Where to Eat in Reykjavik
Reykjavik has a budding food scene and several world-renowned chefs offering classy modern twists on traditional Nordic fare. This post is not about that, however, nor is it about fermented shark meat, roasted puffin, or anything kitschy like that. This post is about moderately priced meals at a few good restaurants that I personally have eaten at and enjoyed (most of them more than once). I’ll try to keep this on the budget end as much as possible (hotdogs are cheap). Reykjavik is known for having steep food prices (but delicious hotdogs). Though that is mostly misconception based on a few poorly written accounts, dining out in Reykjavik can come with a bit of sticker shock (except hotdogs). If you are on a budget in Iceland and would like some ideas for good eats at reasonable prices, this is your post!
Breakfast in Reykjavik
So, you just got off the plane at KEF at 5 AM and you’re about to the board a bus for Reykjavik, nearly an hour away. It’s raining, hard, and near freezing even though it’s Summer. You realize you can’t check into your hotel until 3 PM. You’re hungry, wet, and drowsy from airline travel. What on earth are you going to do for 9 hours until you can check into your hotel?! One thing you can do is join a tour, though I know I am always so sick of being on a moving vehicle at that point that I just want to sit for a quite minute with a cup of coffee and can’t imagine riding around on another bus for hours looking through rainy windows. You could go to the Blue Lagoon, which opens at 8 AM, and chill for $60-$100 USD (plus extra for food), though I couldn’t see myself personally enjoying sitting in a stew of industrial runoff for several hours….I prefer option three: EAT. ALL. DAY.
It’s a good idea to drop your bags at the hotel/apartment/hostel and ask the desk attendant if there’s any way your room will be ready earlier. Sometimes you can check-in a couple hours sooner. Until then, it’s breakfast time. Here are a couple of my favorite places to eat breakfast in Reykjavik:
1st Choice - Sandholt Bakery
No trip to Iceland is complete without visiting Sandholt at least once. My wife flips out over their chocolate croissants, which are buttery, fluffy, and flaky and rival any that we’ve had anywhere (including France). Aside from an amazing assortment of artfully crafted pastries, buns, and breads, they also have a breakfast menu (in English) and full-service restaurant/dining area. This is also a great first opportunity for you to try Skyr – Iceland’s famous protein-packed yogurt-like cheese food. Sandholt is always my first thought when arriving in Reykjavik. It has a relaxing and cozy environment: modern-minimalist in the interior (typical Icelandic design) with comfortable booths and lots of soft pillows. It’s the perfect place to start and plan the rest of your Icelandic adventure. It’s easy to spend a couple hours in Sandholt, and this being Europe, they don’t mind as long as you’re buying something. Sandholt opens at 7 AM daily and is conveniently located downtown on Laugevegur, one of downtown's main streets.
2nd Choice - Bergsson Mathus
Bergsson Mathus is another great restaurant located downtown. It’s near Reykjavik City Hall on Templarasund across from the lake. I’ve only been there once, on my way out of Reykjavik, because it’s farther from the area I usually stay in. It has the same cozy atmosphere as Sandholt and several great breakfast options. Bergsson Mathus is serious about sustainably and locally sourced ingredients. Their menu also caters to the vegan and vegetarian crowd. I ordered a simple, yet satisfying, breakfast of soft-boiled egg, cold cuts, house-baked bread, and plenty of jam and butter (Iceland has the best butter). Bergsson Mathus also opens at 7 AM, and though their prices are a little higher than Sandholt, you wont be disappointed in the quality. They are also open for lunch and dinner.
Lunch in Reykjavik
So, breakfast is taken care of, you’re adequately caffeinated, and feel more like a human being again. Hopefully the clouds have parted and you’ve been able to walk around Reykjavik, visit a museum or two, admire the Harpa and Hallgrimskirkja, and pop into some shops to buy some authentic Icelandic woolens. What’s next? Lunch, and here’s where to go.
1st Choice - Noodle Station
You need Noodle Station in your life. This simple hole-in-the-wall only serves one dish three ways. You can have it with chicken, beef, or just vegetables. It’s a simple Thai-style bowl of noodles, but it is just what you need, especially if you’re still damp and cold. Simply tell the cashier which protein (or lack of) you want, and they’ll fill your bowl with noodles, meat, pour on a rich and robust broth, then pass it over to another kind soul who will customize your bowl with spicy toppings and condiments. I simply say yes when they ask if I want it spicy. If I’m eating Thai food, my nose better be running. Noodle Station has few locations in Reykjavik. Two of them are downtown.
