers in the bar, so we decided to go in for lunch on a weekday.
The hostess sat us in the bar, since the place was nearly empty, save for a table of three seated on the other side. The dining room was empty, so being efficient with staff and time, eaters were confined to the cantina side. Televisions were arranged around the room, giving spectators a view from many angles.
Devoid of games, the news silently presented the day’s happenings.
There was just one server for the bar and she did a great job of checking on us just enough to top off our water and not hover.
I again ordered the chile verde, but this time I got the lunch special ($11.25). Nobody needs to be in a food coma at noon unless it’s Thanksgiving Day. My dining partner opted for the shrimp fajitas ($14.95).
My meal was just as good as before. The shrimp fajitas came out sizzling on a platter, covered in a red sauce that paired nicely with the peppers, onions and shellfish. Again, both were accompanied by rice, beans, tortillas along with chips and salsa.
The walls in the bar had a few pieces of art, but nearly everywhere you looked were promotional signs for drinks or upcoming sporting events. In the dining room, the edges of the room were brimming with a cacophony of kitsch.
Whose was better?
When it came to the food, both restaurants were on equal footing. Service was likewise a level playing field. Atmosphere is where the two really take dramatic turns.
The Arctic location felt like a neighborhood restaurant, rather than a chain restaurant’s campy take on Mexican culture. The Old Seward dining room is vast and open, as is that spot’s bar. But to me, rather than feeling roomy, it gives off the vibe that they pack as many people in as they can.
The closeness I felt in the Arctic restaurant could have come from the lack of windows, where Old Seward has windows in abundance — out of those windows is traffic and box stores.
If you love to be around people or have a large group to feed, you should head to the Old Seward location. The bars will buy the rights to fights and games, drumming up business from loyal sports fans, hungry for competition and tacos.
I’ll be at the Arctic cantina, sipping a margarita in peace.
Always in search of the next great meal, The Hungry Chum brings you regular restaurant reviews with honest opinions. The views expressed are the writer’s, not necessarily those of Denali Media or its employees.