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Best of Reykjavík: Casual dining

Time for another Best of Reykjavík post!

OK, by “casual dining” I mean going out to a place where you can walk in off the street wearing whatever clothes you happen to have on BUT you actually sit down, look at a menu and get served by a proper waiter or waitress.

In other words, not a fast food place, and not a swanky upscale place where you’d want to take a shower and put on heels / your best shirt before you go.

Casual dining places are also reasonably priced. Usually.

And they’re open for dinner, not just lunch.

OK.

Hornið. This place opened in 1979 and believe it or not, it was the first casual restaurant in Reykjavík. Prior to that, going out for something to eat in Reykjavík was a Really Big Deal — and really expensive, too. Hornið gave people a much more easygoing, laid-back experience, and unsurprisingly, was an instant hit. It’s been popular ever since, and still retains that welcoming, relaxed, decidedly Italian atmosphere. Oh, and the food is great, too — especially the pizzas.

Vegamót. This is the place that instantly springs to mind when I want to go for dinner but don’t want it to set me back the equivalent of a month’s pay. It’s a restaurant / bistro by day and pub / club by night, and amazingly they manage to drive out the sickly smell of stale beer every morning before the restaurant starts up. [In other words, you don’t feel like you’re sitting in a pub masquerading as a restaurant that can’t wait to be a pub again.] They have an extensive menu and mostly everything I’ve had there has been really good. In my experience you can’t go wrong with the fish of the day special — and clearly I’m not alone because some days they run out before dinnertime. I’ve also always had good experiences with the sesame chicken stir-fry. But just about everything on their menu is good, and at an excellent price.

Saffran. This place is fairly new [well, over a year], and already has two outlets. It’s got a West Indian slant in the food, things like Tandoori chicken and naanwiches, and also some really good and innovative pizzas. Everything is super-healthy and tasty and the prices very reasonable. I’ve only ever tried the Glæsibær outlet, and it’s part take-out, part in-house dining. And strictly it doesn’t come under my home-cooked “casual dining” definition, because you actually have to order at a counter, although the waitress or waiter then brings your food to the table. The pizzas are my favourite. Downside for tourists: it’s quite far from all the downtown hotels [although a little bird whispered in my ear that they’re planning to open a downtown outlet very soon].

And now: over to you. What casual dining place in Reykjavík would you recommend?

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  • Stephen Cowdery July 21, 2010, 1:51 pm

    +2 on Hornið and Vegamót. Both are lively, fun places to be in (ambiance counts!) I had Monkfish at Vegamót that was to die for (and proper pressed coffee as well) and was pleasantly surprised at the price. The restaurant at the Nordic house has pleasant food with a different sort of ambiance (peaceful) worth the trek across the heath.

  • alda July 21, 2010, 1:57 pm

    Stephen — isn’t the place in the Nordic House kind of expensive? I don’t know much about it, but that’s the impression I got.

  • Stephen Cowdery July 21, 2010, 2:49 pm

    It is definitely pushing the high side, but not haute cusine…

  • Michael Lewis July 21, 2010, 3:46 pm

    I had a meal at a place called Shalimar, yesterday in fact, just back from my fishing trip, so definitely not dressed up – it is slightly more Cafe than restaurant. However, the food was very good. Naan bread – I had the Peshwari naan with my meal – was excellent. Good place if you like Indian food. The decor is very low-key – its not somewhere you’d take anyone to show them a good time, but the food itself is great. They also do Tiger beer, which is perfect to go with a curry ..

  • Daniel Harðarson July 21, 2010, 6:32 pm

    where is the second saffran outlet? i only know the one in Glaesibaer

  • Nik Whitehead July 21, 2010, 8:49 pm

    Eldhus-Kitchen opposite Bonus on Laugavegur. Nepalese, rather than Indian cuisine, which gives the normal curries an interesting twist.

  • alda July 21, 2010, 8:49 pm

    Daniel – it’s in Kópavogur. Dalvegi 4.

