Guide: The street food of Reykjavík - Not just hot dogs anymore
While Icelanders like to tell stories of how they eat fermented shark and sheep’s heads, the real national dish of Iceland would have to be the hot dog. It is certainly tastier than shark, and it’s definitely more popular. You can get Icelandic hot dogs at every gas station. There are hot dog stands at malls and shopping centres, as well as airports and bus terminals. It would hardly be an overstatement to say that your visit to Iceland won’t be complete until you’ve tasted this local delicacy.
The best street food in Europe
And the best place to eat hot dogs is definitely Bæjarins Beztu by the old harbour. A true Reykjavík institution and one of the best eateries, not just in Reykjavík. And don’t just take our word for it. Ask Bill Clinton or any number of foreign visitors who have come to Reykjavík. In 2006, the British newspaper The Guardian named Bæjarins Beztu as one of the five best street food stands in Europe.
Foreign visitors have various theories about the secret behind Icelandic hot dogs. Some speculate that it’s the lamb meat in Icelandic hot dogs, others think it is the “remulade,” which The Guardian described as a “mysterious” tasty condiment, while still others think it’s the sweet mustard. Bill Clinton probably belongs to that last group, as he ordered a hot dog (with just mustard) when he visited Reykjavík in 2004.
A culinary revolution
It’s a testament to the power of the hot dog that, until quite recently, Icelanders simply didn’t consider it possible to operate other kinds of street food kiosks. But this has changed in recent years, as a wide variety of fast food stalls have opened in Reykjavík. Perhaps it’s one of the consequences of the 2008 “pots and pans revolution,” when Icelanders took to the streets to demand political change, economic justice—and that the bankers be put behind bars. In any case, bankers have been put behind bars and culinary entrepreneurs have taken to the street with their trailers to change the food culture of Reykjavík.
We at Iceland Magazine decided to chart this culinary revolution, and review all the different street food stalls of Reykjavík. The criteria was simple: only eateries that serve food on the street to customers on the move.
Ratings: one to five stars Novelty factor: one to five √ Prices: $ = 500-1,000 ISK, $$ 1,000-1,500 ISK, $$$ 1,500-2,000 ISK
(1,000 ISK = 6.6 EUR/7.5USD)
Bæjarins Beztu hot dog stand
This is, of course, the king of Icelandic street food. No trip to Reykjavík is complete without stopping by Bæjarins Beztu. While ordering “The Clinton” (see above: A hot dog with a lot of mustard) might sound cool, the proper way to order a hot dog is “with everything,” which includes both types of onion (fried and raw), ketchup, remulade, and sweet mustard. Two hot dogs (each 400 ISK) make a cheap and satisfying meal.
Whether as an afternoon snack, lunch, or early breakfast/late-night meal after the bars close, a hot dog is the thing. There is usually a line, so be patient and don’t take your sweet time when it’s your turn!
Opening hours: Sun-Thu 10am–1pm, Fri – Sat 10am - 4:30am
Taqueria Lucha Libre at the Paloma
The smallest of all the food carts in Reykjavík, this tiny wagon is a proper little taqueria serving really good authentic Mexican food. Its location at the entrance to the “patio” of Paloma bar/Dubliners gives you the possibility of actually ordering a beer (from the bar) to go with your street food—a definite plus. The tacos are truly tasty, and cheap, giving the Icelandic hot dog a run for its money! It also offers a vegetarian option, making it the only vegetarian food cart in downtown Reykjavík. Comes highly recommended.
Opening hours: Sun-Wed 12pm–10pm, Thu 12pm–2am, Fri-Sat 12pm–4/5am
Meat Soup Wagon
The Meat Soup Wagon, which is usually located at Ingólfstorg square, at the west end of Aðalstræti street, serves traditional Icelandic meat soup. It’s a hearty meal, made with potatoes, rutabaga, rice, and, of course, mutton. The soup served by the Meat Soup Wagon is pretty good, rather like what your Icelandic grandmothers might have made, although the meat is not as fatty as traditional soup-meat.
The Meat Soup Wagon also sells bagels, but we highly recommend the soup (small portion is 900 ISK). It’s an excellent afternoon meal, especially to warm up during a chilly day. And of course, it provides you with a glimpse of traditional Icelandic cooking.
Opening hours: Weekdays: 11:30am–9pm, Weekends: 9pm–5am
Hlölli - Subs
Hlöllabátar serves what has become the “traditional” Icelandic sub. Toasted and fried, with copious amounts of sauces, it is the perfect food to satisfy your cravings for greasy fast food. Hlöllabátar is a favourite destination for Icelanders who go there to have one “Hlölli” before heading home after the bars close.
Note that even if four, five, or even eight beers, and the midnight sun might make Hlölli tastier, it is also great for lunch or dinner. A wide selection of menu items, with different meats, toppings or sauces, and the large portions make it a great and affordable alternative to overbooked restaurants.
Opening hours: Sun–Thu: 10am–2am, Fri–Sat: 10am–5:30am
The Hot Dog House
The third eatery on Ingólfstorg is The Hot Dog House. It serves both ice cream and a selection of hot dogs. In addition to the traditional Icelandic hot dog, it has a “French-style” hot dog with mustard (which is called a “Franch dog with musterd sauce” on the misspelled menu) and various bratwurst items, including a chili dog that is so overflowing with gooey sauces it is impossible to eat. However, we do recommend the ice cream.
