It may be surprising to learn that Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, is home to a thriving food scene that offers something for even the foodiest travelers. Whether you’re in the mood for a hearty meal, a quick bite, or a fancy dining experience, you’ll find something to suit your taste in Reykjavik. From traditional Icelandic dishes made with locally grown or caught ingredients to creative fusion cuisine with international inspiration, there’s no shortage of delicious options to choose from. And of course, no trip to Reykjavik would be complete without trying some traditional Icelandic fare, such as fermented shark, lamb, or skyr.
On my first trip to Iceland in 2016, I honestly had no idea what Icelandic cuisine would be like. My expectations weren’t very high actually. As an island nation, I figured there would be a lot of seafood, but I wasn’t sure about the flavors or other ingredients. I was pleasantly surprised to discover there is so much more than fish in Reykjavik. I have traveled to Iceland four separate times, sampling new Reykjavik restaurants each time. In this blog post, I’ll tell you about some of the best restaurants and eateries in Reykjavik for each meal of the day, giving you a taste of the culinary delights that the city has to offer.
In addition to traditional restaurants, Reykjavik is home to a number of trendy eateries and food trucks that offer a more casual dining experience. These places are perfect for a quick lunch or a late-night snack, and they offer a wide range of options to choose from. So whether you’re looking for a sit-down meal or a quick bite on the go, you’ll find plenty of delicious options in Reykjavik.
Breakfast and Coffee
Moka Kaffi is a popular coffee shop located in the heart of Reykjavik on the rainbow road. Known for its cozy atmosphere with warm wooden accents and comfortable seating, Moka Kaffi is the perfect spot to grab a cup of joe and relax. You’ll see plenty of locals chatting over a latte or reading a magazine. You can also get coffee to go, if you just need a quick caffeine boost while exploring downtown. The espresso leans towards a dark, Italian style roast, but great quality nonetheless. There is also a variety of pastries and sandwiches. One popular menu item is the avocado toast, topped with fresh herbs and wild berries.
The brightly painted exterior of Braud & Co is a Reykjavik landmark – and the delicious pastries inside are equally as beloved. This trendy bakery and cafe is located steps away from the Hallgrímskirkja church, so it is an easy spot to grab a bite to go if you’re in a hurry. A fellow traveler was raving about this place, so I knew I had to check it out. Specializing in sour doughs and breads, everything in the clear glass case will entice you. I asked the employee what her favorite item was, and she said the cardamom bun, so I ordered that, along with a croissant and a cinnamon bun (I didn’t skimp out). Honestly, everything was delicious! Using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients to season their breads, the flavors are rich and intense. The texture of the breads is really what shines with large sourdough bubbles and flaky pastry dough.
Located directly in front of the Hallgrímskirkja church, Cafe Loki is a lovely choice for a simple and affordable lunch. The humble restaurant was started by two sisters, who slowly grew the business to include multiple floors and the building next store. If the upstairs is open, choose to sit up there. It has a really nice view of the church! The menu focuses on Icelandic home cooking, and many of the recipes have been adapted from their grandmother. One of the must-try dishes on the menu is the rye bread ice cream. It is a local specialty based on their family’s love for volcanic baked rye bread. Bits of bread are crumbled into a simple vanilla ice cream batter, which is traditionally made with milk in Iceland instead of heavy cream. The texture is denser and icer, but the flavor of the bread is delightful.
Sitting on the corner of Reykjavik’s bustling city square, Sæta Svínið is known for its innovative cuisine and cozy atmosphere. I would describe the interior as eating inside a stylish fisherman’s home. There are quirky paintings, nautical light fixtures, and polaroid photos adorned to the pillars. With a focus on locally-sourced ingredients prepared with modern techniques and international inspiration, there will be several dishes that appeal to you. I wound up ordering three different things – truffle fries, bang bang cauliflower and fish tacos – and loved them all! The gastropub also boasts an impressive selection of craft beers, making it a great choice for a casual lunch or fun evening out.
Cheap and cheerful is what you can expect at Black Box Pizza. This is a place perfect for take out or a lazy night in. Cooked in a brick oven on sourdough crust, the pizza here is actually pretty legit (and that’s coming from a bit of a pizza snob). The combination of toppings are creative, the sauce is flavorful, and the cheese is generous. I went with a large group and got to sample several different pizzas. I especially like the parma rucola and the meat me, but get whatever sounds good to you. The garlic bread is worth the calories too. Both take out and dine in options are available.
