Published July 21, 2014
Once a year, we like to take a step back and celebrate our little city. It’s not that Reykjavík is a city without problems, or that it’s a place that doesn’t have plenty of ways in which it could improve. This probably goes without saying. We at Grapevine spend a lot of time being critical, after all, and by and large we’re a bunch of cynics. But once a year we like to set all that aside and appreciate the things that make Reykjavík a pretty great place to live.
As ever, our BEST OF REYKJAVÍK! issue is about big-upping stuff, giving out mad props and patting people on the shoulder. Our list is, of course, not a scientific one, and it is certainly contestable. It should be used as a starting point for a conversation; something for you to read, verify, distrust, totally disagree with, argue over, send us angry rants about and enjoy.
HOW WE DID IT: We’ve polled readers on Facebook, we’ve discussed in bars, we’ve consulted our resident experts, we’ve argued, revised, and argued some more. And we think we’ve come up with a pretty great representation of the finest that Reykjavík has to offer. Now, of course, not everyone is going to agree with our choices, and that’s perfectly fine—variety in opinion and taste adds spice to life and anyway, we love a good debate. Enjoy, and remember to send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration in our 2015 edition.
“Freedom Burger,” KEX Hostel
The Best Burger award has often been a contentious one, with the office arguing back and forth between Vitabarinn and Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar, but this year we have a clear winner and it is KEX Hostel’s spicy “Freedom” burger. Consisting of high quality grass-fed free range beef, Ísbúi cheese, caramelised onion mayonnaise, veggies and fries on the side, it is absolutely, mouthwateringly overkill for a regular burger, with the only complaint imaginable being the slightly steep price of 2,490 ISK. We’ve heard enough local chefs complimenting the burger, though, to convince us to select it as the Best Burger in Reykjavík.
2011: Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar
2010: Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar
2009: Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar
Best Veggie Burger
“A great veggie burger,” according to one of Grapevine’s more refined gourmands, “has 25 ingredients—minimum.” This is all fine and good for the dedicated home chef, but when you’re on the run and want the tactile satisfaction of biting into a tasty burger (minus the murder), Búllan’s got you covered. The patty is juicy on the inside but has a nice crispy texture on the outside. And, even better, it doesn’t fall apart the minute you bite into it, which anyone who’s sampled her fair share of veggie burgers will know is a kind of special triumph. Also, we’re told, “if you add bacon to it, it’s fucking awesome.” So there’s that.
2013: Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar
2012: Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar
Best Specialty Burger
“The Empire State,” Roadhouse
“Everyone has these fucked up burgers now,” says one Grapevine panellist. “Where can you just get a proper burger?” Come to think of it, we have no idea. Suffice to say that while the burgers at Roadhouse (“a hilarious place to find yourself”) are far from “proper,” they are pretty damn close to Awesome—or, like, Totally Horrifying, but that’s kind of the same thing, right? Case in point: The Empire State, a double burger whose patties have been rent asunder by a fried egg, onion rings, bacon, jalapeños, several sauces, and…wait for it…a grilled cheese sandwich. Yes, you read that right. There is a second friggin’ sandwich lodged in the middle of this burger. “The first bite is amazing,” says our resident competitive eater, “and the last bite is terrible. At what point do you like yourself in this process?” SPOILER: at no point while eating this burger will you like yourself. But, should you choose to accept this mission and complete it (mostly) unscathed, your sweat will undoubtedly smell of meat for at least 72 hours, which has got to count for something.
2013: Hamborgarafabrikkan’s Christmas burger
2012: Vitabar’s ‘Forget-me-not’
In a city brimming with cardboard-tasting slices on offer, The Deli wins this award for the second year in a row for doing what the competition should be doing: offering well made slices with a diverse selection of toppings. In addition to the standard pepperoni and margherita options, The Deli also offers meaty pizzas with pepperoni, minced beef, jalapeno, and cream cheese, or vegetarian options such as peanuts, spinach, feta and peppers. To top it all off, the pizzas are reasonably priced, with a wonderful lunch offer of two full-sized slices for 700 ISK, or three slices for 900 ISK.
