Where to Eat in Iceland’s Capitol
Reykjavík is many things. It’s a port city, the capital and largest city in Iceland, and the northernmost capital in the world with a latitude of 64°08′ N (I would know as my only memento from the touristy gift shop was a magnet stating this very fact). The city itself wraps around the coast, staying close to the shore of the north Atlantic waters tinged with a beautiful blue hue from glacial melt water. With a compact city center, it’s relatively easy to explore on foot. There are plenty of things to check out no matter what you want to experience from the Reykjavík Art Museum (with three distinct locations around the city) to the geometric Harpa Concert Hall, the towering Hallgrímskirkja church with it’s one of a kind pipe organ or Bio Paradis, a movie theatre showing fantastic Icelandic films and a few foreign indie ones.
When it comes to Icelandic cuisine, there has been a recent transition. New Nordic cuisine has become the norm at many high-end restaurants and was caused by the economic turmoil that rocked Iceland in 2009. The country could no longer afford to import lavish products and now, thanks to chefs like Gunnar Karl Gíslason, top Icelandic restaurants are starting to commit to seasonal, local ingredients and traditional cooking methods. Things like Arctic Char, barley, Viking lamb and birch are becoming the star ingredients at restaurants around the country. New Nordic cuisine has landed on the global food radar, popping up in cities all around, but if you can’t afford the Michelin-star price tag at Gislason’s Dill, here is where you should eat in Reykjavík: morning, noon and night.
Located on Reykjavík’s old harbor next door to the popular ice cream shop, Valdís, The Coocoo’s Nest is a fantastic, family-owned spot making everything from scratch. The place is pretty tiny, with seating for no more than 30, but the rustic white-washed wooden walls and tall ceilings make the place light and bright with a comforting small cottage feel. A must-visit for brunch (try their eggs Florentine—literally to die for), they also have aperitivo (Italian-inspired happy hour), taco Tuesdays and an all-Italian menu on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s a bustling little spot that I wanted to visit over and over again, and so will you. Make sure to get there early for brunch as people start lining up right when they open at 11 a.m.
The Coocoo’s Nest / Grandagarður 23, 101 Reykjavík / +354 552 5454
This is a really cool—definitely hipster—hostel with its own gastro pub. Think reclaimed wood floors, antique-y illustrations of flora and fauna, old sewing machine tables, tons of books and a well-loved copper topped bar. Along with serving a burger that’s said to be the best in Iceland, they have a great, reasonably priced breakfast buffet that has everything you’d want in an Icelandic breakfast including salami, cheese, thick skyr, warm porridge, homemade bread, hard boiled eggs, arctic char pate, a selection of jams and endless coffee and juice.
KEX Hostel / Skúlagata 28, 101 Reykjavík / +354 561 6060
Credit: Karl Petersson
This bakery is on Reykjavík’s main downtown thoroughfare and has a selection of soups, sandwiches, danishes, breads, salads, quiches—the usual bakery/deli/restaurant fare. You can grab a sandwich to go or dine in their casual restaurant space. Their fresh sourdough bread is absolutely amazing with a crisp brown exterior and deliciously chewy interior. I highly recommend trying that out whether you buy an entire or half loaf, get a sandwich on it or have a slice with soup.
Sandholt Bakery / Laugavegur 36, Reykjavík / +354 551 3524
The owner of this little place originally comes from Poland, and he brought with him a Turkish-German invention popular in Berlin: the doner kebab. Piling on huge amounts of meat with cabbage, tomato and cucumber salad and authentic sauces, theses doner are super filling and definitely remind me of my trips to Berlin. He will recommend the lux, topped with bacon and cheese and served with hot fries and a coke. If you eat this for lunch, you won’t be hungry for dinner.
Viking Kebab / Engihjalli 8, Kópavogur, Reykjavík / +354 776 6705
This bustling, quirky café is a nice spot for lunch or drinks. It’s located in the heart of downtown making it popular for tourists, but it’s also a local hangout. With a laundromat in the basement, quality food, a substantial drink menu and a cozy atmosphere, it’s easy to see why. A fun place to hangout or enjoy a casual meal.
The Laundromat Café / Austurstræti 9, 101 Reykjavík / +354 587 7555
Hot dogs should be an Icelandic national dish. They’re different than the ones we’re used to, and it’s not hard to see why locals love them at any time of day. I ate no less than 5 hot dogs during my time in Iceland. My favorite was at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a small stand basically on the side of the road that’s previously been named as serving the best hot dog in Europe. Since they’re made with lamb, they have a slightly gamey flavor but they’re also salty with a perfect snappy casing and irresistibly soft bun. Get your first with everything on it and edit from there—my favorite topping was the crunchy onions, I always asked for extra!
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur / Tryggvatagata 1, 101 Reykjavík / +354 511 1566
Since Reykjavík is a city on the water, it’s no surprise that they have amazingly fresh fish. Locals love salted and dried fillets, but that’s not my style. I prefer my fish fried and served with a hefty side of potatoes—that’s why I like Icelandic Fish & Chips. Their breading is gluten-free and they usually have 3 types of fresh fish available. I had the Pollock with rosemary garlic potatoes and the dipping sauce sampler. The flavor of the fish was so clean, not at all dry and the breading was as crisp and satisfying as any heavy, gluten-laden batter. It left me satisfied but not in a food coma—perfect for going out afterwards and not running to the hotel to sleep off my fried food baby.
Icelandic Fish & Chips / Tryggvagata 11, 101 Reykjavík / +354 511 1118
Credit: Hamborgara Bullan
This dive bar next to the old harbor in downtown Reykjavík is an interesting place, to say the least. With an old school Americana themed interior, these guys turn out fantastic burgers and milkshakes. They have become so popular that they’ve now opened up locations all around Iceland. It gets busy in this place so prepare for a bit of a wait and, of course, some damn good burgers.
Hamborgara Bullan / 1 Geirsgata, Reykjavík
Located on the ground floor of the Icelandair Reykjavík Marina Hotel, this bar is part café, part cocktail lounge, part music venue. Hit up their daily happy hour from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. or splurge on trendy cocktails that range from thyme-infused gin and tonics to traditional red grapefruit palomas or even house made rhubarb sodas.
Slippbarrinn / Mýrargata 2, 101 Reykjavík / +354 560 8080
Dark is the theme of this bar slash music venue. The black exterior matches the black interior with low lighting and matching black tables and chairs. Located downtown, this place can get pretty wild on event nights. Along with local bands of many genres (including hip hop, metal, funk and big band) they host stand up comedy and karaoke nights.
Gaukurinn / 22 Iceland, Tryggvagata, Reykjavík / +354 781 7273
Feature Photo Credit: Marco Bellucci
Growing up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Devan Grimsrud was born into a world where ketchup is considered by many to be a bit too spicy. Although this fostered a level of pickiness within her, she loves food and everything surrounding it. A contributor to Eater Minneapolis and an avid Instagram-er, she currently lives in Minneapolis and enjoys rock climbing, globetrotting and reading Lucky Peach while wearing fuzzy socks.