  • Amy Clifton July 21, 2010, 8:52 pm

    I like the Thai place that used to be on Vitastígur, and was called Noodle House. Now it is upstairs from the Bónus on Laugavegur and I think it may have changed names. Anyway, it is very good and the price is right. My absolute favorite casual place is Á Næstu Grösum on Klapparstígur. Over the years it has changed hands (starting as One Woman Restaurant more than 10 years ago), but it has always been consistently good vegetarian food in a relaxing atmosphere and at a reasonable price.

  • Karen * July 21, 2010, 8:56 pm

    Tapas Barinn. I love tapas – so many different taste sensations in a single meal. And sangria! How can you go wrong with sangria?

    Icelandic Fish and Chips – great food! A normally grease infested meal in most other countries – fish and chips here are healthy, tasty and uniquely Icelandic. Try the skyronaise.

  • maria July 21, 2010, 8:59 pm

    Á Næstu Grösum, yum! I want to go back to Reykjavík just to be able to taste the lentils lasagna once again 🙂
    I agree about Vegamót. I’d even add Kaffi Paris for a good brunch for instance.
    Then there are the cafes, but that’s not for dinner I guess. Although you can have soup and salads in many places, along with köku of different kinds, that’s enough for me for breakfast, lunch or dinner 🙂

  • Veerle July 21, 2010, 10:00 pm

    Sólon (in the early evening)

  • hildigunnur July 21, 2010, 11:00 pm

    Vegamót is my favourite too, as a matter of fact I just went there yesterday with my older teenager for a nice lunch. I ALWAYS get the Louisiana chicken strips, definitely the best in town.

    Dill (Nordic House) isn’t too expensive if you go for the day special (only been there for lunch) 1800 krónur for an excellent fish dish, get bread and butter on the table included.

    Laugaás is a classic of course, not downtown but really close to the Laugardalslaug swimming pool if tourists are going for a swim.

    Ítalía on Laugavegur for Italian food, huge servings of pasta (doggie bags available).

    Those just off the top of my head – I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

  • hildigunnur July 21, 2010, 11:23 pm

    (yeah and a friend of mine runs Saffran so I’m biased towards that too – he sings in my choir and has made us incredible food…)

  • sylvia hikins July 21, 2010, 11:31 pm

    The roast lamb and the fish of the day dish at the Cafe Paris is affordable and delicious. A great place to people watch, or enjoy the shelf of books, perfect for browsing while you wait for your food. They also serve one mean cafetiere of coffee.
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • brandy July 21, 2010, 11:34 pm

    Á Næstu Grösum. I can’t wait to go back just to eat there again.

  • James July 22, 2010, 12:33 am

    Earlier this year, I had lobster soup starter and whale meat main in a cafe with benches and barrel seats, right by the harbour. Can’t remember the name. It wasn’t exactly “dining”, but it was a nice change from the usual Italian, Indian, Chinese, etc.

  • Charlie July 22, 2010, 12:56 am

    Balkanika on Vitastigur.

  • alda July 22, 2010, 1:15 am

    Thanks for the input, everyone!!

    James – that would be Sægreifinn. The Sea Baron. 🙂

  • Jon July 22, 2010, 3:29 am

    The Sea Baron is great, but the best lobster soup I ever had was at Sjávarbarinn, just across from the maritime museum (Grandagardur 9). Unbelievable.

  • Anne-Marie Bernier July 22, 2010, 3:30 am

    One more vote for Saegreifinn, in the harbour. It is very very casual. Just pick the type of seafood or fish kebab and they bring it to your picnic table, inside or outside. I tried the halibut and scallops, delicious, perfectly cooked. Great lobster soup too. Whale is in the menu too if your conscience allows you.

  • Joerg July 22, 2010, 6:26 am

    Á Næstu Grösum is also one of my favourite choices in Reykjavik. It has actually quite reasonable prices. You order and receive your meal at the counter, so, it doesn’t quite meet the criteria mentioned above.