2013: The Deli
2011: The Deli
2010: The Deli
2009: The Deli
In an era when everyone is obsessed with visibility and self-promotion, it may come as a surprise that Hverfisgata 12 wins our best pizza award. The place doesn’t advertise, the house isn’t marked “PIZZA” in big tourist-trapping letters and it doesn’t even have a Facebook page! As far as we can tell, people only know about it through word of mouth, which can be pulled off because Hverfisgata 12 offers the kind of pizzas you are unlikely to have tried before, with inventive toppings such as barbecue sauce, shredded pork, pears, roasted seeds and horseradish cream. The attached bar is also properly decked out and staff are well versed at making cocktails, in case you fancy having a nightcap before heading home.
2013: Gamla Smiðjan
2012: La Luna trattoria-pizzeria
2011: Gamla Smiðjan
2010: Gamla Smiðjan
2009: Devitos Pizza
Best Ice Cream
Valdís takes the ice cream cone throne for the second year in a row and, judging by the way they’re churning up creative new flavours, their reign shows no sign of faltering. Boasting an eclectic variety of freshly-made gelato, sorbet, smoothies, shakes, and waffle cones, Valdís continues to be Reykjavík’s undisputed dairy champ, hence the queue at all hours, even on a rainy day.
2011: Ísbúðin Ísland
2010: Ísbúðin Ísland
2009: Ísbúð Vesturbæjar
Sandholt is another perennial Grapevine favourite that continues to deliver. And sure, its fresh croissants, pastries, breads, sandwiches and baked goods will set you back marginally more than some of the city’s other top-of-the-line bakeries, but you won’t regret spending the extra krónur, particularly if owner Ásgeir Sandholt has done the day’s baking. A fourth-generation baker, Ásgeir still uses the same oven that his predecessors used when the bakery opened in 1920, although he has changed up nearly everything else about the place, including the bread recipe (a deceptively simple one which was in use 100 years ago). The bakery also recently expanded its seating area and added a back porch, both of which make stopping here for coffee and cake quite cosy, no matter the weather. Oh, and an added bonus in case you, like several Grapeviners, have strong opinions about such things: Sandholt’s fancy new machine allows you to choose exactly how thick your bread slices will be.
2012: Mosfellsbakari in Reykjavík
Gandhi primarily serves cuisine from Kerala in South India. It “is nutty both in the sense that it uses coconuts with wild abandon and in that its influences are maddeningly diverse as the region boasts a reasonably large (mostly) non-vegetarian Christian and Muslim community, while the surrounding regions are mostly Hindu and/or vegetarian,” as our food critic explained last time we paid Gandhi an official visit. “As much as I agree with Gordon Ramsey about the simple two page menus, it simply doesn’t apply here. No one in their right mind goes to India for minimalism,” he noted before going on to praise the delicious food and the diversity it brings to Reykjavík’s restaurant scene. Note: Its price range is somewhere between Shalimar (a Pakistani place, which gets an honourable mention) and Austur-Indíafjelagið (a North Indian place, which we have deemed an institution and is thus not in the running for an award).
Best Thai Food
Clearly, Ban Thai is a Grapevine favourite: it’s won Best Thai six times and was our Best Goddamn Restaurant in 2011. In the words of one of our panellists, “Price aside, the food here is just like in Thailand.” The quality of each dish is excellent, and the menu is massive. Ban Thai’s interior is kind of swanky, making it really nice to eat there, though the service isn’t the most efficient. If they’re not too busy, ordering takeaway ahead of time can save you some time. But wherever you eat your Thai, Ban Thai makes the best in town.
