Eat Like a Local | The Best Food Spots in Reykjavik

best food spots Reykjavik

After the economic turmoil that hit Iceland rock bottom in 2009, Reykjavik has become one of Europe’s modern gastronomic destinations.

On the verge of a full-blown collapse, the country could no longer afford to import lavish products and were forced to look internally at their own natural resources. What they discovered were pristine ingredients raised in a virtually pollution-free environment like Arctic char, Viking lamb, and herbs such as sorrel and angelica. Being free of contaminants, Icelandic meat is strongly flavoured, reflecting the healthy outdoor lifestyle of the poultry and livestock.

Today, Iceland’s capital is experiencing a food renaissance with chefs adopting traditional cooking methods and serving dishes comprised of fresh, organic ingredients in a contemporary, Nordic style.

Despite being a producer of some of the purest foods on the planet, Iceland’s eating habits changed quite suddenly when junk food first reached its shores and invaded like a trojan horse that went straight to the waistline.

With one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world, Icelanders are also among the most obese. And given their ranking as the world’s sixth highest consumer of fast food, Iceland is a safe haven for gluttonous junk carb aficionado’s. Particularly in Reykjavik aka the northern kingdom of coronary evil.

Offering both authentic Icelandic cuisine and finger-licking fried madness, here’s my selection of Reykjavik’s foodie institutions that will get you through the day.

Spoiler Alert To relieve the effects of food coma caused by this list, one can unbutton their pants so the stomach can expand beyond normal parameters. Let’s get down ‘n dirty!


Bakery | Sandholt

sandholt-bakery-sourdoughAin’t no better way to start the day than with a blood sugar spike! Downtown Iceland’s capital on Laugavegur Street, Sandholt is Reykjavik’s longest running artisan bakery. Opened in 1920, the bake shop is now run by award-winning chocolatier Asgeir Sandholt, offering a massive selection of baguettes, croissants and freshly baked pastries – from macarons, scones, strawberry tarts, danishes to custard-filled eclairs. No wonder people queue up outside the bakery every morning to buy these delicious sweet delicacies.

Another mouthwatering treat is their yeast-free crusty sourdough bread, fresh from the bakery’s original stone oven and made with organic wheat. They also have takeaway sandwiches, granola, yoghurt and ice cream. Or you can sit inside to indulge yourself in this pastry heaven together with a cup of freshly ground coffee from Reykjavik Roasters. A real feast for the eyes, but not for the wallet.

Address:  Laugavegur 36, 101 Reykjavik Opening hours: Mon-Sun 6:30 am – 9:00 pm


Brunch | The Coocoo’s Nest

coocoo's-nest-2

coocoo's-nest

After experiencing Reykjavik’s craft beer scene and the city’s legendary nightlife, you’ll undoubtedly wake up with a brutal hangover. The best way to survive a post-party metabolic collapse is to fuel up your body with a calorie-packed brunch.

Near the Reykjavik harbour, there’s a little gem called The Coocoo’s Nest that serves excellent comfort food to cheer up your zombie state of mind. Inside an old fish storage at Grandi – an up-and-coming area with a newfound creative vitality – the Nest is almost entirely decorated with reclaimed wood. The geometrically arranged wood laths with whitewashed and pastel shades scream out ‘hipsteresque’, but it definitely creates a bright and peaceful atmosphere.

Moreover, this bustling spot is a must-visit for its California-style brunch: think cinnamon pancakes, eggs Florentine or breakfast burritos, which are all literally to die for. They also offer daily theme nights – with sourdough pizza on Wednesday and Thursday and an all-Italian menu on Friday and Saturday. Tuesdays are reserved for seasonally rotating tacos.

Locals pack the place, so make sure to get there early for brunch as people start lining up right when they open at 11 am. And right next door is Valdis, one of Reykjavik’s most renowned ice cream shops.

Address:  Grandagarður 23, 101 Reykjavík Opening hours: Tue-Sat 11:00 am – 10:00 pm | Sun 11:00 am – 4:00 pm 


Lunch | Public House Gastropub

Public-House-Gastropub-reykjavik

In the heart of Reykjavik, on it’s main drag Laugavegur, Public House Gastropub offers something a bit different. Instead of mediocre pub grub, expect Japanese style tapas with a strong Icelandic twist. Have you ever had slow cooked lamb shank in a doughnut with apricot jam? Well, they have it here.

You pair together your own selection of gourmet mini-dishes or just go for the mystery menu, which includes four courses and a dessert. Gastronomical delights like puffin cured in liquorice, Japanese gyoza pizza or pulled-duck-waffle makes up for the perfect lunch. Believe me, you’ll beg for more.

They also have a fine selection of craft beer on tap or you can order a beer platter (three 200 ml glasses of draft beer) that pair with your dishes.

