Icelandic chef Georg Arnar Halldórsson shares his guide to food in Reykjavik, including the best spots for coffee and Iceland’s famous hot dogs.
As if he weren’t already an award-winning chef, the place Georg Arnar Halldórsson picks for our meeting is evidence that he knows the best local spots to eat and drink in Reykjavik.
Instead of suggesting a more obvious branch of Reykjavik Roasters—a coffee company that locals claim serves the best cup of joe in Iceland—Halldórsson directs us to its most discreet location. Hidden inside a discreet building just a street down from tourist-heavy Hallgrimskirkja church, I’m already thankful for the local wisdom.
The former head chef at Harpa Concert Hall and current head chef at Michelin-starred restaurant ÓX, Halldórsson’s culinary accomplishments have made him one of the country’s most prestigious chefs.
The burgeoning Icelandic food scene is complex—Reykjavik’s chefs are on a quest to bring traditional meals and new, creative Nordic cuisine to the forefront—but Halldórsson’s advice to tourists is simple: “Eat hot dogs, go to swimming pools, relax, eat good food, drink.” Here, find all the places he recommends for doing just that.
Georg Arnar Halldórsson’s Perfect (Food) Day in Iceland
Best breakfast in Reykjavík
Usually, if I get breakfast, I go to Reykjavík Roasters—it’s a perfect, properly made cup of coffee. The coffee company was founded by a few young kids, but then a guy named Torfi Torfason took it to another level. He was working in Copenhagen for Coffee Collective and came here with a lot of experience. We have world-class coffee in Reykjavík, so I get coffee here.
Then I go to Brauð & Co. for bread and croissants. Hands down, the best bakery in Reykjavík is Brauð & Co. They have four different locations around the city, and they’re super consistent—they do simple things but do them really well. They import their flour from Denmark and use other really good ingredients. Everything you get there is great—it doesn’t matter what you get.
Sandholt is a more traditional French-style bakery that’s really good. It’s on the main street, Laugavegur. That’s also really good for breakfast because you can get different types of breads with toppings if you’re into that.
Best lunch in Reykjavík
Go to a place called Hipstur in this food hall called Höfði. Super, super well-made food with really good chefs—one of the chefs there was with me on the National Culinary Team. It has a really small counter, only around ten seats.
Best dinner in Reykjavik
MATBAR. It’s a super good restaurant owned by six chefs. The former restaurant there was struggling, and the chefs bought the restaurant owner out, fired all the staff, and now they do everything—they do the service, they do the dishwashing, they do the cooking. They do really good cocktails and grilled flatbread with different dips. Go for a set menu: Ask them to give you whatever and they’ll serve you their choice of food.
Best place to drink in Reykjavík
Go to Vínstúkan Tíu Sopar, a natural wine bar. They do conventional wines, natural wines, and different types of snacks. The owner there was the chef at Dill when they got their Michelin star. Get the cheese with browned butter, and they have different types of cured ham and similar plates.
Midnight (or later) snack
For the after-after-after-party, I always go to Mandi and get the chicken kebab.
Where to find the best hot dogs
Most people will say Bæjarins Beztu, which is a really good hot dog stand that’s everywhere. My favorite hot dog is outside of a swimming pool, Laugardalslaug, and they do a French-style hot dog. It’s bread with a hole in the middle, and then they put the sauce in the middle and then stick a grilled hot dog in. It’s so good.
Reykjavík pizza > New York pizza
People should check out a pizza place called Eldoffnin. It’s a small-time pizza place in the suburbs, so it’s only local people—I doubt a tourist has ever been in there! But they make the absolute best pizza in the country. And it’s not too far—only about five or ten minutes away from downtown.
Where to eat traditional Icelandic food
If you want traditional food, like fish stew or things that your mother would make, there are two really good places. One’s called Kaffevagnnin. You’ll meet a lot of local people and a lot of older people eating there, but the food is really well made and it’s really great. I would get plokkfiskur. It’s a fish stew with bechamel, onions, and cheese.
Then, there’s another really good comfort food place in Skeifan called 108 Matur. It’s owned by two really good chefs, and they wanted to do mama food and do it really well. Construction workers go there all the time for lunch (and so do I!) to have schnitzel and fish meatballs. It’s a really good, cheap, traditional Icelandic home-cooked meal.
Why hot tubs are the best way to get to know Reykjavík
More than a country, Iceland is a tribe. Everybody’s super-connected. We have a DNA database so that if you were Icelandic, I could write down your social security number and see exactly how we’re connected. The swimming pools feel like a tribe meeting—when you go to the hot tub, it almost feels like people are talking the way they would in the Senate, discussing politics and all the new things that are going on. It’s cool to go to the hot tubs and just chill and talk to people.