There are certain trips that you expect to revolve around local cuisine: Italy, France, South Africa. Well, safe to say that when planning my trip to Iceland, I at no time envisioned myself in a week-long food coma. Yes, I had been urged to try the dairy products; and I’ll admit Icelandic yogurt and ice cream has ruined dairy products for me forever. Yes, I’d watched at least a dozen reaction videos of travelers tasting Hákarl or fermented shark, a taste that you really, really only need to experience once in your life.
But despite my lack of original enthusiasm, our series of delicious dining experiences definitely solidified Iceland in my mind, as a foodie mecca.
Great Big Hunk of World Awards For: Most Unique Experience, Sustainability-Friendly Business
Friðheimar was one of the first meals we had while in Iceland and it really set the bar high. Due to Iceland’s generally cold, and often unpredictable temperatures, much of the countries crops are grown within geothermal energy supplied greenhouses; and Friðheimar lets you dine right in the heart of one. The restaurant also holds a Vakinn certification, which is an Icelandic system that recognizes businesses that maintain high standards of business ethics and environmental service.
Unsurprisingly, dining in a greenhouse that produces tomatoes all year round means that the entire menu is tomato focused; yes, even the desserts. The entree portion of the menu is only three items long: Unlimited Friðheimar tomato soup, served buffet style with unlimited bread, sour cream, cucumber salsa, butter, and fresh herbs; A spinach and ricotta ravioli topped with tomato sauce and served with a fresh tomato and cucumber slice; and a grilled tortilla with fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella. Naturally, I wanted two or all of these options; and my boyfriend and I actually ended up each getting an entree and splitting the tomato soup. #NoRegrets
The soup was delicious, but it was the olive bread that really stuck out to me; I won’t lie, we ended up refilling our soup bowl about three times. I’ll never turn down a good ravioli, and this time was no different. Though a spinach and ricotta filling isn’t anything too uncommon, it still managed to taste like something I hadn’t tasted before. The sauce, as expected, was very well seasoned and while I could’ve done without the cucumber garnishes, the raw tomato on the side is one of the best tasting tomatoes I have ever had. Did I mention there is a basil plant and scissor on your table, so that you can add it to your dish as you please? While we’re at it, let’s say thanks for that portion size; no New York upscale, five-ravioli entrees here.
Splitting a dessert for the table was so necessary; one, we were all way too full for our own; and two, because when do you have the opportunity to try tomato-based desserts? I was leaning towards the ice cream, which gives you a taste of two ice creams made from two different tomato varieties, but the vote landed us with the green tomato and apple pie. While the presentation gets an A+, the topping reminded me more of a granola than an apple pie crumbles; but the filling was warm and paired perfectly with the whipped cream which tasted like it was just made that day.
Friðheimar is a learning opportunity, experience, and meal in one; and I would go as far as to say that it was my all-time favorite meal of the trip.
Awards For: Hit with the Locals, Best Burger, Most Accommodating Staff
Word of advice: If you’re unsure of where to eat, ask a local. During our lava tube tour of Vatnshellier on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, we had an amazing tour guide. Aside from being witty, knowledgeable, and able to sneak Marvel references into his tour spiel, he also provided us with a few dining recommendations, about a half hour from us from his hometown of Ólafsvík. Originally, we had planned to stop there on our way to checking into our Airbnb cabin but found out it wouldn’t open for another hour and a half when we arrived. However, a nice women from the bakery across the way let us know that it was “definitely worth the wait.” Spoiler alert: It was most definitely worth the wait.
Hraun has a pretty extensive menu, and includes items like freshly caught fish, fish and chips, pizza; and many, many burgers. I had heard that Iceland serves up a pretty mean burger, and decided on a burger that was topped with bbq sauce, bacon, and gouda. This burger didn’t last long before I inhaled it; and for someone who never really finds fries necessary, I gobbled those down too. I don’t know what it is that restaurants in Iceland season their fries with, but I would pay for the recipe. We had also gotten two orders of “Nacho Dip” which in my head was tortilla chips and cheese, but at Hraun, is tortilla chips with a combined mixture of cheese, cream cheese, and salsa – and it actually works.
Props to the waitresses at Hraun who were also super accommodating, letting us sit in the restaurant and read the menu even ten minutes before they had officially opened.
3. The Laundromat Cafe
Awards For: Best Atmosphere, Best for Breakfast
*Unfortunately The Laundromat Cafe closed it's Reykjavik location about a month after our trip, during March 2018. The original location in Copenhagen is still running.
Our first couple of hours in Iceland involved landing at 5:30AM, getting our rental car at 7:00AM and driving straight to the Laundromat Cafe at 7:30AM. The Laundromat Cafe gives off such a quirky, happy-go-lucky vibe, but I’d say avoid this spot if you’re one of those people who aren’t too fond of wonderful things like world peace, Bernie Sanders, and breastfeeding. After all, this spot pretty much bleeds liberalism. Decorating the walls are various posters, maps, and photographs of laundromats all around the world.
Despite being quite popular, we pretty much had the restaurant to ourselves other than two smalls groups. I guess landing an hour earlier than scheduled has its perks.
I could’ve ordered every item on the menu and been happy, but in the end, we all went the same route – “Six dirty breakfasts and six coffees.” The dirty breakfast includes sausages, hand-cut bacon, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, a grilled tomato, and honey, nut, and granola topped greek yogurt. So it’s essentially everything you could ever want in a breakfast. And to top it off, each dirty breakfast comes with a small bread basket which includes that delicious brown bread that they’ve come to be known for.
4. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Awards For: Most Affordable Icelandic Meal
I know, this stand barely constitutes a restaurant, but you’d have to be living under a rock to not have heard of Bæjarins. Though hotdogs are a common quick food all over Reykjavik, these are apparently “the best hot dogs in town”; after all, it’s in the name. It also happens to the cheapest meal you’ll have while in Iceland. It’s no secret that food and alcohol prices are ridiculously steep in this country; and when I say steep, I mean they sell a six-pack of Budweiser (aka beer water) for about 25 bucks.
I’ve eaten many a dirty water dog while home in New York, but I’m actually pretty picky when it comes to hot dogs. Can you really be too safe when it comes to random combinations of meats? But there was nothing stopping me from getting my hands on one of the best hot dogs in Reykjavik.
Little tip when ordering, order “one with everything.” A friend of mine had asked for one hot dog with just ketchup and received a nod from the cashier before she handed him a hot dog…with everything. But you won’t regret trying the classic toppings- the ketchup-like sauce, mustard-like sauce; and fried onions make for a very tasty combination. I even went back for a second.
5. Reykjavik Fish Restaurant
Awards For: Friendliest Staff, Chique Minimalism
We actually only ended up at Reykjavik Fish Restaurant after waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more at Reykjavik Fish & Chips before realizing that nobody was going to come to assist us in ordering or seating. While Reykjavik Fish & Chips might need to take some pointers on service, we were greeted at Reykjavik Fish Restaurant by the most friendly employee who quickly gave us the rundown – order at the counter and then grab a seat wherever we pleased.
The “menu” at this restaurant is a handful of items written on a blackboard and I was glad to finally come across a menu that wasn’t thirteen pages long. I had already had my heart set on fish and chips, and so barely glanced at the other options before ordering. While the breading of my fish and chips could’ve used
a littlea lot more salt, the fish was still perfectly flaky and the portion size was large enough that it fills you up but not too large that you felt sick to your stomach.
I also stole some of a friends salmon, which came atop a mixture of roasted carrots and beets. While I don’t think I’d have ever thought to mix together those two particular vegetables, it actually makes for a delicious conversation.
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