After living in both Chicago and now Germany, I am something of an expert on all things hot dogs and sausages. So you can imagine my skepticism when someone told me that the best hot dog they ever ate was in Reykjavik. I knew I had to do some investigating. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is THE street food spot in Reykjavik, beloved by locals and tourists alike. Even Bill Clinton ate here once! It opens early and closes late, so you can come for a dog anytime of the day. On weekends or holidays, you’ll see a long line. What is special about the Icelandic hot dog is the sausage itself – it is a lamb hot dog. Served in a soft bun, I recommend getting the works, which includes ketchup, mustard, remoulade, crispy onions and raw onions. I’m not going to say it is the best hot dog I’ve ever had, but it is a good one. The crispy onions and remoulade are especially nice additions.
Dim lighting, swanky styling and intimate tables set the stage for an excellent seafood-forward meal at Fish Market restaurant. I would say this is a must-visit spot for seafood lovers, because every dish here is a knockout – the steep prices reflect the exceptional level of quality. Located in the heart of the city, Fish Market serves up a variety of locally-caught fish dishes that are sure to tantalize your taste buds. The Japanese inspired menu features a range of options, from nigiri and sushi to more elaborate dishes like grilled salmon and seafood platters. Every dish is plated beautifully with creative flavor combinations and sauces. The restaurant also has a well-stocked bar with a full list of cool cocktails to accompany your dishes.
For a quirky yet delicious dining experience, Tapas Barinn is a good choice. The restaurant pitches itself as a Spanish eatery that crafts Icelandic tapas with an Iberian flair. Fully decked out in Spanish decor, music and art, it does have a feeling of a small tapas or pintxos restaurant in Madrid or Pamplona. The menu, however, is stocked with Icelandic favorites like arctic char, lamb and root vegetables. With a variety of tasting menu options, I would recommend splurging for a fixed option, because it will give you a great variety. I did the ‘Journey into the Unknown’ menu. Offering 8 courses, I can guarantee you will leave absolutely stuffed but deeply satisfied. Wash everything down with a pitcher of one of their housemade Sangrias.
Perfect for a nice night out, Akur is located in the redeveloped harbor front area of Reykjavik. While they aren’t recommended in the Michelin guide, this is definitely a fine dining experience. Akur’s decor is beautiful, particularly the cane webbing lights and faux terrazzo floor. Offering a modern and refined approach to Icelandic cuisine, I found the flavors to be delicate and the techniques to be skillful. Think wasabi root slices with a green apple oil over a perfectly cooked hand diver scallop. Another highlight was the butter poached cod with beurre blanc, crispy kale and celeriac. There are tasting menus for special occasions (such as NYE when I was there). Otherwise, the menu is ala carte. You’ll need a reservation.
With an excellent happy hour menu, this is a place where you will accidentally find yourself spending hours. The staff is friendly and the vibe is fun. Plus the location is super central, so you can easily go bar hopping or out for the night from here. Fjallkonan is a great option for groups or people looking to sample classic Icelandic cuisine prepared in an approachably upscale way. The stewed lamb shoulder flatbread is one of the best things I ate my entire time in Iceland. Slow cooked to perfection, the meat is rich, fatty and incredibly satisfying. It is served with a carrot puree, pickled onions, and a bright horseradish chimicurri to cut through the richness. The arctic char pancake is another great choice. Lightly cured arctic char and roe rests on a chickpea pancake with a yuzu elderflower dressing drizzled over the top.
If you want to sample flavors that make Icelandic folks nostalgic for home cooking, Messinn is unbeatable. The mismatched furniture and rustic decor of this cozy restaurant immediately makes you feel like you are dining in someone’s home on a cold wintery night. Specializing in traditional fish dishes, the food comes out family style in a hot skillet. The Plokkfiskur is their signature dish, and I definitely recommend ordering it on your first visit. Flakey pieces of cod are mashed together with potatoes, onion, garlic, and celery into something resembling a fish cake. It is served with a white wine béarnaise sauce, a rich and delightful dish that will immediately elevate your mood. I also love the pan seared arctic char, which is served with cherry tomatoes, almonds, and fresh baby spinach in a honey, lemon and butter sauce.