I enjoy Noodle Station’s bowls so much that I’ve actually tried to recreate their recipe at home. I’ve come close. My noodle soup is pretty good, too, but not the same. I start with a slow shimmering chicken broth made from bone-in thighs, add green onion, ginger, garlic (lots), fish sauce (essential), chili paste (generous), soy sauce, turmeric, shiitake mushrooms, and sesame oil. Then, I pour it over some udon or rice noodles and top with green onion. It’s darn good, but doesn’t quite satisfy my appetite for Noodle Station Reykjavik.
2nd Choice - Baejarins Bestu Pylsur
Iceland has become as famous for hot dogs as for waterfalls and volcanoes. The top spot is Baejarins Bestu Pylsur. Pylsur means hotdog and Baejarins is synonymous with hotdogs in Iceland. This isn’t a sit down establishment. It’s a food cart and picnic table that occasionally changes locations. Visit their website or facebook page to find their location. When I last ate a Baejarins hotdog, they were located near the Harpa. I think they’ve moved on from there, but are never far from downtown. This is a cheap lunch for sure. A hotdog with everything on it will only set you back about $3 USD or $5 USD if you add a coke.
These hotdogs are not hype. I love them. The sausage (made from lamb and beef, not pig snouts and anuses like in the states) has a snappy casing and a very mild flavor. The bun is fluffy and has a more spongy spring to it than American buns (it's reminiscent of sourdough). Icelanders top their dogs with mustard, a sweet and tangy remoulade, and both fresh and crispy fried onions. You can have it any way you like, but I always get one all the way (ein með öllu – one with everything). There is an outdated article on Baejarins from a reputable travel publication out there that has some facts wrong. Baerjarins Bestu Pilsur does accept credit cards and has since before that article was written. Actually, they prefer cards as Iceland’s economy is becoming more and more cashless each year. Also, trying a bit of Icelandic may be appreciated, but I’ve never come a cross an Icelander anywhere during both of my trips that didn’t speak perfect English. And don’t order “The Clinton” (meaning a hotdog with just mustard – apparently what the former U.S. President ordered). The 20 year-old Icelander at the Baejerins window will probably have no idea what you’re talking about. Just tell them exactly what you want so the line can move a bit faster.
Dinner in Reykjavik
By now you’ve already checked into your room and taken a nap. You’re feeling pretty good again, but the evening hunger pangs are kicking in. Dinner is where things can get out of control if you don’t have an expense account when traveling to Reykjavik. I find it easy to control my travel budget in Iceland when I’m only eating breakfast and lunch out once or twice and cooking almost all my dinners at the apartment (and getting alcohol at the duty-free shop at the airport). I always rent an apartment with a kitchen when in Iceland so I can cook with all the high-quality Icelandic ingredients and save money. For that one splurge out on the town with the wife, however, there isn’t much choice for the budget minded…unless you can talk her into getting hotdogs again. If not, here is my top recommendation for dinner in Reykjavik.
Top Choice - Icelandic Fish & Chips:
Icelandic Fish and Chips is not a pub; it’s a delicious restaurant with a great menu of fresh and sustainably sourced seafood. It’s moderately priced, too (as far as Reykjavik goes). Most menu items cost between $10-$25 USD. The produce and fish are of premium quality, sourced from the waters around Iceland. They take quality very seriously here. I enjoyed the standard fish and chips. The options for the type of fish change daily depending on what was caught that morning (on the day I ordered it was arctic char or cod). The fish was battered in organic spelt flour and fried perfectly crispy on the outside and was perfectly cooked inside. A delicious sauce made with skyr (aka "skyrnaise") was provided for dipping. I washed it down with a Kaldi, one of Iceland’s unfiltered beers (Fish and Chips only offers Icelandic beers). It’s an upscale quality menu, but a relaxed atmosphere, and I very much recommend it as an affordable dinner option.
Go. Do. Eat.
The only limitation in your search for awesome eats in Reykjavik is your own budget. Fortunately, I’ve been there and done all that, so I can provide you with a few delicious budget-friendly choices. There are lots of awesome restaurants not listed here. I’m about to make my third trip to Iceland this winter. If I find another great spot to eat in Reykjavik, I’ll definitely update this post to include it. Use the map below for location info. Thanks for reading! For tips on saving money for travel, click here.