Address: Laugavegur 24, 101 Reykjavík Opening hours: Mon-Sun 11:30 am – 1:00 am


Diner | Matur og Drykkur

matur-og-drykkur

matur-og-drykkur (4)

In a few years, the Grandi harbour area has blossomed into the main hub of Reykjavik’s foodie scene. Right across The Coocoo’s Nest, you’ll find Matur og Drykkur, an innovative restaurant with a strong focus on locally sourced products.

Housed in an old salt factory, Matur og Drykkur serve traditional Icelandic cuisine with a modern interpretation. Here, you won’t be haunted by tourist-shockers like fermented shark or ram’s testicles, instead, the chef and his team have been digging into old Icelandic manuscripts of long forgotten recipes and traditional cooking techniques. Inspired by the New Nordic movement, they support local farmers and fishermen who provide them with the freshest fish, the leanest lamb and locally grown fruit, vegetables and herbs.

As a result, Matur og Drykkur creates tantalizing dishes incorporating the best organic ingredients Iceland has to offer. Culinary adventurers may opt for cod head braised in chicken stock with sugar kelp and birch syrup. Another classic is the double-smoke lamb (prepared like potato chips and accompanied by a buttermilk-nutmeg dip).

With a reasonably-priced and seasonally changing menu, the restaurant has become a favourite among local and international gourmands.

Address: Laugavegur 24, 101 Reykjavík Opening hours: Mon 11:30 am – 2:30 pm | Tue-Sat 11:30 am – 10:00 pm | Sun 11:30 am – 2:30 pm


Burger Madness | Vitabar or KEX Hostel

Kex-Hostel-Reykjavik

Afters years of paying allegiance to Queen Suga and King Fat, Icelandic women are now the most corpulent in Europe. And Icelandic men narrowly got beaten into second place by chubbies from Malta.

Terrible news for Iceland’s health care system, but boy, are we happy to roam the greasy streets of the northern fat Walhalla called Reykjavik. Because there are few things in life more satisfying than gulping down a big juicy burger.

In the ever-expanding burger universe, Reykjavik ain’t no rookie no more. Burger joints are so omnipresent nowadays that it gets a little overwhelming. Gastropubs, mid-range and fine dining restaurants, they all have a signature burger in their ranks now.

Call me old fashioned but I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to burgers. For god’s sake, I don’t want molecularly deconstructed patties developed in the secret lab of Ferran Adrià, just an old-school mouthwatering cheeseburger will do the trick.

hamburgers-reykjavik-2

So no gimmicks like Hamborgarafabrikkan’s square burger or the Trump-style monstrosity of Roadhouse called ‘The Empire State’-burger. And I’ll skip the high-end specialty burgers of Grillmarkaðurinn, with their trio of whale, puffin and lobster. These are all damn fine burgers, but I’m talkin’ about the Platonic ideal of a cheeseburger. No twists on tradition, no Michelin-star touches — just a fresh-ground, prime beef patty, well seasoned and perfectly charred on the grill.

Standout players in this nearly-heart-attack- league are KEX Hostel’s spicy ‘Freedom’-burger and Vitabar’s ‘Forget-me-not’-burger.

hamburgers-reykjavik-vitabar-kex

The Freedom-burger consists of high-quality free range beef, Icelandic Isbui cheese, caramelised onion mayonnaise and veggies. Extremely popular among Reykjavik’s urban creatives armed with thick horn-rimmed glasses and beards with attitudes. Less worried about their score on the hipster rating scale, no-frills Vitabar comes up with an old-fashioned extremely flavourful burger. The ‘Forget-me-not’-burger is a perfectly seasoned and grilled patty slathered in blue cheese glory and creamy garlic aioli, topped off with a classic sesame bun and paired with a pile of crispy onion rings. The only downside is people will avoid you after eating this bad boy. Your breath is now officially a vampire-repellent.

Address Kex Hostel: Skúlagata 28, 101 Reykjavík Opening hours: Sun-Wed 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm | Thu-Sat 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm

Address Vitabar: Bergþórugata 21, 101 Reykjavík Opening hours: Mon-Thu 11:00 am – 9:00 pm | Fri-Sat 11:00 am – 1:00 am | Sun 11:00 am – 9:00 pm

For more Iceland travel tips, check my Reykjavik craft beer bar guide or read my Icelandic road trip adventures.

Btw, don’t watch “Free Willy” during your flight to Iceland. The country has a very active whaling industry with a big appetite for Willy’s family members. So don’t be surprised when you walk into a restaurant and see ‘Meet Willy’ on the menu. As an ancient Icelandic saying goes: “If we can catch it, we’ll eat it”. Luckily for Basques people, Iceland has recently repealed a 400-year law which said Basques should be killed as soon as they set foot on the island. The legend goes Daryl Hall & John Oates wrote their monster hit after dating Icelandic women with geographical illiteracy. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *