Iceland’s foods and foodie experiences are as quirky and fascinating as the tiny European country itself. From fine dining to funky food halls serving elevated street fare, to a tomato-themed restaurant, delectable pastry and ice cream shops (the Icelandic love their ice cream) hot dogs (some say they are the best in the world), and hidden gems. There are no McDonald’s in Iceland (which is a testament to its food scene) but you can enjoy happy meals everywhere. Enjoy this food tour through Iceland to discover a few secret (and not so secret) gastronomy spots to explore Iceland’s culture through a culinary lens.
Discover Iceland’s Food Halls
It would be easy to assume that Iceland’s food halls (and there are plenty of them) are the equivalent to those unimaginative cookie-cutter food courts found in suburban shopping malls. But make no mistake, the food halls here are destinations unto themselves, often located in cool, repurposed locations, and overflowing with delicious traditional and unexpected fare.
Grandi Food Hall, Reykjavík
Among our favorites is Grandi Food Hall, aka Grandi Mathöll (you may have guessed mathöll means food hall in Icelandic), which is in Reykjavik, Iceland’s bustling capital. Known for its elevated take on street food and as a lively convivial hub, Grandi Mathöll, a popular haunt for visitors and locals, is filled with trendy restaurants and boutiques. Its stunning harborfront location makes for the perfect photo op. Also enchanting is watching the traditional fishing vessels hauling in the daily catch. Here rustic-chic picnic tables fill the space, which feels both cavernous and intimate with transitional, floor-to-ceiling windows, oodles of natural light, and sweeping maritime views.
Head to Fjárhúsið, (translation: sheep shelter), to sample Icelandic lamb, a quintessential staple of Icelandic food. The sheep in Iceland feed mainly on grass, berries, and moss, so they produce especially tender meat. Try their generous portions of smokey lamb, with savory accompaniments. Fun Fact: Sheep in Iceland roam and graze freely in Iceland, they are never bound by a farmer’s property line and aren’t even fenced. Each fall, shepherds, and local Icelanders participate in a sheep round-up to separate and deliver the strays to their rightful owners.
The Gastro Truck is another crowd-pleaser and great Instagrammable moment. The truck, located inside Grandi has a cool, matte black finish, and fine, wooden details. Specializing in elevated street food, it’s their crispy, spicy, chicken burger featuring the chef’s ‘special’ seasonings, and fresh coleslaw, that will keep you coming back for more. We also recommend trying their equally tempting vegetarian burger for a mouthwatering meat alternative.
A trip to Grandi Mathöll also invites you to taste international foods. Promising to kick your taste buds into overdrive there are more choices than you no doubt have time to try. Are you in the mood for kimchi or Cuban jalapeño poppers? Perhaps, pizza with a keto crust, or, deep-fried, fish and chips? It’s all here.
Hlemmur Food Hall
Originally Reykjavík’s central bus station, on Hlemmur Square, Hlemmur is one of the oldest food halls in Iceland. It is also one of the most eclectic, and vibrant. Here you can take your pick from a wealth of Iceland’s best foods and restaurants like Fuego, Bánh Mì, and Te & Kaffi. For our palette, you can’t go past Skál!, a restaurant that focuses on experimental use of Icelandic ingredients, like arctic char, and lightly baked cod, served with crispy potatoes, and roasted garlic. Owned by three friends, Skál! Also has an array of craft beers, and natural wines, on tap. Try pairing one of their natural orange wines with char-grilled cabbage, brushed with a buttery whey sauce, and topped with sourdough croutons. Fun Fact: On the first day of March each year, Iceland celebrates beer. Banned in the country between 1915-1989, it is now the nation’s favorite drink, and cause for annual festivities.
The Höfði Food Hall
Wildly popular, and big enough to demand a few trips, Höfði, is a 15-minute drive from downtown Reykjavík. It has nine food stalls, like Hipstur, which has a Scandinavian-inspired menu that emphasizes fish and fresh veggies. A few menu highlights include herbed shrimp on brioche, sautéed mushrooms with dill on sourdough, and fish soup, with vegetables, and shrimp. Another popular food vendor, Indican, has a variety of colorful Indian dishes that will satiate your appetite for spice, with zesty chicken, and vegetable curries.
