What are the best restaurants in Reykjavik? With many travellers having a limited amount of time and lots to choose from, it can be quite hard to make a decision. This post was, let’s say – researched, to give you a brief run down of our absolute favourites. There are far more to choose from in Reykjavik than is on this list. But, if you really have to pick just one or two we promise you won’t walk away from any of our picks unhappy.
After all, when you think of Spain your mind immediately goes to tapas. In Denmark it’s likely smørrebrød. And when in Japan, it’s all about the sake, miso soup and sushi. It’s ingrained into the culture of the country and can be found on every corner. In Iceland however, the choices are far more diverse and subtle. Iceland’s culinary background was influenced not by abundance, but by hardship in it’s earlier years. We relied on salted, fermented and preserved meats and seafood to get through the harsh winters. These days, there’s far more to choose from.
You’ve probably heard about the classics; sheep’s head, fermented shark and dried fish. Very little went to waste, really! Resources were few and the seasons long, resulting in a simple diet clearly reflecting the harsh natural circumstances in which we lived. But these less palatable options only told half the story.
In fact, it was a sign of spring when the birds came to the tall cliffs. Icelanders would gleefully climb the cliffs and collect the eggs. The fruits and berries of summer would be made into jams. And the autumn harvests would compliment the annual sheep round up, who roam free from May to September. The fishing industry, which remains strong to this day, was a big part of the Icelandic diet which countered the dairy rich options that would eventually create the famous Icelandic Skyr – a yoghurt-style treat that most Icelanders will consume daily, if not more.
Advances in technology, in the 1930s, and the utilisation of geothermal energy in greenhouses gave us Icelanders the opportunity to grow fruits and vegetables all year round. A welcome top up to the summer stores. Things like tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, strawberries, lettuce, mushrooms and even bananas could now be enjoyed at any time of year.
THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN REYKJAVIK
Iceland’s restaurant scene is at an all time high. Delicious Icelandic ingredients are highlighted in a wonderful way, often influenced by our culinary traditions. Diners from far and wide have plenty to choose from. Listed below are our go to favourite restaurants for dinner.
ÓX RESTAURANT | Laugavegur 28
Like a breath of fresh air, this recently opened gem is one to try if you’re looking for a real treat, for truly special occasions. This tiny, 11 seat, restaurant is hidden within the Sumac Restaurant. While Sumac Restaurant, worthy of this list in its own right touches on Moroccan & Lebanese tones, Óx looks closer to home and takes you on an adventure of Iceland that you’ve never imagined. Aided by free flowing wine, the fourteen bite sized courses, becomes the setting for friendship building before long.
The chef is just as much a part of the experience as the food who delights in sharing where each and every ingredient came from. Learning the back story of the sole retired farmer who provides the succulent duck, or that the perfectly roasted garlic took 6 weeks to prepare, makes each bite all the better. Dining at Óx is an experience that’ll linger on your palate for days to come and in your memory for years. A truly unique dining experience, unlike any other. Book far in advance as this hidden gem sells out fast.
SNAPS BISTRO | Þórsgata 1
It’s the Reykjavík classic and our most beloved atmospheric bistro, that’s about all that has to be said for this european style restaurant. It’s a true keeper where we visit for birthdays, anniversaries and 8th dates. Their fish of the day continues to amaze as do their steaks. Not to mention their crème brulée, which is absolutely stellar! The atmosphere is conducive to larger groups and the cocktail menu is talked about as much as the food on offer. After your meal you can spend time at the open bar while you plan your next move of the evening in downtown Reykjavik.
COOCOO’S NEST | Grandagarður 23
It’s one of those places we find ourselves repeatedly popping into for any occasion; be it a weekend brunch, mid week happy hour, date nights and work lunches. Lucky for us, our office is right around the corner so it’s made it all that easier for us! It’s a lovely little family owned restaurant nestled in the old harbour area of Grandi. The restaurant is casual and cozy, and the food is always top notch. The restaurant has a rotating dinner menu depending on the day of the week consisting of Taco Tuesdays, delicious sourdough pizzas and Italian delights.
MAKAKE RESTAURANT | Grandagarður 101
Voted as Best Newcomer of 2020 by Reykjavík Grapevine, it’s easy to understand how Makake Restaurant has become a beloved neighbour to Hidden Iceland in the up and coming Grandi Harbour Area. Their good, clean and fair philosophy and emphasis on handmade slow food ensures that they have the best and freshest available ingredients, and use at least 40% of their ingredients from local producers, produced within 100 km away. Makake serves different menus depending on what day of the week; Thursday nights are dumpling nights, Sando brunches on Fridays and bottomless brunches on Sundays.
PUBLIC HOUSE GASTROPUB | Laugarvegur 24
This restaurant offers smaller dishes designed to share amongst couples or group of friends. Don’t be mistaken though, there is always plenty to go round. Here, they showcase traditional Icelandic ingredients with a Japanese flair resulting in really delicious, reasonably priced dinner options that we visit over and over again. Do not let the So Not Pizza and JFC Chicken pass you by.
BURRO TAPAS + STEAKS | Veltusund 1
Needless to say, we were all very excited for this newcomer with it’s south American menu. Their 5 course ‘Burro experience’ is one to try, followed by a tropical delight with Pablo Discobar’s famous cocktails on the floor above. The taster menu allows you to try as many different options as you can fit into your belly, each one better than the last. When you decide that the sit down meal is at an end you can pop upstairs and continue the party at the bar. Stay long enough and the bar becomes a dance floor. It’ll be easy to forget that the rest of Reykjavik is out there to explore after a night here.
MATARKJALLARINN | Aðalstræti 2
It’s name translates to the food cellar, tucked away in a 160 year old building in the dead centre of downtown Reykjavík, charming their visitors with their delicious brasserie style menu. On late weekend evenings the restaurant transitions into a cocktail lounge where their team of bartenders whisk up the most amazing drinks.
MESSINN | Lækjargata 6b & Grandagarður 8
Make a beeline to Messin for delicious seafood for lunch or dinner. The name Messinn is the Icelandic word for the food hall on ships were sailers and fishermen were served dinners. Their speciality is their pan-fry dishes making the best out of the catch of the day, served up in a sizzling cast-iron skillet accompanied by buttery potatoes and fresh salad.
HLEMMUR MATHÖLL | Laugavegur 105
They offer delicious options for breakfast, lunch and dinner and even something with the coffee. Brauð & Co is located in one of the corners with their freshly made cinnamon buns no matter what time of day you visit. In the opposite corner there is Rabbar Barinn with soups and bullet proof lobster and bacon sandwiches. In the midst of it all, there is Skál! a restaurant that definitely one for a nicer lunch or dinner option that recently received the Michelin Bib-gourmand!
Thankfully, there is an abundance of restaurants to choose from in Reykjavík these days. Ranging from casual and cheap take away, to extravagant treat-yourself style dinners. It’s an exciting time to be a foodie in Reykjavík! One way to get a quick introduction into the classics and the culture around food is to join a Reykjavík Food Walk. Or simply make your way around the amazing restaurants located in the downtown area.
Hi, I’m Dagný Björg, Reykjavík-dweller, mother, designer and freelance journalist. I love getting lost in nature, coffee and easy Sunday mornings.