Last updated on February 13th, 2017
When we started planning our trip to Reykjavik, Iceland, in the dead of winter, we weren’t really expecting much. I thought it would be cold, snowy, and maybe even a little quieter than usual, but I was so wrong. Not only did we find Reykjavik to be an exciting, activity filled city, we came upon some of the most interesting and delicious food options we’ve seen in a while. I had no idea Iceland was so full of culinary surprises! If you’re a foodie, or just love to travel for food, you have to check out Reykjavik’s exciting food scene and see for yourself! We’ll provide you here with a primer of where to eat in Reykjavik.
You’re in for a real treat when it comes to the restaurants in Reykjavik. The variety is stunning, the food presentation is eye popping, and the atmosphere is fantastic. Eating out in Reykjavik can be one of the highlights of a trip there (although rather expensive, so be prepared!).
While there are dozens of choices for both what and where to eat, even in winter many of the restaurants are fully booked and require an advanced reservation. But when you start planning a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland, I strongly suggest you also plan what and where you’re going to eat while you’re there and start making reservations, or you’ll end up being disappointed.
What to Eat in Reykjavik
Let’s start with what you should be ordering in Reykjavik, and throughout Iceland, so you can choose what you’d like to try, then find the restaurant that serves it. There are so many ingredients and products in Iceland that aren’t used elsewhere, so it’s a true adventure to eat there. As a foodie, you’ll be blown away. Likewise, if you’re not an adventurous eater, you might be a little thrown off.
- Langoustine – They call it lobster on almost every menu, but it’s actually langoustine, a cousin of the lobster. Langoustine can be found in salt water and oceans, and they grow to only a quarter of the size of lobsters. They have a very sweet and succulent meat in their tails.
- Lamb – One of the claims to culinary fame for Iceland. They use a lot of lamb and it’s exceptionally tender and tasty. Lamb is an ingredient in the hot dogs you’ll find in Iceland.
- Puffin – Yes, the cute little bird! You’ll find it on many menus around town, generally smoked and with some type of sauce.
- Lobster or fish stew – The lobster stew that is so famous around Iceland is really fantastic. It’s a mix of lobster stock, cream and spices.
- Cured Shark – It’s true that fresh shark meat can be poisonous, but once it’s been cured, the poisonous issue goes away. Cured shark is consumed in Iceland as a snack.
- Brennivín – This is the national liquor, which is a licorice-flavored schnapps.
- Minke Whale – the debate rages on. It’s on a lot of menus. It’s up to you to decide.
- Horse – You might be completely repulsed by the idea of eating horse, but in Iceland (and many other parts of the world) it’s just what they do. If you’re daring enough to give it a try, it’s actually quite good. Served as a filet, it’s tender and very much like a beef steak.
Where to Eat in Reykjavik
Our first foodie stop was at Sægreifinn (Seabarin), which bills itself as having the best lobster soup around. They also have skewers of all kinds of fish, including Trout, salmon,shrimp, cod, scallops, redfish, catfish, plaice and monk fish, among others. The space is really small and can only seat so many people. They only accept reservations for up to 4, but if you want to get in for dinner, you should absolutely have a reservation.
When we went, just before the regular lunch hour, it wasn’t fully packed yet, so we got a seat at one of the long tables. We ordered both the lobster soup and a few skewers of fish. Both were delicious and warmed us right up. The lobster soup was very good, though it didn’t have the creamy richness I was expecting. The flavor was definitely there. If you want to try to make this soup at home, check out this really great tribute to the owner of Sægreifinn (who passed away in 2015), that includes a sneak peak at their recipe.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
I’m not entirely sure why this small hot dog stand, located on a side street near the marina, is so famous. But it definitely is, and you’ll figure that out first thing just by the line forming in front of it. It’s been open since 1937 and has been serving the masses what has become known as the best hot dog in Europe. You have to order the hot dog with “the works”. The “works” simply means ketchup, mustard, onions and a special roumalade with relish. It sounds awesome, and I wanted it to be awesome, but the fact is, it’s still just a hotdog. Even Bill Clinton stopped by for a dog once (and his picture is hanging proudly at the stand). The dog did have a nice snap to it. But the best hotdog in Europe? Doesn’t really matter, we’ll still get in line for it!
Grillmarkadurinn (Grill Market)
One of the best restaurants we went to in Reykjavik was Grillmarkadurinn (Grill Market). I am still thinking about that dinner. The restaurant has a really great atmosphere. The downstairs dining room has all rock walls. Plus they have the best bread and butter service anywhere. They also have a chef’s tasting menu, as most places in town do, which looked pretty amazing, but we had our sights set on specific menu items so we went a la carte.