Brauð & Co., Reykjavík
When Brauð & Co. (translation: Bread & Co.) opened the doors of its graffiti-painted storefront in 2016 on Frakkastígur, in downtown Reykjavík, it couldn’t have known the impact it would have on the bread and bakery market in Iceland. Fast forward to now and Brauð & Co. has four locations (one of which is in Hlemmur Food Hall) and enough tempting pastries and homemade bread and buns to satisfy every sweet tooth. Kanilbollur (Cinnamon buns), Bláberja & Lakkrís (blueberry and licorice buns), and Rabbarbarastykki (rhubarb buns) prove that point. The Danskt súrdeigsrúgbrauð (Danish sourdough rye bread) is one of their specialty loaves.
Tribe tip: Arrive early or you may miss out on their highly sought-after cinnamon buns, which tend to sell out by 9 am. Take that as a personal challenge, and line up at the Frakkastígur location in downtown Reykjavík. You won’t be bored, as you can gaze into the windows and watch the bakers at work, all the while catching a scent of sugar and butter while admiring neighboring storefronts. They are as mesmerizing as Reykjavík itself. Intriguing, colorful, and often provocative murals, and edgy graffiti, are hand-painted on many buildings.
Green tomato and apple pie, homemade tomato ice cream, and tomato beer. Detecting a theme? Friðheimar restaurant centers, naturally, around all things tomato-based.
Established by Knútur Rafn Ármann, and his wife Helena Hermundardóttir, in 1995, Friðheimar was originally meant to combine their two passions—horses and horticulture. In 2002, they began to grow tomatoes, and slowly built a reputation for their delicious produce (and horses). Later they added a large greenhouse and equestrian center to their site in Selfoss, which is a small town on the banks of the Ölfusá river, in southwest Iceland. The space is open to visitors who can take a tour to learn about their unique growing techniques, visit the stables, and of course, dine on their innovative tomato-based creations.
Highlights from the menu include their famous tomato soup, served with homemade bread, fresh herbs, and cucumber salsa, and their cheesecake with green tomato jam, cinnamon, and lime. Thirsty? Try a Tómata Espresso Tonic. Or their clever twists on the typical Bloody Mary, like Healthy Mary (green tomatoes with lime, honey, and ginger) and Happy Mary, a Healthy Mary infused with Hendrik’s gin and cucumber. Happy indeed.
ÓX Restaurant, Reykjavík
If your idea of the ultimate dining experience is at an undisclosed mystery location where you don’t have to make any menu decisions, then consider ÓX Restaurant your culinary nirvana. With 11 seats, 16-courses, and one renowned chef, ÓX provides an Icelandic food journey unlike any other to be found in the country.
Chef Thrainn Freyr Vigfússon is front and center (literally), as you and 10 other like-minded foodies guests gather around a table with him in a traditional Icelandic kitchen. The dinner party setting is decidedly chic in the most understated way. Think weathered vintage cabinets, old, gray, subway tiles, and grainy, wooden, countertops and lovely unexpected touches like plates made of shell, lava, or wood and sculpted drinking cups.
The meal takes around three hours, but the food memories will last far longer. On the menu are signature Icelandic dishes like lamb neck with carrots and blueberries, or rutabaga, with grapes and horseradish. Volcano-baked rye bread is particularly unique, as it is baked in a tin underground near a hot spring for 24 hours. This age-old baking technique gives the dense bread its quintessential sponginess. Definitely one for true food adventurers, you’ll receive a meeting point once the reservation is confirmed.
The Short List: Iceland Food Staples
In the land of fire and ice, unusual food experiences can be found, far and wide. Here are five of its most traditional dishes, well worth a bite.
Skyr: Creamy Icelandic yogurt
Pylsur: Iceland’s famous hot dog (according to President Bill Clinton)
Harðfiskur: Protein-packed, dried fish
Rúgbrauð: Rye bread, traditionally baked in a pot near a hot spring
Hákarl: fermented shark, one of Iceland’s national dishes