2013: Ban Thai
2012: Ban Thai
2011: Ban Thai
2010: Ban Thai
2009: Ban Thai
Last year, Mandi was close to storming in and grabbing Best Kebab in its first year, but barely missed out in favour of kebab mainstays Habibi. This year, the numbers came out in favour of Mandi, and deservingly so. While their lamb kebabs are delicious and their falafels have our vegetarian stamp-of-approval, the real star of the show is the rolled kebab. Offered in chicken, lamb, or mixed, with the help of cheese, corn, green olives, rainbow rice, and dripping with your choice of yoghurt sauce or spicy sauce, the rolled kebab is one of the absolute best one-hand-required meals in town. Tightly enclosed in a warm, pressed-to-golden-perfection wrap, at 1250 ISK, it never fails to hit the spot. Though Mandi is awkwardly situated (a bit reminiscent of a corner store), the service is friendly and caters to a diverse crowd—“from anarchists and biker clubs to families passing through and late-nighters,” says one of our writers—and better yet, it’s open until 6 am on Fridays and Saturdays.
2012: Kebab Grill
Reykjavík Roasters (Formerly Kaffismiðjan)
Reykjavík Roasters takes the top spot this year and it’s not hard to see why. Since it opened in 2008, the experience of nipping into Roasters has continually improved. The atmosphere is part sentimental Belle and Sebastian party, part knitting with granny and part minimalist art-school cool: you’ll enjoy the sounds of quietly crackling vinyl records as you sip your painstakingly-roasted coffee. Ethically-minded as well as caffeine-spirited, Roasters also purchase directly from farmers in both Colombia and Nicaragua, and roast on location. The staff is always attentive, taking plenty of care with coffee presentation while they tailor your drink to your taste buds. Furthermore, with three unique different brewing methods available, even the most critical and experienced coffee connoisseur will find something to write home about.
Best Coffee To-Go
Having briefly ceded the throne to Litli Bóndabærinn (which recently moved to Grafarvogur), Kaffifélagið has surged back to reclaim their title as best cup of joe-to-go. According to our resident coffee connoisseur, at Kaffifélagið you just “feel like you’re getting something more.” They put some heart into serving up your coffee, asking how much milk you want instead of just slapping it all together and tossing it in your direction. Beyond that (milk of) human kindness, their coffee is sourced with the finest Italian espresso beans, making for a deep, full-flavoured drink. Due to limited seating space, the “to-go” part is almost by necessity—however if there are seats available, be sure to sip, pause, and take advantage of the friendly atmosphere.
2013: Litli Bóndabærinn
2010: Café Haiti
Best Place To Get Tea
With its shiny yellow exterior, quirky, cluttered décor and the strong, exotic aromas emanating from its kitchen, Babalú is a beacon of good, relaxing vibes and nurtures that nostalgic, carefree part of your soul. And better yet, Babalú has an endless tea list hip enough for all the Ramona Flowers out there. They’ve also developed a delicious mutant tea/coffee offspring in their ‘chamomile soya latté.’ It’s easy to spend the better part of a day curled up on the sofa, talking to the friendly staff and visitors or taking to the comfy balcony to soak up those rays during the summer months.
2012: Litli Bóndabærinn
2011: Te og kaffi
Sushi tends to be a contentious topic. While the purists (“I eat sashimi and sashimi only”) dismiss places serving elaborate rolls, Icelanders tend to enjoy creative takes on classics and have a special affinity for sauce. And Sushisamba excels on both counts. “It’s not even up for debate,” one of our panellists noted. “They’re creative, they think outside of the box.” Another avid fan pointed out that “they don’t do the sushi in a very traditional Japanese way, but that’s not necessarily bad, as a lot of the sushi you get anywhere has some international influence…I can only say this: people think rice is easy. For sushi it is not, if you want to get it just right. Making it OK is easy. Making it dead-on is hard.” Thus, Sushisamba takes the toro, err…Spicy Chicken Roll…err…Deep-Fried Volcano Roll with extra spicy mayo on top.
