Alaska’s capital city of Juneau is chock-full of unusual dining specialties served at outstanding restaurants — many of which are scattered around Franklin Street near the cruise ships. Fresh seafood dominates menus, but there are also unique Alaskan dishes made with seasonal produce from the area’s diverse ecosystem. Everything is best washed down with a pint from an incredible local brewery.
Here are 10 traditional foods and beverages to try in Juneau, plus where you can find them.
No trip to Juneau would be complete without trying Alaska’s famous salmon. Just steps away from the cruise ships is Taku Smokeries (550 S. Franklin Street), making it an ideal final stop before getting back on your cruise ship. Both hot and cold smoked salmon are available (cold is typically thinner while hot is thicker and flakier) as are numerous salmon products like jerky, oil and caviar.
Alaska is known for its microbrews, and visitors can sample some at the Alaskan Brewing Co. Its beer selections reflect some of the same characteristics as those of beers from the gold rush era, with the Alaskan Amber serving as the “signature” ale.
Alaskan Brewing Co. beers can be found at most bars in Juneau, or at the brewery and tasting room located five miles from the port (a $20 one-way cab ride). Liquid Alaska Tours operates a round-trip shuttle every hour for $20 (with a tasting included) from the depot on 219 S. Franklin Street.
When gold miners went to Alaska, they carried with them tins of sourdough starters in place of yeast for making bread, earning them the term “sourdoughs.” The bread is wildly popular in Alaska, and Wild Oven bakes fresh artisan loaves that are distributed in Juneau. Pick some up at Rainbow Foods grocery store (224 Fourth Street), about a 10-minute walk from the terminal.
Although Homer is Alaska’s undisputed halibut fishing capital, the mild, lean white fish graces the menus of numerous restaurants in Juneau. The Sandbar and Grill is known for its halibut and chips, prepared beer battered with a side of fries or coleslaw. Located at 2525 Industrial Boulevard, taxis cost a pricey $22 each way (so bring some friends), or on weekdays, the UAS Express bus runs every 30 minutes from the Centennial Hall at Willoughby Avenue & Egan Drive. For something within walking distance, try Papa Rod’s Local Halibut Fish and Chips, a food truck located at 300 S. Franklin.
Alaska’s creamy, tomato-based crab soup will keep you warm on those brisk afternoons in port. In Juneau, there’s one place you must go to sample this hearty bisque, and that’s Tracy’s King Crab Shack, which started as a tiny word-of-mouth shack but has now received international acclaim. Tracy’s moved from its original location to a larger spot next to the ships (406 S. Franklin Street) but still has a no-frills vibe and the same amazing king crab bisque, as well as crab legs and other seafood items.
This extremely rare but versatile syrup tapped from Alaska’s birch trees can be used on pastries, in sauces, ice creams, and even in local beers. Based out of the small Alaskan town of Talkeetna, Kahiltna Birchworks is one of the leading producers, and distributes birch syrup at a number of stores in Juneau. Walk down to Raven Eagle Gifts at 490 S. Franklin Street to purchase a bottle of this gourmet item.
Pelmeni is a favorite in Russia and Eastern Europe, but the dish has gained popularity in Juneau as a simple, affordable late-night snack. The egg-based potato dumplings can be found at the bare-bones eatery Pel’meni (2 Marine Way), located about a 10-minute walk from the cruise terminal. The restaurant is cash only, and guests can customize their order by adding sour cream.
Reindeer sausage tastes similar to beef with a slightly gamy flavor, and the food carts in Juneau are the best bet for sampling some. The carts can often be found between Franklin Street and the scenic tram; on the corner between Marine Way and Franklin; and in front of the Juneau Arts and Humanities building on Egan Drive. Or, purchase some dried sausage to take home at Jerry’s Meats and Seafood (5165 Glacier Highway) located on the way to the Alaskan Brewing Company. If you want to take it back on the ship it must be prepackaged and sealed.
Also known as “sablefish,” Alaskan black cod has a natural buttery flavor that is rich in omega-3 oils, making it a hearty fish with a flaky consistency. For an easy walk from the cruise ships, find it at Twisted Fish Company Alaskan Grill (550 S. Franklin Street) as a smoked-fish appetizer or as an entrée sautéed with white-wine sauce.
In the late summer, berry picking becomes a popular pastime as wild berries like blueberries, salmonberries and raspberries blanket Alaska’s wilderness. While they aren’t grown much for commercial use, these fresh berries make their way into pastries, pies and ice cream around town. Visitors arriving in late spring can also sample rhubarb pie — another favorite that graces locals’ gardens. Walk down to Pie in the Sky (223 Seward Street) or Coppa (917 Glacier Avenue) for a changing menu of desserts and ice cream with fresh berries or rhubarb.