A note on eating in Iceland: We love to find little local restaurants in our travels and had hoped that on all of our day trips outside of the city to see various natural phenomena we would land in some amazing spots for real, local, authentic food. This is not the case. There are roadside stops for gas, coffee, rest rooms and Icelandic clothing, and this is where you eat. It’s strictly soups and sandwiches, which are fine, but nothing to write home about. The only exception is the very small restaurant on the black sand beach in Vik. It’s called the Black Beach Restaurant and if you can snag a window seat, you'll have a pretty good view of Dyrhólaey and the ocean. The lamb stew is good, but the lamb chops are the thing to get, bizarre as it may seem. Another note: for a reason I cannot seem to determine, Icelanders love to add fruit to their savory dishes. Sauces are all a bit sweet and unless you love that, you just might want to watch out and ask for sauce on the side when appropriate.
BAEJARINS BEZTU PYSLUR
Tryggvatagata 1, 101 Reykjavík
+354 511 1566
This is the stand that sells the most famous hot dog in Iceland, and maybe the world. I’m told the line can take over 2 hours at lunchtime, so we opted for a pre-dinner snack and only waited a few minutes. So what’s so special about it? Well, it’s made of lamb for starters and somehow it has a much better “snap” than our regular all-American dogs. It also comes loaded – I mean loaded — with toppings: ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade and raw onions and fried onions, which might be a good thing, but I actually found the sauces to be so sweet I had ordering regrets.
Hverfisgata 12, 101 Reykjavík
+354 552 1522
Often compared to places like Noma and Per Se, Dill has earned the reputation of being the best restaurant in Reykjavik. And it actually is, if super high end, new Nordic cuisine is what you’re after. Chef Gunnar Karl Gislason creates modern dishes using only the freshest and most local ingredients making sure to stick closely with Icelandic traditions. Options are a 5 or 7 course tasting menu with or without a wine pairing and often include things you have always heard about but probably never tasted like reindeer or whale. But fear not, they’re done in only the most perfect way.
Adalstræti 12, 101 Reykjavik
+354 578 8877
Here’s where you’ll find all that puffin you’ve been hearing about, but it’s likely smoked and it’s definitely delicious. Flavors skew towards Asian, which is a welcome twist and if you’re going to eat fish in Iceland. Which, of course, you are.
2a Lækjargata, 101 Reykjavík
+354 571 7777
The meaty brother of the below-mentioned Fishmarket, we happened upon this spot for lunch one day and loved it so much, we went back for dinner. The name says it all: grilled everything — meats, fish and vegetables and all to perfection. The bi-level space is Iceland industrial chic: cozy, glowy complete with lava rock walls and the service is as friendly as it gets. Please don’t miss the crispy duck salad (one of the few dishes where I actually enjoyed the use of fruit) or the ribs — and please bring me back a rack. Also, a note: it’s not that easy to find – while the address lands you on Lækjargata, the entrance is actually down a little alley around the corner next to the Nordic Store.
Hverfisgata 30, 101 Reykjavík
+354 528 7050
My love for this hotel is endless and includes this restaurant, which is as perfect as everything else they do. The menu seems tricky, but it’s well worth it and the Chef is reportedly the best in Iceland at the moment.
ICELANDIC FISH + CHIPS
Tryggvagata 8, 101 Reykjavik
+354 511 1118
There’s a serious lack of ambiance here, but the location on the harbor makes it a great spot for lunch. Some say it’s the best fish and chips in Reykjavik, and that just might be true. We also loved the salads, the Skyr dipping sauces and the oven baked fish. Just make sure to ask for a side of malt vinegar because it makes the meal.
Skólavörðustígur 40, 101 Reykjavik
Unsurprisingly, most of the entrees here are cooked in the coal oven (get it?). Opt for the seafood tower (because, seafood tower) and then if you’re not sick of them, the langoustines.
LAVA AT THE BLUE LAGOON
+354 420 8800
We had low expectations for our meal at Lava because as awesome as the Blue Lagoon is, it’s also one of the biggest tourist destinations (if not THE biggest) in the country, and good food and tourist traps don’t usually go hand in hand. I’m pleased to tell you we were totally wrong. Aside from the fact that many diners are still in various states of undress: bikinis, swim trunks, spa robes, the food is pretty freakin’ phenomenal and a great way to start your Icelandic adventures. The fish is fresh, the rack of lamb tender and perfectly seasoned and the vegetarian options were inventive and delicious without being precious. The views of the lagoon are also pretty spectacular and the soaring walls of lava rock are something to behold.
Laekjargata 6b, Reykjavik 101
+354 546 0095
A relative newcomer, Messinn might win my vote for best fish we had while we were in Reyjkavik. A favorite among locals (always a good sign), the menu is 99% fish and 100% delicious. The pan-fry’s are just that – fish served in pans with a variety of set ups. My favorite was the salmon done with coconut, cashews and chili (the heat!) and in second place was the plaice with tomatoes, capers and garlic. For the non-fish eaters the giant pan of ratatouille and Israeli couscous is a delicious option.
Laugavegur 18, 101 Reykjavik
+354 519 6303
At some point you'll need a break from Icelandic food. You'll also need a break from the astronomical expense of eating out, so head to Nam, a Vietnamese noodle and dumpling bar set behind a tourist shop on the main shopping street. The menu is simple and the dishes fresh and refreshing. I know it sounds weird, but I promise you it's worth it.
Frakkastigur 26a, Reykjavik 101
+ 354 544 4443
Tucked onto the cutest street you’ll ever see, next to the famous Hallgrímskirkja Church, Rok serves an Icelandic version of Tapas, which after 5 days of eating Icelandic food, was a nice change. The menu when we were there was wintery (because, um, it was winter) and was pretty perfect: Christmas lamb chops with cumin, pulled pork, duck comfit and the like. We also had a ptarmigan soup, which was insanely good. What’s ptarmigan? I’m glad you asked. It’s a partridge-like bird that lives in Iceland. Who knew?
SÆMUNDUR Í SPARIFÖTUNUM at the KEX HOSTEL
Skúlagata 28, 101 Reykjavik
+ 354 561 6060
Forget what you think you know about hostels because Kex isn’t that. This former biscuit factory overlooking the harbor is one of the hottest spots in the city, and its Gastropub is the perfect place for a cozy Icelandic meal.
SLIPPBARRIN AT THE MARINA HOTEL
Myrargata 2, 101 Reykjavík
+354 560 8080
Cool hotel, cooler restaurant. Especially if you like cocktails, like the Pippi Gonzales which is made with dill aquavit. The menu is made up of locally sourced ingredients and the room is as fresh as the menu.