Reykjavik, Iceland foodie guide: where locals eat and drink
Wrap up this winter and discover clean Nordic flavours in the Icelandic capital, from hot smoked fish and freshly baked cinnamon rolls to waffles with rhubarb jam
Looking for Reykjavik restaurants? Want to find best cheap eats in Reykjavik? We visited Reykjavik with Icelandic chef Aggi Sverrisson, owner of Michelin-starred restaurant Texture in London, to get a local foodie’s insider tips.
Enjoy ice cream by the quirky Hallgrímskirkja church, or tuck into a hotdog by the harbour, with a backdrop of the fish-like Harpa opera house and snow-capped mountains.
Best local cafe in Reykjavik – Café Loki
This cute cafe serves cheap and authentic Icelandic food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In Hallgrímskirkja’s dramatic shadow, this popular local spot is a great place to stop for rye pancakes or hearty Icelandic stew, followed by a pot of homemade ice cream studded with treacly flecks of rye bread topped with sweet squirty cream.
Lokastígur 28, Loki.is
Best traditional Icelandic restaurant in Reykjavik –Frakkar
If you want to try weird and wonderful Icelandic specialities (ie fermented shark), this is the place to come. Top local chefs, including Aggi Sverrisson, would frequently visit with their families when growing up.
Frakkar has managed to keep in shape while sticking to its roots – dainty lace curtains, dark green paper tablecloths and an original wooden bar create a cosy space.
Frakkar was the first restaurant to serve ‘grandma’s fish hash’ outside the family home, a Friday tradition in Icelandic households, designed to use up leftover fish from the week. This is a must-try, served with dark, treacly Iceland black rye bread. Wash done a cube or two of frozen rotten shark meat with a shot of Icelandic Brennivín, an aniseedy spirit known by locals as ‘Black Death’.
Baldursgata 14, 3frakkar.com
Best cheap eat in Reykjavik – Lobster Hut
This food truck takes a while to track down, due to its moveable pitch, but it’s worth it for the best value lobster you’ll try. Most evenings you’ll find this fuss-free truck parked up in Laekjartorg square. Order a lobster roll filled with plenty of fresh lobster, salad, creamy sauce and tortilla chip pieces for added crunch. Locals come here for post night-out food that’s a step up from a kebab or cheesy chips!
Best traditional café in Reykjavik –Mokka
Shelter from the cold in this cosy, wood-paneled café, and you’ll immediately notice the specialty – every other table will be tucking into door-stopper waffles, served cream tea-style with ramekins of fresh whipped cream and strawberry jam. A great-value afternoon snack.
The same wooden tables have been attached to the same old-school red carpet for decades, and you can tell the regulars have been coming since they were kids. There’s an atmospheric hum about the place, with the espresso machine buzzing, groups of men laughing and breaking into ditties in Icelandic and broken English, and a lady wrapped up in a fur coat and hat working on her calligraphy in the maroon leather window seat.
Skólavörðustígur 3A, Mokka.is
Best cinnamon buns in Reykjavik – Braud & Co
If Gusti’s graffiti-covered bakery isn’t enough reason to stop you in your tracks on the gradual climb up to Hallgrímskirkja church, then the spiced aroma of freshly baked rolls is sure to pull you in.
There’s plenty to keep you entertained while queuing for your bread, from the colourful mural on the outside, past the glass-fronted preparation station inside, to a huge oven, churning out humungous cinnamon rolls, loaves of caramelized rye and flaky pastries. The spiced rolls are the hero bake here, but blueberry and liquorice swirls and vanilla buns are also excellent. Stock up on all three; it’s worth it.
Frakkastígur 16, Braudogco.is
Best food hall in Reykjavik – Skal at Hlemmur Matholl
A great option for a cheaper dinner in Reykjavik... Hlemmur food hall may be compact but it’s full of restaurants and bars offering seasonal Icelandic dishes and ingredients. Grab one of Braud & Co’s legendary buns, sip on French wines at Kröst, or pick up a wholesome juice from Rabbar Barinn, packed with fruit and veg grown in Iceland’s volcanic soil.
Sit at the counter at Skal for vegan smoked carrot and avocado toast with refreshing daily cocktails. On our visit we tried a refreshing martini with Reykjavik Distillery’s rhubarb liqueur, fresh lemon juice and vodka, with rhubarb arctic salt to zest up the rim.
Laugavegur 107, Hlemmurmatholl.is
Best craft beer bar in Reykjavik – Microbar
This basement bar was the first microbrewery in Reykjavik, and holds a fine selection of Icelandic brews. Carry out your own little tasting session with the sampler sets of five or ten beers, served with a little score card so proper beer geeks can take notes (read our guide to craft beer here).
Pick up strong malty flavours and dulse seaweed notes from The Brother’s Brewery Eldfell Volcano red ale, try Belgian-style Witbier from Southern Iceland brewery, Olvisholt, or suss out dark, smooth stouts and rye IPAs from Gaedingur, the microbrewery in the North of Iceland that set up Microbar. Chat to the guy behind the bar, and test him on the pronunciation of the 64-letter longest Icelandic word. You never know when you may need that information!
Vesturgata 2, Gaedingur-ol.is
Best bar in Reykjavik – Dillon Whiskey Bar
Icelandic rock blares out of the windows of this first-floor whisky joint on Reykjavik’s main street. Climb the concrete steps at the side of the building, and enter a sticky whisky den. Icelandic rock bands add to the grungy vibe of this wood-paneled bar.
