Eating in Reykjavík is a thrill. Every visit brings me new restaurants to experience, and wonderful new chefs and dishes. Below are some of my favorites. These places range from the sublime (and Michelin-starred or soon to be) to the lowly pylsur—the Icelandic hot dog. There's something for everyone here, including vegetarians. Dig in.
Let's start at the cheaper end of the spectrum. Street food isn't a huge tradition in Iceland, but the hot dog stand sort of makes up for it. Bæjarins Beztu pylsur (lit. "town's best hot dog") is the place to try the Icelandic hot dog. Part lamb, part beef, and part pork, it is my favorite hot dog in the whole world. Under $5 per dog, make sure you get it with everything (ketchup, mustard, raw and fried onion, and "remolaði" — a mayo-like sauce with relish), and get two. Thank me later.
Other cheap eats include plentiful and filling noodle bars (my favorite is Ramen Momo, near the harbor), Middle Eastern "take out" at Mandi, one of the best diner-style burgers anywhere at Hamborgarbúllan (I like the location near the Marina Hotel), and the incredibly good "lobster" soup—it's langoustines—at Sægreifinn (the Seabaron).
Cafés, Diners, Coffee Shops, etc
Brauð og Co. make some great bread. I'm told you should get the tuna spread and a half loaf of bread to take home. Of their savory treats, my favorite is the parmesan and ham croissant. Most of their sweet treats are delicious, but I'm partial to the chocolate brioche bun. Julia & Julia is an excellent little cafe inside the Culture House. Their sandwiches are vegetarian, and their baked sweets are outstanding. And both Julias are really nice.
C is for Cookie and Reykjavík Roasters are really good coffee shops, says the guy who doesn't drink coffee. I have it on good authority. I have had the hot chocolate at both, as well as some sweets, and I can report they're equally great in that department.
If you want to have some traditional Icelandic cuisine, Café Loki is a great place to go. Steps from Hallgrímskirkja, it may seem like a tourist trap but I counted more Icelanders there on both trips. The food is simple, home-style cooking. A friend described it as "like my grandma would make." Get the shit-smoked lamb. Seriously.
Prikið is a coffee house-cum-diner-cum-night club. Great hangover food by day, thumping music and dancing by night. For less of a dive, Café Paris has been revamped and a lot of locals like to hang out here. The food's a bit nicer than it used to be, and the whole place is a bit fancier. Le Bistro is another very good French bistro. Laundromat Café is gone but not forgotten. It's been replaced by Egill Jacobsen, and seemed to have a lot of the same dishes on the menu.
Icelanders love their ice cream, no matter the weather. My favorite is Valdis in the Grandi neighborhood. It's so good. You should try the gray-ish salted licorice gelato. Goes well with the dark chocolate one.
Middle of the Road
These are the every day restaurants. The ones you might go to for lunch or dinner when you want something good but not an expensive sit down. No reservations, and sometimes no table service. The food halls on both sides of town are a good place to start. Hlemmur Mathöll is on the east side of town, in the old bus terminal. Lots of options from Skál (really good) to open faced Danish sandwiches, from a Braud og Co. outpost to a taco shop, you've got options. Some are more affordable than others, but I've enjoyed most everything I've tried there. On the other side of town is the relatively new Grandi Mathöll. It's in the Grandi neighborhood, which is a cool, rapidly changing part of town. I've not been since they opened, but it's on my list.
If you want to grab a good beer and a good meal, the bar at Kex hostel, Sæmundur í Sparifötunum, is where you should go. Sit in the lounge and mingle with travelers and Icelanders, and spend some time picking out the perfect beer to go with ... bone marrow. Yeah, I know it's a hostel, but the executive chef runs a Michelin-starred restaurant in NYC. The bone marrow is among the very best I've ever had. The lamb shank, when available, is also very good. But so is the rest of the menu.
From the same group as Kex, comes Hverfisgata 12 (a.k.a. H12 or "the pizza place with no name"), one of the best pizzerias I've ever been to. Sourdough is the base and the toppings range from smoked Icelandic lamb to potatoes. The weirder it sounds to you, the better it is. Brunch is good here, too. For a more traditional Neapolitan pizza, Flatey delivers in droves. It's over in Grandi, and is very good. Expect long lines. Essensia (opposite H12) is an Italian restaurant that has decent pizza, but you probably want their other Italian fare.
Reykjavík Fish Restaurant have two locations now. The fish is very well made, and the batter comes out shatteringly crisp. They under season it, though, so be liberal with the salt shaker. A very good gastro pub (with very good fish and chips) is Sæta Svínið. It's got a great atmosphere and delicious food. Last but not least, Frederiksen Ale House has good beer and good food. Burgers, fish and chips, and the like are well made and not too expensive. They have a decent brunch, too.
A Nice Dinner
These are the places to go for a nice meal. These aren't "special event" restaurants (see below), but they're all high quality, using great local and imported ingredients to their best. It's probably best to have reservations for all these places.
Let's not mess around: if you have only one night in town and you want a great fish dish that will change your life, then you have to go to Messin and get the salt cod. It's simply incredible. Cod, new potatoes, olives, garlic, citrus, and about a cow's worth of butter. Messin specializes in seafood, and most of it is some variation on this. They have two locations, one in Grandi and one downtown. The Grandi location is an all you can eat buffet. The downtown location is a proper sit down restaurant, and is my preferred location.