Best time to stop by would be on a sunny day, but be prepared for a line, because Icelanders tend to make full use of their few summer days by strolling downtown with an ice cream cone.
Opening hours: Mon-Wen: 10am-12am, Thu: 10am-2am, Fri: 10am-5:30am, Sat: 11am-5:30am, Sun: 11am-12am
The Fish and Chips Trailer by the old harbour
One of two fish-and-chips wagons in Reykjavík, Fish and Chips at Grandi probably has the best location of any of the street food stalls in Reykjavík. You can either eat at one of the picnic tables, or take your order and sit on one of the rocks by the sea, taking in the view of the old harbour and the sea. We will go so far as to say that it’s a great spot for a romantic dinner, substituting seagulls for candlelight!
The view is not just spectacular, the portions are large, which is a definite plus. Be sure to order mushy peas and a sauce.
Opening hours: Mon-Sun: 11am–9pm
Dons Donuts (The Doughnut Wagon)
During the day, the doughnut cart is located on Hlemmur, at the east end of Laugavegur street, but at night it moves to Lækjartorg square. It offers tiny little doughnuts, fried to order. You select caramel or chocolate glazing and then mix and match from a variety of different sprinkles. In our humble opinion, the basic caramel sauce and cinnamon is best, but you should experiment. The presentation is also very pleasing, and the doughnuts are perfect to share. Mix and match your toppings and share with a friend!
Stop at the doughnut cart to satisfy your sugar craving during the day or after a night at the bar. A true gem you should not miss.
Opening hours: Hlemmur square: All days 11am- 9pm, Lækjartorg square: Weekend 11pm–5am
The Icelandic Fish and Chips Wagon
This fish-and-chips wagon, open at night on Lækjartorg square, doesn’t have the spectacular views of Fish and Chips at Grandi, but makes up for that with a central location and truly good food. The fish served by Icelandic Fish and Chips is fresh line-caught cod, not trawler-fish, making it fluffier and just way tastier. We recommend the garlic sauce.
Not only is the food truly good, the presentation is also beautiful and convenient, perfect for eating on the walk or standing. This is the best food cart in central Reykjavík.
Opening hours: Sun-Thu: 10pm–2/3am, Fri-Sat: 10pm–4/5am
BSÍ Bus terminal Restaurant/Drive-through
The restaurant at the downtown bus terminal has a drive-through window that’s open late, but you can also “dine in” at the restaurant while waiting for a bus, or if you’re just looking for a taste of what Icelanders would eat at home. Frequented by bus drivers, taxi drivers, and contractors, it serves food you eat to satisfy your hunger. No frills or presentations, just meat and potatoes!
The house specialty is the charred sheep’s head, served with a generous side of mashed potatoes and mashed rutabaga. In addition to a selection of burgers and sandwiches, the BSÍ cafeteria has daily lunch specials of traditional Icelandic food, making it the best place to experience regular Icelandic home cooking.
Opening hours: Traditional home kitchen: Mon-Sun 10:30am–3pm, Grill: Mon-Sun 7am–11pm, Drive Through: Sun-Wen 7am–11:30pm, Thur 7am–3am, Fri-Sat 24 h
Vöffluvagninn – The Waffle Wagon
Vöffluvagninn, the waffle-wagon, offers sweet Belgian style waffles with various toppings of your choice. The chocolate or caramel and whipped cream waffles are excellent, but you can also choose from any number of waffle condiments and sweet toppings. Whether you like your waffles Icelandic style with strawberry berry jam and whipped cream or prefer American maple syrup or European Nutella, you can personalize your waffle to taste.
A fresh baked waffle with whipped cream is a great way to recharge your batteries after sightseeing in the traditional Icelandic summer rain and cold, or late at night before returning to the hotel.
Opening hours: By Hallgrímskirkja Church: Tue-Sun 11am–19pm, Lækjartorgur Square: Fri-Sat 10pm–5/6am
Bitabíllinn – The Hamburger Wagon
Serves hamburgers that actually look worse than the burgers in photos circulating the web showing the difference between the actual menu items of Burger King and those in the advertisements. The burgers also taste something like a slightly squished and greased up version of a Burger King Quarter Pounder. Which is exactly what you might want to eat after a long night drinking. Sometimes a greasy third rate hamburger is just exactly the thing that you need to regain your bearings and recharge your batteries so that you manage to make it home to bed.
But, we need to be honest here: There are few if any reasons anyone sober and in full command of his faculties would dine at the Hamburger stand. Which is why it is only open at night?
Opening hours: Fri-Sat 10pm–5am
The Lobster Hut at Lækjartorg square
The Lobster Hut offers a simple menu: lobster sandwich or lobster soup. The soup is tasty, but in our opinion the lobster sandwich (more of a sub) is better. Made in the traditional Icelandic sub-style, it offers the perfect mix of freshness and saucy gooeyness you expect from a late-night snack, making it a lighter alternative to the greasier subs at Hlölli.
Opening hours: Sun-Thu: 10pm–2/3am, Fri-Sat: 10pm–5/6am
Other street food vendors you might run into
In addition to the above-mentioned street food stalls, there are a few carts that show up now and then at different locations. These include a couple of hamburger vans, one called Tuddinn (translates as “the brute”) and another that’s a mobile extension of the hipster-restaurant/bar Prikið, which sometimes sells hamburgers late at night in the street opposite the restaurant.
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