For a starter, we had the trio of mini burgers, made with reindeer, langoustine and whale. It’s one of their specialties, and practically required eating! For our main courses, we chose the Tenderloin of Horse and the Grilled Lobster with champagne sauce. Our jaws dropped at the giant mound of lobster tails (langoustine) that was piled on the plate. It was almost more than the two of us could eat in one sitting, but we did it anyways. It was expensive, yes, but worth every penny and I would order it again in a heartbeat.
Another great spot in downtown Reykjavik for lunch or dinner is Fiskmarkaðurinn or Fishmarket. The presentation of the food here is nothing short of awesome. You’ll be amazed. This where you should go if you want to taste the best Icelandic fish. You can go all out and order the 9-course tasting menu, which features so many of the area’s favorite fish, from shrimp tempura, scallop sashimi and salmon maki, to salt cod. You won’t find a better place to try it all.
If you don’t think you can handle the 3-hour spectacle that is the 9-course tasting menu, you can always order a la carte from the menu. No matter what you choose, you won’t be disappointed. They really raise the bar here.
Icelandic Fish & Chips
A great spot for a casual lunch is Icelandic Fish & Chips in the marina area. They have the crunchiest, tastiest fish options, along with a dozen or so dipping sauces for your chips. When you order at the counter, you choose your fish, your side dish and your sauces, then they bring it all out to you. If you don’t like fried fish, they also have langoustine, baked fish and a few soups and stews. The sides include potatoes, onion rings and a couple different types of salad.
We were happy to see that they also have a few local microbrews you can enjoy with your meal. Everything they serve is either organic, local or both. You can be sure you’re getting the freshest possible fish. The restaurant is larger than most, but it does get packed, so if you know you want to go for a specific meal, you should reserve in advance. You can make a reservation right on their webpage.
Another popular spot to eat in Reykjavik is Tapas Barinn, a Spanish-style restaurant serving Icelandic specialties in tapas form. You can find some pretty interesting dishes here, so it’s worth a stop to try these specialties. They also have a special called the Icelandic Feast that includes 7 of their popular dishes, like Smoked Puffin in Blueberry Brennevin sauce, Icelandic sea trout and minke whale, plus a shot of the naitonal liquor, Brennevin, and dessert. I would highly recommend this place. It’s tiny inside, and it gets packed immediately upon opening, but it’s definitely worth it to try such unique and delicious Icelandic dishes.
Sjavargrillid (Seafood Grill)
You are going to need a reservation to eat at the Seafood Grill pretty much any time of the day. It’s very popular, and for good reason. While the entrees are quite expensive, the portions are large and the food is outstanding. It’s not just seafood here either. One of their best dishes is the lamb, alongside the fish of the day, of course. One of the best deals is the three-course lunch special, but they have a few different types of “grill” menus, like the Taste of Iceland menu and the Grilled Lobster Feast. The atmosphere is relaxing and inviting, and the service is always top notch.
Dill has been captivating eaters ever since it opened in 2009. The opening of Dill by Chef Gunnar Karl Gislason and Sommelier Ólafur Örn Ólafsson was the transforming moment for the contemporary Nordic food movement. They showcase their innovative approach to seasonal and local ingredients in their stunning dishes, which is a large part of what makes Dill such a great experience. They use classic Nordic ingredients, like lamb and millet, and prepare it in a simple, yet stunning fashion using contemporary techniques.
Their signature 7-course dinner changes every week and can be paired with wine, if you choose. Of course, it doesn’t come cheap, and even by Iceland standards it’s an expensive meal, but there are 3- and 5-course tasting menus as well. For lunch, the atmosphere is much more casual with a simpler menu.
Most travelers to Iceland stop by The Blue Lagoon for a swim in the thermal waters. But you can’t stay in there forever! When the prune hands start to form, you done your bathrobe and go for a fancy lunch at Lava, the fine-dining restaurant located just steps away from the pool. While it might feel strange at first to be dining in your bathrobe, you’ll soon forget all about that as you fall instantly in love with the food on your plate.
The chefs at Lava focus on traditional dishes with local ingredients, melded with world flavors. For lunch, there are various options in a 2- and 3-course menu, like the Icelandic Gourmet Menu that features arctic char and lamb fillet. For dinner, there is a 4-course tasting menu with optional wine pairings.
Iceland is creating world-class cuisine and stylish, high-class dining experiences that certainly exceed any expectations I had for this small island. Now is the time to visit Iceland and experience the best in Icelandic cuisine. If you’re spending a bit more time in Iceland, outside of Reykjavik, check out this post for more places to visit in Iceland and a few more food options!