Originally based on the restrictions of a rocky island, isolated in the North Atlantic trying to survive winter, Iceland’s cuisine has made several strides from basic preparations of lamb, whale, puffin, and cod over the past few centuries. With no looming shoes to fill in terms of gastronomy, as other European countries have, chefs are free to be their own creative masters, by combining artisanal local ingredients and a bit of tradition, with all kinds of global twists. Here are the restaurants dotted across the island, not only in Reykjavik, to get the most mouthwatering dishes.
Dill Restaurant is the first Icelandic restaurant to receive a Michelin star. The small restaurant, seating 20-30 people, holds great personality. Every week a new seven-course menu with wine pairings is arranged, using a mixture of traditional Nordic and Icelandic culinary roots with a modern twist. The head chefs, Gunnar Karl Gíslason and Ólafur Örn Ólafsson are the pioneering creatives behind the restaurant. Enjoy a large selection of wines available by the glass, which changes often.
Located in the capital of the North, Akureyri, this seafood restaurant located on the harbor offers a great ocean view. Specializing in locally caught seafood, the most popular course is the pan-fried catch of the day. At Örkin Hans Nóa, all fish dishes are served straight from a pan dish, and you can enjoy local art on the walls and a great selection of local beers on tap.
Inside an old wooden house next to the Heritage Museum among the backdrop of the steep fjords of Ísafjörður, Tjöruhúsið is a great option when visiting the Westfjörds. However, they are only open during Easter and summer, offering outdoor seating and occasionally live music. The various catches of the day are coming fresh off the boats from the harbor close by, and their large portions come served in a hot skillet.
Flóran Garden Bistro is a charming place tucked away in the Reykjavik Botanical Gardens, open from May to October. The café dining area is actually inside a greenhouse, complete with a goldfish pond and all sorts of flowering plants covering the walls. The chef, Marentza Poulsen, uses ingredients from the surrounding gardens and from local farmers. Her specialty is the Danish open-faced sandwich, smørrebrød. The menu is seasonal and hosts a variety of Scandinavian dishes with a very tasteful delivery. Notice the butter served on seashells and the flower petals decorating your plate.
While not what you would exactly seek out on your trip to Iceland, Austur-Indíafjelagið is legendary when it comes to Indian cuisine. For over twenty years this somewhat hidden gem has been serving the perfect blend of Indian spice and Icelandic ingredients in downtown Reykjavík. The atmosphere is warm and genuine, lacking pretension, and the interior decoration could transport you to another continent altogether. If your palette calls for more spice during your trip, this is where to find it.
Bistro, Restaurant, Bar, Brasserie, European, Northern European, $$$
a cozy atmosphere inside Snaps Bistro | Courtesy of Snaps Bistro
This French-Icelandic bistro balances the best of both culinary worlds to perfection. French onion soup with Icelandic ísbúi cheese, and moules marinières from Breiðafjörður Bay are among its wide range of dishes. The cozy atmosphere, with low-lighting, hanging plants and large windows, is one of the most memorable in Reykjavik. Located downtown next to Hotel Odinsve, in a quiet neighborhood just off the main street.
Fjaran is located in the whale-watching capital of Iceland, the quaint village of Húsavík in North Iceland on Skjálfandi Bay. Sitting on the harbor, this restaurant offers great ocean views. Enjoy locally caught Arctic char and cod with a unique garnish.
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Þrír Frakkar, or Three Coats, has been managed by the chef Úlfar Eysteinsson and his family since opening in 1989. Located on a quiet street close to downtown, the restaurant offers a classic, laid-back atmosphere. Well-regarded as one of the best places for fish in Reykjavik, Þrír Frakkar offers a variety of dishes, including cod, halibut, catfish, and plaice. The cozy restaurant is also apparently a favorite of Jamie Oliver’s.
Located in Ísafjörður among the majestic backdrop of steep fjords cutting into the harbor, Húsið, ‘the house’ in Icelandic, is located in the charming downtown area of this Westfjörds town. Húsið is many things at once: a coffeehouse and bar with live music during the weekends, a restaurant, and a guesthouse. The most popular dish is the seafood soup, made fresh daily using the catch of the day. You can also order a variety of other fresh fish dishes like cod, catfish, and halibut.
Vogafjós is located in the Lake Mývatn area of North Iceland on Vogar Farm. Curiously, the restaurant is in a cowshed and you can see cows munching happily in their stalls as you sit in the cozy interior. This intimacy is part of the menu, as the restaurant focuses on local, homemade dairy products – their mozzarella is especially notable. The restaurant also makes its own Geysir rye bread, baked underground in geothermal heat. The raw, smoked lamb, and pan-fried trout and lamb are also noteworthy.
Hotel Restaurant, Restaurant, Seafood, European, $$$
Char dish | Courtesy of Eldey Restaurant
Eldey Restaurant opened in 2014 along with the hotel in which it is housed, Hotel Laxá. The chef puts an emphasis on the Mývatn region’s unique offerings and local products. The Arctic char comes from the nearby fishing village of Húsavik, while the lamb and beef come from farms in the North. The vegetables are grown in the geothermally heated greenhouses of Hveravellir.
Við Fjöruborðið translates to ‘at the seashore’ in Icelandic – a very fitting name, as you can find a great selection of seafood here, most notably the langostino lobster bisque, which is probably the most famous in all of Iceland. The village of Stokkseyri (population 445), once an important trading and fishing center, is now mostly a tourist destination and is known for its beautiful seashore and bustling bird life. If you are on your way from Reykjavik to Vik, this small restaurant by the shore is definitely worth a visit – just remember to make a reservation ahead of time.