Reykjavík may not have many veggie-centric spots, but for four years running, when anyone has asked us, sceptically, to name the city’s best Vegan/Raw/Vegetarian place, we’ve been able to hold our heads high and unanimously, joyously proclaim: Gló! With a rotating daily menu featuring everything from veggie sushi and deconstructed raw pizzas (really delish!) to a veritable smorgasbord of mixed salads, fresh-squeezed juices, daily-made desserts, and yes, even a token meat-eater’s option, Gló offers something unexpected, filling, and satisfying for everyone.
2010: Á Næstu Grösum
2009: Á Næstu Grösum
Best Hangover Meal
The Hangover Killer at Prikið
When you find yourself stumbling out of bed with a skull-splitting headache and a deep abhorrence of everything and everyone, look no further than Prikið for the perfect remedy. Despite there being a significant chance that the café/bar/hip-hop haven contributed to your hangover in the first place, any hard feelings are patched up by their back-to-back winner, The Hangover Killer. This heaven-sent meal comes complete with a hangover sandwich (ham, cheese, bacon, egg, tomato, lettuce, and garlic dressing), a Jack Daniels infused ‘Bruce Willis milkshake’ and a tablet of Treo painkiller. Working together, this ensemble provides you with a Hangover Holy Trinity: greasy food, the hair of the dog, and a doctor-recommended analgesic. Once you break out of your subsequent food coma, you’ll find yourself ready to go out and do it all over again.
2013: The Hangover Killer
2011: The Truck at Grái Kötturinn
2010: The Truck at Prikið
2009: The Truck at Grái kötturinn
Ask a bunch of people living in Reykjavík to name the best soup in town and you will find yourself in the midst of a somewhat contentious conversation. There are a fair amount of soups served here, and a fair amount of them are pretty damn good. But if you want to get the most bang for your buck—or KRASH for your króna, if you will—you’re almost guaranteed to come away from Noodle Station happy. It’s a simple, quick place that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. You have two choices to make: do you want Chicken, Beef, or Veggie? Do you want spicy or lame not spicy? (“Always spicy,” says a panellist. “I want them to make me cry.” And they do.) Every so often—“like 20% of the time,” says our frequent noodler who has eaten there “probably 70 times” in the last few years—Noodle Station doesn’t serve up the best bowl, but no matter what, you’ll never leave hungry. This is particularly true if you order your soup to go, as word on the street is that the take-away portions are generally more substantial.
2013: Kryddlegin Hjörtu
2011: Kryddlegin Hjörtu
2009: Lobster Soup at Sægreifinn
Best Place To Go For A Fancy Meal
Dill is New Nordic cuisine at its best. While many restaurants in Iceland have embraced some of the principles of New Nordic cuisine, as one of our resident foodies notes, Dill takes it the whole way, “carefully sourcing and foraging its ingredients.” Dill’s head chef, Gunnar Karl Gíslason, has worked at a number of Michelin starred restaurants in Denmark, and has been known to bring in guest chefs from the likes of Michelin-rated Maaemo. For a visual taste of Gunnar’s expertise, you can also flip through his mouthwatering book, ‘North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland.’ Note: Don’t go to Dill’s old location! The restaurant recently relocated to Hverfisgata 12 after a five-year run in the Nordic House on Sturlugata.
2013: Gallery Restaurant at Hótel Holt
2012: Grill Market
2009: Gallery Restaurant at Hótel Holt
Best Place To Go On A Date
If you’re looking for a fancy restaurant for a romantic date, Grill Market is the perfect place. You will enjoy the freshest high quality food from local organic farmers and a great selection of wines from all over the world in a classy, luxurious setting. Portions are also pretty big so they’re perfect for sharing! On that note, there’s also a tasting menu for two put together by the chefs so that sample a variety of mouth-watering delicacies.
