You know how people say, "save the best for last"? Well, when it comes to food eating philosophy, I hate that saying. I used to eat that way throughout my childhood and into early adulthood. My family would do it all the time. Then it dawned on me that I would fill up on all the things I didn't like, and not be able to fully enjoy the food that I loved because I saved it for last. In life, it's best to just get to the point. Make time to do the things you love, eat the food you enjoy, don't wait, just do. I'm ruining my point.
Here's the best thing I ate in Iceland...
Islandic Mussels at The Harbor Restaurant (HÖFNIN)
Geirsgata 7, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland | https://hofnin.is/
Yes, I understand, mussels are not for everyone. But if they are, then these warrant a trip to Iceland. They are worth their weight in gold. I took my mom to Iceland for her birthday. All she ever talks about are these mussels. Not Diamond beach, not Fjallsárlón glacier, not dolphins in the water, not waterfalls, not geysers, not even this entire meal.
Just these mussels. She wants to go back just to eat these mussels.
They were fresh and succulent. Steamed in beer and served with three different sauces, herbs, mustard and garlic, the 4250 ISK (29 USD) price tag was well worth it. I have never been served mussels where EVERY shell was edible. They must pick out the ones that are not open or look unsavoury. Each piece was a vibrant orange. Orange mussel meat is that of mature females while a pale, cream colour is a male mussel. It is said that the colour makes no difference in flavour but I beg to differ, I do think that orange mussels are tastier. But the mussels at The Harbor Restaurant (HÖFNIN in Icelandic) were exceptional. After trying the mussels here, we thought that perhaps they were like this everywhere in Iceland but alas, nowhere served at the same quality level.
I have to admit we were a little hangry. We had been on a CRAZY boat ride in search of whales and after the harrowing experience, we wanted only to eat, drink wine, sleep. In such a mental state, deciding on a place to eat was getting annoying. We bopped about from one place to another, with nothing that grabbed our attention. I can't even recall why we chose The Harbor but my guess is they had a view and wine so it became a clear winner. It was only after we had eaten there and I did some research that I discovered pretty much everyone thinks they have the best mussels according to TripAdvisor.
The Harbor Restaurant is...at the harbour in Reykjavík. Two stories with views of the water and outside seating in good weather, it has an extensive menu offering fresh seafood as well as meat dishes. It is a family-run, established in 2010. It sits nestled among many other aqua-green houses on the harbour which were built in the 1930s and served as baiting sheds and fishing gear storage over the turn of the last century. The Harbour focuses on classic Icelandic cuisine with a modern twist. Popular dishes are the shellfish soup which has become quite famous, also the mussels, the traditional fish stew, char, and the Icelandic lamb and beef.
Here's what else was good
Icelandic Hot Dogs
The place to go is Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
translated literally into "the best hot dog in town." In winter or summer, you will see a line as locals and visitors alike frequent this tiny stand. It's right next to the Hilton hotel by the harbour in Reykjavík, that's just how I remember things. By the way, I adore the dog holders on the tables.
In Icelandic, a hot dog is called Pylsa or Pulsa and what sets these dogs apart from the rest of the world is that they are made from Icelandic lamb, along with pork and beef. This is organic, free-range, grass-fed, hormone-free Icelandic meat. The sheep in Iceland literally roam the countryside until the fall eating berries and leaves. Order your dog ala ein með öllu (roughly pronounced: ane meth alt) - with everything - as most Icelanders do and yours will be served on a warm, steamed bun topped with raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs. A Pylsa costs 470 ISK (3.75 USD).
Feel like making it at home. Try this recipe.
Icelandic Reindeer Burger
The first time in Iceland, it was the dead of winter. After a day of driving the Golden Circle and before heading up north a bit, we were dying for a decent meal. In other words, we were hangry. Long story short, we found ourselves at a roadside gas station Googling our food options. We made a decision to circle back into Reykjavík before heading up north. Ioanna had found a place that ranked well on TripAdvisor so that was our destination - Íslenski Barinn - the Icelandic Bar.
It's a bar which guarantees good drinks but the food is on point here. You can get burgers, lamb shank, salads with Icelandic twists. The highlights, of course, are Icelandic dishes, such as Icelandic meat soup (I am not too keen on the naming conventions), lam dogs, puffin, fermented shark, and reindeer burgers.
