When one thinks of Iceland, images of stunning natural landscapes, geothermal wonders, and the elusive Northern Lights often come to mind. What you may not picture, however, is the culinary revolution happening in the southwestern peninsula of Reykjanes.
And let me assure you, it’s not just worth picturing, but booking a trip in to experience.
Reykjanes, situated an hour from the capital of Reykjavik yet less than 15 minutes from Keflavik International Airport, is rapidly evolving into a culinary stopover between the US and the rest of Europe. While Iceland is renowned for traditional dishes like lamb stews and fermented shark (yes, shark), Reykjanes offers a fresh and modern take on Icelandic cuisine.
A geothermal hotspot, the region’s volcanic terrain not only provides breathtaking scenery (and the opportunity for some real outer space-like adventuring) but a natural oven for slow-cooked culinary creations you’d be hard pressed to recreate anywhere else in the world.
But we’ll get to some of those later; up first, the restaurants.
Where to Eat in Reykjanes, Iceland
1. The Blue Lagoon’s Lava Restaurant
Sat against the backdrop of the world-famous waters of the Blue Lagoon, you can indulge in a menu that celebrates the the very best of Iceland’s local ingredients. The Lava Restaurant, nestled within this natural wonder, is a real celebration of fine fish (fresh from the nearby harbor in Grindavík), and its four-course tasting menu captures the very best from land and sea. Vegan options are also available.
2. Hotel Keflavik, KEF Bar and Restaurant
As well as being the perfect base from which to explore Reykjanes (I mean, have you seen their Diamond Suites?), Hotel Keflavik boasts a bar and restaurant unlike any other in the area. KEF, which has a penchant for Versace plates, trades primarily in three- and five-course tasting ‘adventures’ come dinner time, and a selection of creative à la carte dishes during brunch and lunch. The confit goose leg, blueberry demi-glaced lamb tenderloin and skyr mousse are all must-trys.
3. Salthúsið Grindavik
In the charming fishing village of Grindavik, Salthúsið is a true hidden gem. While unassuming from the outside, this restaurant managed to whip up the best Salt Cod I’ve had—anywhere in the world—on a recent visit. It’s comfort food redefined, with elevated takes on prime lamb, exquisite sauces, and a relaxed atmosphere that makes you feel like you might just be at a family member’s dinner table.
This modern restaurant, located in Hotel Berg by the Keflavik marina, offers a breathtaking view over the bay and yet another chance to indulge in some incredible seafood. The unexpected twist? Fiskbarinn’s spicy beef tenderloin (with grilled asparagus, sweet potato, and a sesame-chili-soy sauce) and lamb Tartare (with capers, sesame oil, mustard seed and croutons) are 10/10s in their own right.
5. Issi’s Fish and Chips
Issi’s Fish and Chips is home to what many consider the best fish and chips in Iceland, and I’m not one to disagree. The crispy, golden batter and tender fish are a clear favorite among locals and tourists alike, and the husband-and-wife team who run it (Issi and Hjördís) manage to run an incredibly smooth ship, despite enormous demand.
6. Bryggjan Café
Built in 1980, Bryggjan Café originally housed nothing but a net-making business before its owners transformed a portion of the building into a little cafe called Bryggjan (Pier), offering a refuge for local fisherman. Since then, the operation has expanded into an enormous upstairs dining hall trading, mostly, in its famous lobster soup and fisherman’s platter. As far as I’m concerned, few lunches compare to a rich, creamy soup alongside pickled herring and rye.
7. Brons Keflavik
I visited Brons every single night I stayed in Keflavik. While, primarily, this is a spirited bar for local darts players (see: not me), they happen to serve up genuinely delectable chicken wings alongside finger gloves to protect your darts from any mess. If my own frequency is any indication, you’ll keep coming back for more.
Other Food and Drink You Have to Try in Iceland
No trip to Iceland is complete without indulging in the country’s delicacies, including:
1. Rye Bread (Rúgbrauð)
Icelandic rye bread, or “rúgbrauð”, has been a staple in Icelandic homes for centuries. Made with rye flour and baked slowly in a geothermal oven, it boasts a unique texture and taste. To experience the very best rye bread, you can book onto an experience at Gunnuhver (a highly-active geothermal spring), where it’s freshly-baked underground, and served warm with butter and smoked trout. Contact Visit Reykjanes for more details.
2. Licorice (Lakkrís)
Icelanders have a deep affinity for licorice, and it shows up just about everywhere. While its most palatable when weaved within sweets or chocolates, Icelandic licorice can be salty and sweet, so it’s worth trying in multiple forms. Omnom’s bean-to-bar licorice chocolate offers a modern twist on the treat, but you’ll find a plethora of options on any visit a local grocery store.
3. Dried Fish (Harðfiskur)
Dried fish, or “harðfiskur”, is a traditional Icelandic snack with history (and, as many modern producers will attest, bucketloads of protein). For an authentic taste, visit a local fish market or specialty retailer like Stafnes Harðfiskur (a delightful local fisherman who accepts orders for his premium dried fish via Facebook). Pair it with a slice of that aforementioned buttered rye bread for a true Icelandic experience.
4. Local Beer
Iceland’s craft beer scene has been booming in recent years, and you’ll find a wide range of locally-brewed beers to sample both in bars and grocery stores. Look out for the shapeshifting bottles from Litla Brugghúsið, a local micro-brewery boasting delightfully light pale ales and lagers alongside unique brews like Skeggi (a chocolate-pepper porter that will knock your socks off) and Hippitus Hoppitus (a milkshake-inspire 6% IPA).
5. Icelandic Hot Dogs (Pylsa)
A pilgrimage to Reykjanes wouldn’t be complete without stopping at a local hot dog stand. Pulsuvagninn hjá Ingu og Villa is a charming little nook, conveniently located near many of Keflavik’s best nightlife spots, where you can savor the iconic Icelandic hot dog any time. Get one with every topping, no regrets.