    Last week I had been to the Indian restaurant Austur Indíafélagið in Hverfisgata (not the take away place further down the road). It was really good, except that their garlic naan was a bit soggy and the kulfi icecream, which is my absolute favourite desert ever, was quite hard frozen and pretty small for its price. But the Tandoori chicken was excellent.

    My impression is that the prices in many restaurants close to the city center hiked up between May and July, even though the króna appreciated against the Euro in this period. I wonder, if they will go down again, when the main tourist season is over.

  • alda July 22, 2010, 10:31 am

    Interesting to see how many people like Á næstu grösum. I used to love it there, but it changed hands and I felt the food deteriorated a fair bit. Meanwhile, its competitor, Grænn kostur, also changed hands, and the food there became really good, so I switched allegiances. 🙂

    That said, Á næstu grösum has one of the best ambiances in town, so I often like to go there is I’m meeting someone and just want a comfortable, quiet place to chat. Food notwithstanding.

    I see the Sea Baron as more of a fast food place. And it’s the same as above — I used to love their lobster soup, but (as I wrote about in a post recently) I had it the other day and thought it was terrible. Maybe because the old guy (the baron) isn’t the one making it any more.

  • Joerg July 22, 2010, 11:52 am

    Did Á næstu grösum change hands long ago or just recently? I was there for the first time in 1996, at which time I seem to remember they had a designated cook on friday evenings, who was preparing meals just in time. But those times have been over for quite a while.

    I use to go there exactly for the reasons mentioned – it is conveniently located and has a pleasant ambiance, if I’m meeting somebody. Particularly nice is also their Christmas buffet.

    But I’ll definitely also try Grænn kostur next time. I suppose, there are more vegetarian restaurants in town – perhaps a subject for a Best of Reykjavik post?

  • alda July 22, 2010, 12:57 pm

    Joerg — it happened a couple of years ago I think. And yes, Best of Vegetarian is on the agenda, although Grif posted a list in the forums a while back:

    http://forums.icelandweatherreport.com/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=77

  • ECS July 22, 2010, 3:11 pm

    totally agree with Hildigunnur about the Louisiana Chicken Strips at Vegamót, and with Alda about the disappointment of the Sea Baron lobster soup.

    Another place I like is Balkanika. It’s just off Laugavegur going up the hill towards Hallgrímskirkja. I can’t remember what street but they always have a sign on Laugavegur.

    it’s Bulgarian food in a cute spot that doesn’t look Icelandic (in these days of kreppa we have to get travel experiences wherever possible!) and the service has always been very attentive. Plus, they have books about Bulgaria to read and play chinzy Bulgarian music for that special atmosphere. I think I’ve always gotten the grill plate but friends I’ve gone with have ordered all kinds of things off the menu and enjoyed their meals.

  • SOe July 22, 2010, 6:21 pm

    I am a huge fan of Hornið.

  • hildigunnur July 23, 2010, 12:22 am

    Balkanika’s on Vitastígur iirc. And I did forget – some more Italian places, Rossopomodoro on Laugavegur makes some nice thin crust pizzas and Eldsmiðjan (Bragagata and Laugavegur) as well.

  • June Austin July 23, 2010, 11:48 am

    Á Næstu Grösum for me too – as someone who is not only vegetarian, but also gluten free, it’s about the only place I can go anyway, not that I am complaining. As others have said, its central, reasonably priced and offers the most delicious food and ambience. What more do you need ?

  • Thorunn Sleight July 23, 2010, 2:50 pm

    No one has mentioned Kryddlegin Hjörtu in Skúlagata. They close at 9 in the evening, but they provide a lovely range of soups, salads and breads, and their fish dishes are really good too. And best of all, they charge very reasonable prices! Not much of a wine list, but they’ve chosen what they have well… As can be seen from the name, they emphasize herbs and spices. They are largely vegetarian.

  • David August 17, 2010, 9:17 pm

    I also like Kryddlegin Hjörtu in 17 Skúlagata. Lovely view on a Tuesday night when the sailing club is out in the harbor – all those billowing blue, red and other assorted color masts against Mt. Esja on a beautiful day is fantastic. The food is great all by itself though.