2013: Tapas Barinn
Best Newcomer Restaurant
K-Bar made a splash when it opened in late 2013 and it continues to roll out innovative new dishes. But thanks to creative cocktails, a strong line-up of beers and trendy yet cosy décor, K-Bar is satisfying even before the food arrives. The menu is detail-oriented and exciting, showcasing a unique fusion of Korean and Portuguese influences. Though the Korean staple, Bi Bim Bap, is good, the soft shell crab tempura sandwich and fish burgers are standouts. For dessert, try the cronut, their version of the croissant-donut fad that in 2013 created five hour lines and a black market outside its original bakery in New York City. K-Bar also has a special place in our hearts because they offer what might be the best food and drink deal in the city. Between 16:00 and 18:00, you can stop in and get their sauce-slathered KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) wings and the beer of the day for only 990 ISK. From the fresh flavours, the steal of a deal and the cronuts, K-Bar is an extremely welcomed addition to the Reykjavík dining scene.
2013: Bergsson Mathús
2010: Noodle Station
Best Goddamn Restaurant
Since we started making our BEST OF issues, Best Goddamn Restaurant has remained one of the categories we have the most fun with as, according to the definition we initially made up, a ‘best goddamn restaurant’ needs to be ‘on the cheaper side,’ ‘consistent,’ ‘tasty’ and ‘available.’ And finding a spot that does all of the above is both rare and wonderful. Even more rare—for Reykjavík, at least—is for an establishment to maintain those standards for a number of years without faltering on the quality front or blowing up its prices. This is perhaps why it’s especially fun that we get to award SNAPS this title for the third year running. Ever since SNAPS appeared on the scene (and on our BEST OF REYKJAVÍK list) back in 2012, the restaurant has thankfully kept at it. SNAPS continues to maintain a near-impeccable balance between good food, great atmosphere and affordable pricing; the perfect place to dine when you want to feel a little fancy without spending an arm and a leg. Fish of the day comes recommended, as do any of their Smörrebröd. Coupled with a drink, of course, or two. Thank you, SNAPS!
2011: Ban Thai
2009: Segurmo at Boston
Best Family Restaurant
The Laundromat Cafe
The Laundromat Café has pulled off the four-peat, legitimising their run as a dynasty in the family restaurant arena. Sure, there are other places that pride themselves on being kid-friendly. A decent number of restaurants serve up affordable diner fare. And yes, even some places have board games to play. But to have all of these together, plus a downstairs play area, AND laundry machines?! The Laundromat Cafe is truly one-of-a-kind.
Best Cheap Meal
10-11 after 14:00
10-11 is not exactly the first place that comes to mind in a conversation about cheap food in Reykjavík. In fact, it probably doesn’t come to mind at all. For cheap groceries, most people would probably agree that you should head to Bónus. However, if you’re looking for a hot and seemingly healthy meal, 10-11 is actually not a bad option after two in the afternoon, when said hot meals are sold at a 50% discount. Their menu rotates weekly and often features Icelandic staples such as boiled haddock with potatoes and plokkfiskur (“fish stew”) with rye bread. You’d be hard-pressed to find similar meals elsewhere in Reykjavík for less than 1,000 ISK. In addition, you can typically get a fairly hearty kjötsúpa (Icelandic “meat soup”) for less than 500 ISK, regardless of the hour.
2013: ‘Sub of the month’ at Subway
2012: Íslenski barinn
2011: Noodle Station
2010: ‘Sub of the month’ at Subway
Fiskfélagið (or: The Fish Company) wins ‘Best Seafood’ for the third year in a row. “But that doesn’t do it justice, seafood is just 60% of its menu,” one panellist-slash-ardent-foodie argued, lobbying for it to take ‘Best goddamn restaurant’ this year. Then he also tried to vote it ‘Best fancy restaurant.’ “It’s Fiskfélagið, hands down,” he said. “You feel fancy, you get the service you expect, and you get something unexpected.” In conclusion: It serves great seafood and MORE, which confirms that it is a really great ‘Best Seafood’ winner.