Fish Company is also a very good place for fish lovers. A basement location, but comfortable, especially in winter when it's dark outside anyway. Fish Grill, or Sjávargrillið in Icelandic, is one of my favorites. Creative, interesting seafood centric dishes. The arctic char is always a good choice here. Fish Market is also superb, and likely my favorite sushi place in Reykjavík. If you're traveling alone, you can try and get a seat at the six-seat chef's table, looking into the kitchen. Just be warned, it can get very warm at the seat next to the grill.
Grill Market is owned by the same chefs as Fish Market, and has the same upscale feel and food. They concentrate more on the grilled meats, but still have very good seafood if you are traveling with someone who doesn't eat meat. Everything from puffin to whale to reindeer can be had here, and it'll be better than anywhere else in town. They have a big kitchen bar for those traveling alone or who haven't made a reservation. If you're two or more, both of the Market restaurants have great tasting menus. Highly recommended around Christmas time, especially after a day of wandering around in the cold.
There's a number of new additions to the dining scene. Mat Bar is probably my favorite of those. Intense flavors with fresh and preserved foods, cooked just perfectly. It is small plates and great for two to share. If you're a bigger party, order double of everything. Also serving "small" plates is Sumac, a Lebanese-Moroccan restaurant. The flavors are great and bold, and execution is top notch. There's nothing small about the portions, though, and would recommend you go with at least two people to get a good feel for what they cook.
Geiri Smart in the Canopy hotel is another great new edition. Wonderful for lunch or dinner, in a great, comfortable, but elegant space. The food is well executed and concentrates on local flavors. Also good for brunch. Not a new comer, but Snaps is a great little French bistro. Full of plants, it gives a tiny sense of not being in a cold, arctic country. You'll see a lot more locals here than tourists.
An Event Evening
The restaurants in this section are the crème de la crème of the Reykjavík food scene. They're special nights out, events. They are not cheap, and in almost all occasions require booking weeks or months ahead of time. When you book your trip is the right time to decide if you want to eat at one of these places.
First up, Matur og Drykkur. The name translates to "food and drink", and is taken from the cookbook of the same name. A compendium of recipes from around Iceland, the restaurant attempts to bring traditional Icelandic cuisine to a high dining experience. They have three tasting menus—meat, fish, and vegetarian—and I can highly recommend the meat and fish ones (I suspect the vegetarian menu is also incredibly good). The courses are well considered and timed, and service is generally impeccable. They have a small bar where up to three people may be able to grab a last minute seat. The star of the fish menu is the cod's head. Braised and then flamed before being served to you, the delicate cheeks are incredible. The restaurant currently has a Bib Gourmand from Michelin.
Dill. The oldest of the fine dining restaurants. It's part of Kex group, and is downstairs (and around the corner from) H12. The tiny dining room (24 or so seats) is complimented by a three seat bar, but even here you're likely to need a reservation. The food is New Nordic, and is stunning to the eye and the tongue. The menu changes constantly, but a constant favorite are the various dung-smoked meats (what you'll find on a given day, I can't say). If you have a lot of food restrictions, I'd avoid eating here, but the staff will try to accommodate you if you tell them in advance. In the past, I've asked chef to do a beer pairing for me—not something that's on the regular menu—and he gladly went up stairs and raided Mikkeller and Friends's beer fridge. Dill has a Michelin star.
See Update at End. Holt Restaurant is the new restaurant by chef Ragnar Eiriksson, who left Dill because he wanted to use a wider pallet of tastes and flavors than new Nordic cuisine affords. The restaurant is in the venerable Hotel Holt, an old school dark-wood-and-leather place. The dining room feels like a cocoon, with its frosted glass looking out onto a quiet Reykjavík street. Lots of priceless Icelandic art hangs on the walls, and gives the room a very quiet, library feel. The food is anything but old school, though. Modern, in the best traditions of new Nordic, but embracing a world of flavors. Avocado "creme" with a just barely cooked arctic char was incredible, as were the sunchokes with cherries and lamb. They do have an a la carte menu, but I would recommend you go for the tasting menu. I'm looking forward to going again. Update: Sad to report that Holt closed on the weekend of August 25, 2018.
Nostra is also the new kid on the block, and they are knocking it out of the park. There is a sample menu on their site, but they prefer not to tell you what's coming. Choose from four, six, or eight courses, and they have pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan menus, as well. The food is Icelandic, with a focus on local and sustainable practices. The presentation of that food is simply art at its best. I had a salmon belly dish that was more about the onions, and the preparation is one I still think about. There was "see through" bacon on an incredible beef bordelaise. And the food seems to never end (if you get the eight course, anyway).
From the chef at Sumac comes a new concept called Óx. I haven't been, so I won't go into detail here, but it's an 11-seat bar within Sumac. The chef prepares dishes and sometimes riffs off what the guests are liking or not. You book and pay in advance, which is weird for Iceland, but it means you show up and eat and enjoy. It is high on my list for my next visit.
A couple of notes to end on. First, tipping isn't a thing in Iceland. Restaurant and bar staff are paid well, and no check will show a tip line. Think of it this way: the tip you leave in your home country is already accounted for in the cost of your meal.
Secondly, a lot of restaurants will have you pay at the counter. This is more prevalent for casual places. If you're done eating and they've cleared your plates but haven't asked if you want the check, you should take that as a sign to pay at the counter.
Thirdly, this is my list. I don't put restaurants on here because I'm paid or asked to do so. I do it because I've been and enjoyed them, or because I want to go and have heard good things. Some places where I have been are not on here because they're outside 101, or because I haven't been recently enough. This page is a living page and I will post when it's updated below.
Published: August 2018
Updated: September 2018 to indicate Holt had closed