This first time around I went with the traditional lamb dog which was good but for sure the onion rings that came with it stole the show. For 1920 ISK (13 USD), it's a fancy dog but don't be that surprised to pay a premium when eating in Iceland.
But the winning meal that night was selected by Ioanna with the reindeer burger. It was so good in fact, that the next time I had the chance, I headed over to The Icelandic Bar to get my own portion.
The reindeer burger aka HREINDÝRABORGARI cooked to medium rare was moist and flavourful. Topped with camembert cheese, lettuce, bell pepper, wild berry jam, garlic mayo and served with a side of waffle fries for 3720 ISK (25 USD). Also tried the fin whale crumpet SKONSA MEÐ LANGREYÐI, mostly because I wanted onion rings. A crumpet with grilled fin whale topped with remoulade, pickled cucumber served with onion rings (1820 ISK | 12 USD) with an ice-cold beer was a perfect way to enjoy Icelandic food.
Icelandic Sunday Roast
This Icelandic twist on Sunday Roast wins for an overall epic meal, with taste, presentation, and value. It was 2900 ISK (20 USD) per person. The sourdough bread as a version of Icelandic Christmas bread by itself was phenomenal and I would go back just to eat that but the slow-cooked, free-range Icelandic leg of lamb with rosemary, garlic and...wait for it...
beer hollandaise...was OFF THE CHARTS. We also got an Icelandic twist on Chicken n'Waffles. It certainly didn't taste like Roscoe's but it had soul, for sure.
Don't miss an opportunity to dine at Apotek.
This lamb shank made Alexendra so happy she jumped up and down before she even tasted it. It turns out it tasted as good as it looked. The shank is slow-cooked for 12 hours with its friends, chorizo and bacon ragu served with butter beans, green peas, and broccoli. Try it out this fabulous gastropub, Sæta Svínið, The Sweet Pig. They are open late for dinner which is helpful and have an extensive beer selection. They also have Party Bingo with Iceland's most famous fortune-teller, astronomer and head queen, with Sigga Kling. I don't have anything else to say about that.
Driving west 793 mi (1, 277 km) from Reykjavík, you will find Hotel Geirland. It's off the main highway and very much a scenario where it's like drive, drive, drive and you will see beautiful scenery, make a slight turn by the waterfall, you will find the hotel. It's a modest accommodation and you wouldn't expect much of the food until you eat it. Again, I am not sure if it was because we were extremely hungry but I am more of the belief that since the freshest ingredients are used, the natural flavours overwhelm your palette.
For dinner we had Klaustur Char, which is raised in crystal clear spring water that has been filtered through layers of natural lava rock, having originated from the Vatnajokull Glacier, served on a bed of leeks with mushroom risotto (5300 ISK | 36 USD). Did I mention we are in the middle of nowhere? Ok, just checking. And organic lamb fillet with roasted root vegetables, caramelized red cabbage and a red wine reduction (4900 ISK | 33 USD). Finished off with the fresh rhubarb pie and skyrterta. Skyr is Icelandic-style strained yogurt that's even thicker and more densely concentrated than Greek yogurt. Icelanders will tell you that true, Icelandic skyr is not actually yogurt at all but instead actually a cheese. Skyrterta or skyrcake, was the hero for me at this meal. It is no-bake, frozen cheesecake, this one topped with a mixed berry sauce.
Hotel Geirland also had a fabulous included breakfast buffet. Honestly, beyond my expectations considering that when you look at the hotel it is very plain and modest. But I suppose simple doesn't take away from quality, in fact it's probably more honest. After the mussels at The Harbor Restaurant, the second experience my mom talks most about from her trip to Iceland is the breakfast at this hotel. The pictures don't do it justice because I snapped it just as we were leaving so I would forget about it. But the bread and the boiled eggs that are served are cooked in the ground by geothermal heat, making them very moist and flavourful. The bread, in particular, was served warm, just out the "oven" and we could not get enough of it. I also finally tried pickled herring which I thought I would hate but ended up loving. We left no morsel behind at this establishment.
Final tip, while food and accommodation can set you back when travelling in Iceland, you can at least count on fresh, natural, clean, free water so don't forget your water bottles. I swear, if you are buying water in the shops, you're nuts.