2011: Við Tjörnina
With a fantastic brunch menu well suited to omnivores and vegans alike, picking the Coocoo’s Nest was a no-brainer for us. With a great selection of mouth-watering sandwiches and Italian dishes, the real cream of the crop is their whole-wheat maple syrup and strawberries pancakes. Add crunchy bacon, and you’ll be smiling for the rest of the week. Be advised, you may have to wait a spell to get a table as the restaurant has already earned itself a loyal following.
Best Place To Go With A Group Of Friends
KEX is huge, with tons of indoor and outdoor seating (for when the weather is occasionally nice), has good beer, a friendly atmosphere and frequent music events. Ergo, it’s a great to visit with a group of friends. Unless of course you and your group of friends like cramped spaces, terrible beer, unfriendly vibes and complete silence, in which case we think you need to reevaluate your definition of ‘fun.’
2012: Tapas Bar
2011: Tapas Bar
2010: Tapas Bar
Best Must-Try Dining Experience
Food Section at Kolaportið
Someone has surely dared you to try out hákarl, our famous “rotten shark,” but this malodorous delicacy is one that you’ll only come to appreciate with time (and lots of alcohol). Don’t spend a fortune testing it in a fancy restaurant—come to Kolaportið where you can try it for free, or even buy a tub. Other local samples may include hangikjöt and dried fish. You’ll also find a variety of Thai ingredients, pastries, farm-fresh lamb and homemade sausages for sale.
2013: Icelandic food at Kaffi Loki
2012: Icelandic Home-Style Food at Mamma Steina
2011: The svið at Fljótt og Gott, BSÍ
2010: Moby Dick on a Stick at Sægreifinn
2009: Bæjarins Beztu
Best Kept Secret
With its trailing vines, brightly-coloured flowers, and wooden tables, this greenhouse café hidden in the heart of Reykjavík’s Botanical Gardens is always warm and summery, even on a cloudy day. It’s peaceful place to while away an afternoon munching on open-face sandwiches, savoury soups, or rich desserts—we particularly recommend the fantastic homemade sourdough bread and beetroot hummus. The café is only open during the summer and early fall, but reopens to serve up a special Icelandic Christmas buffet (Jólahlaðborð) in December.
2013: Lunch Beat
2012: Café Flora
Best Lunch Place
Located in a surprisingly airy space just below ground level, Bergsson Mathús—winner of last year’s “Best Newcomer Restaurant”—is our favourite place for a filling, healthy, and tasty afternoon bite. The rotating daily menu always includes intriguing meaty entrees, such as a slow-roasted leg lamb with harissa and couscous or Thai chicken noodle salad, and fresh fish and spinach lasagne (really good) are always available. But for lunch, our go-to is the heaping “salad of the day” plate, a selection of several fresh salads and/or mixed veggies with a tasty yogurt sauce.
Best Late Night Bite
Stumbling around 101 on a night out, a dozen or so drinks in, your stomach growls; you’re hungry and your mouth waters as you frantically wonder what you could get at the ungodly hour of 5AM. ‘Nonni,’ your thoughts whisper to you. ‘Nonni.’ Your legs move forward, urged on by an instinctual memory. You keep your head up and your eyes open enough to keep from walking into anything, but your vision is already consumed by the image of a hoagie. You didn’t realise that your mouth could salivate so much at the thought of subs, hamburgers and other tasty fast food. So absorbed in your thoughts, you only feel your mouth forming the words of your order before spitting them out to the patient employee. When your hero (truly worthy of the name) is in your hands, you hardly have time to register the feeling of toasted bread or dribbling sauce down your fingers before you tear into it. Each bite rejuvenates you a little more, until it’s all gone and you walk back out into the night, satisfied…until next time.