While many Fairbanksans may not be familiar with the country of Moldova or its culture, traditions or cuisine, one visit to Soba Restaurant will remedy that.

The beautifully decorated cafe, located inside the Co-Op Plaza in downtown Fairbanks, offers the only Moldovan menu in Alaska. Owner Alla Gutsul opened Soba in December 2018.

“We wanted to share our traditional Moldovan cuisine and bring variety to Fairbanks,” she said.

Gutsul grew up in Moldova, which is located next to Ukraine and Romania. She described it as grape country, famous for its wine and home to the world’s largest underground wine cellar, Cricova. Her husband was fascinated with Alaska so they moved here in 2009.

Moldovan food is Eastern European comfort food, with dishes such as mamaliga, a corn polenta with stewed pork or chicken, scrambled eggs, feta cheese and sour cream. The most popular dessert on the menu, Shepherd’s Hat, comes with a story. A little boy shares his wool hat with other children until they are all warm under the same hat. The dish is a rolled up sour cherry crepe with sweet cream and shredded chocolate.

An appetizer that has been a hit with locals is plachinta, a pastry filled with farmers’ cheese and herbs. The menu has an impressive offering of Moldovan wine.

Gutsul and the other workers use their own Moldovan family recipes in the kitchen.

Soba’s decor is exactly what you would find in Moldova because all the art and trimmings were sent to Fairbanks from Moldova. It even features a traditional fireplace. “Ever since we moved here I wanted a restaurant so I could have a little piece of Moldova with us and share it with people,” Gutsul said.

Operating an eatery during a pandemic has been extremely challenging, Gutsul said, but Soba remained open for takeout orders during the lockdown and is open for on-site dining now.

“It’s not been fun,” she said. “It’s hard, but people have been very kind. They have good words for us and have been supportive.” She added it’s sad to see downtown Fairbanks without tourists. Ordinarily, they drive the summer business as they meander through the Co-Op Plaza.

Her goals are to grow a successful restaurant, possibly open a second one in Anchorage and cater more events.

Learn more about Soba at Facebook/sobaalaska or call 460-7622.

Nancy Tarnai, a freelance writer living in Fairbanks, has been covering Fairbanks lifestyles since 1995. She can be reached at njtarnai@gmail.com.