With 100-or-so whiskies to choose from, covering scotch, to Irish to bourbon, ordering can be overwhelming to a whisky novice. We recommend the local Floki whisky, single malt whisky made with Icelandic barley. For something unique, Floki also has a sheep dung smoked reserve, using traditional Icelandic methods of smoking using sheep dung to add sweet smoky notes.
Laugavegur, +354 568 2424
Best patisserie in Reykjavik – Sandholt
This swish bakery is bigger than it looks. Grab a ticket and wait your turn at the marble counter for sea salt and caramel truffles or passion fruit ganache covered in crisp feuilletine pieces.
If you’d prefer to sit in and shelter from the cold, there’s a smart seating area where you can cuddle up over hot coffee and a perfectly glazed brown butter bun. More substantial sandwiches on squidgy sourdough (make your own here) are available for much-needed lunchtime fuel.
Laugavegur 36, Sandholt.is
Best hotdog in Reykjavik – Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Walk towards town from the harbour, and you’ll most likely stumble across the inevitable queue for this simple red and white shack set up in what looks like an old car park.
This hot dog stand was set up in 1937, and has become a much-loved local institution. Order “one with everything” or “the works” and the vendors will laden your hot dog with sweet mustard, ketchup and remolaòi mayonnaise sauce, along with raw and crispy fried onions. Scooch up on the picnic bench next to locals and tourists and tuck in to this fuss-free street food snack.
Tryggvagata 1, Bbp.is
Best wine bar in Reykjavik – Port 9
Tucked away in a little courtyard off a side street in Reykjavik centre, this smart wine bar is the ideal hideout for a pre-dinner drink. Over 400 bottles are stored in the wine cellar, many of which owner Gunnar serves by the glass. More are showcased on the floor-to-ceiling shelves behind the bar.
Taste your way through wines from France and Lebanon, Chile and New Zealand, in a stylish room filled with velvet chairs and flickering green tea lights. There are appetizers to nibble on, including Icelandic smoked salmon, baked goat’s cheese with fig jam, and salt-cod salads with sun-dried tomatoes.
Veghúsarstígur 9, Port9.is
Moss Restaurant, The Blue Lagoon
Take a trip out of Reykjavik city centre to The Blue Lagoon for an afternoon spent sipping on skyr smoothies, bathing in healing geothermal waters, slathering your skin with a face mask packed with volcanic minerals or relaxing with an in-water massage.
If that makes you feel hungry, there's good news: Moss Restaurant has just opened on-site, with Aggi Sverrisson as consultant chef. Spruce up after your spa day and book a table to watch the sun set over the other-worldly surrounding landscape with a glass of champagne or wine from the restaurant's special cellar, buried deep into the lava.
The restaurant's clean, contemporary furnishings let the scenery and food take centre stage. Moss has an open kitchen, immersing diners in a seven-course tasting menu which presents a modern take on Iceland’s ingredients and heritage.
Whipped skyr butter seasoned with Icelandic seaweed leads the way, before dishes such as pan-fried langoustine served with cauliflower ‘textures’ (raw slices, seeds and a springy couscous), pan-fried cod neck and confit arctic char with char caviar, sorrel sauce and crispy rye bread. Icelandic lamb is particularly gamey due to a diet of blueberries and arctic herbs, and here Aggi serves it with a side of traditional ‘mother’s broth’ (braised lamb with barley, rosemary, thyme and dill).
Vibrant green lovage granita with celery consommé makes a refreshing palate cleanser before dessert. Then finish with a show-stopping selection of petits fours (fragrant pistachio madeleines, mini macarons, liquorice toffees and melt-in-the-mouth chocolate caramels).
If you can’t make it to Reykjavik, but want to taste Icelandic ingredients at their finest, head to Aggi’s Michelin-starred restaurant Texture, in London.
For more Reykjavik tips and cheap eats, search for #oliveeatsreykjavik on social media.
More Reykjavik tips here, from local Eirny Sigurdardotti:
In the city’s old harbour area Coocoo’s Nest is a quirky bistro owned by photographer Íris Ann and artist/chef Lucas Keller. The menu leans towards Italy and California and everything is made from scratch including sourdough, pasta and ricotta. There’s also a great weekend brunch menu.
Chef Gisli Matthias Auðunsson is making his mark on the local culinary scene, adding innovative twists to traditional Icelandic cooking. His restaurant, Matur og Drykkur (Food and Drink), is a cosy space with friendly, committed staff. Go for lunch and order steamed cabbage and lamb parcels with onion butter sauce, or book for dinner and try the whole roast cod’s head.
An Italian-inspired fine-dining restaurant at the top of Harpa music and conference hall, Kolabrautin promises food as impressive as the views across Reykjavik harbour (house-made burrata with pickled tomatoes and basil). If you can’t stretch to dinner, splash out on a glass of franciacortaat the bar instead.
Award-winning Icelandic chocolatier Omnom is opening its eagerly awaited new factory premises and store this month. Any self-respecting chocaholic should sign up for one of the company’s tours, exploring the production process before ending with a tasting of its range; the liquorice and sea salt version is amazing.
Set in the Nordic House, a space designed by famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, the Aalto restaurant is owned by chef Sveinn Kjartansson. A popular TV chef and food writer in Iceland, Kjartansson is known for innovative seafood cooking. Try the hot-smoked catfish with citrus.
Photographs: Alamy, Ragnor Visage/Andre Visage
How to get to Iceland
Return flights from Gatwick, Stansted or Edinburgh to Reykjavik cost from £60 return (wowair.co.uk)