The Evolution of Reykjavik Vegetarian Restaurants

When meat eaters think of vegetarian restaurants, they often think of twigs, berries, and tofu, but that old and archaic way of thinking is dead wrong.  Reykjavik, Iceland, is home to an abundance of some of the strangest carnivore delicacies I’ve ever seen, such as Hákarl (fermented shark), puffin, whale, horse, and so on.  But did you know that they are also home to a wide and ever evolving variety of non-meat based restaurants? In fact, Reykjavik has more vegetarian and vegan restaurants than what I can find at home in Boston.  Before you start getting all crazy with me, I don’t consider Chipotle to be a vegetarian restaurant so simmer down.  While there are great vegan, vegetarian and raw restaurants like Gló in Reykjavik, here are a few examples of this new evolution of Reykjavik vegetarian restaurants.

Reykjavik Chips: Thank God for Icelandic musicians.  Why? Well, other than the obvious great music (I’m talking Retro Stefson, Mugison, Sin Fang, and of course, Björk and Of Monsters and Men), they can offer us something more, something different. Who knew they would also give us Belgian style chips (French fries for Americans) in Reykjavik? Musicians Friðrik Dór Jónsson and Ólafur Arnalds along with actor Arnar Dan Kristjánsson and gourmet Hermann Óli Davíðsson opened Reykjavik Chips on June 17, 2015.  Their menu is simple as they serve only Belgian style chips with sauces and drinks like water, soda, and of course, beer. After you’ve visited Reykjavik Chips once, you’ll realize you don’t really need anything else.

While you won’t find a perfectly balanced meal or any nutritional value here, who cares?  This is the kind of place where you go after you’ve had a few drinks or if you’re out and about and just want to nosh on something hot and salty.  It’s so simple to order, too.  Choose a size and your sauce and that’s it.  Sauces include:

Samurai: Chili Mayo Sauce
Kokteil: Coctail Sauce
Mæjó: Mayo
Andalúsia: Sweet Mustard Sauce
Tómató: Ketchup
Buffy: Garlic Sauce
Harakiri: Chili Mayo Sauce (not sure which is hotter – Samurai or Harakiri)
Hannibal: Pickle Sauce
Satay Vegan Sósa: Satay Vegan Sauce
Graslaukssósa: Chives Sauce

We originally went in because the sign outside said “Cashew Vegan Sauce” but inside “cashew” was blacked out so it only read “vegan sauce.”  I ordered it, but thought it could be just about anything, including ketchup and quickly decided to switch to something different.

I ended up ordering a small with Samurai (chili mayo sauce) and Mr. TSG ordered a small with Hannibal (pickle sauce).  I think he did that because he knew I would never want any of his chips with pickle sauce on it.  Such a guy move.

The Samurai sauce was hot and spicy and perfect on the crispy, fresh chips while the Hannibal sauce was chock full of pickle goodness according to the man who consumed the entire cone.  I loved the little cutouts in the table to hold your cone of chips as well as the bags of potatoes propped up in the corner.  Service is fast, the price is more than reasonable (Small is 750 kr. [$5.68 USD], large is 1.050 kr. [$7.95 USD], and the family meal is 1.350 kr. [$10.23 USD), and while not exactly a meal, it was something completely unexpected, fun, and delicious in Reykjavik.  Nothing is better than being able to freely choose off the menu without worry.  I also felt like I was sitting in and experiencing perhaps the advent of a new wave of vegetarian restaurants soon to come to Reykjavik, which is exciting.

Reykjavik Chips
Address: Vitastígur 10 101, Reykjavik
Hours: Tue-Sun 11:30am-11:00pm

Cafe Gardurinn or Garðurinn: Clearly I have been calling this restaurant by the wrong name.  I previously called it Cafe Gardurinn, but its correct name is Cafe Gardurinn (Ecstasy’s Heart Garden). Now that we’ve cleared that up, you have got to check this place out.  Behind the cold, gray exterior of the building is a tiny café with what I believe holds the world’s best soup ever.  On a previous trip to Iceland, I reluctantly ordered the rutabaga soup, because I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of rutabaga and was being kind of a baby about it, but they completely changed my mind about that vegetable after I took my first spoonful of soup.

Last week we stumbled back upon Cafe Garðurinn as we were looking for coffee and remembered how good that soup was.  Nothing had changed and that was a good thing.  Don’t expect a full menu as they make one entrée and one soup.  When it’s out, it’s out and you won’t be able to order anything different.  Well, you could always order dessert so definitely make room for some delicious cakes or “snickers.”  Everyone, including me, raves about the carrot cake so don’t pass up on your chance to try a piece.

I ordered the Portuguese Cabbage Soup with hummus and bread and fully expected it to not live up to the hype I had given the rutabaga soup.  But it ended up being so incredibly good.  If they ever decide to sell a cookbook of their recipes, I’d be first in line to buy it.  How did they turn that lowly cabbage into a decadent, rich, perfectly seasoned, and luscious soup? Who knows, but damn — was it good!

There’s no way you can go wrong with either the entree or the soup, but if you’re a vegetarian and visiting Reykjavik, you’d be silly to pass up a visit to Gardurinn.   This is a place where you go to chat (no WiFi here) and reflect upon how good vegetables and vegetarianism truly are.  Even if you bring a meat eater with you, the food is delicious and will turn any vegetable hater into a vegetable lover.  Simple is best and by offering a limited, but delicious menu, Gardurinn knows how to attract everyone inside and not just vegetarians.  Maybe this is the way more vegetarian restaurants need to position themselves for success, both here and abroad.

Ecstasy’s Heart-Garden
Vegetarian & Vegan Restaurant Reykjavik
Address: Klapparstigur 37 101 Reykjavik Iceland
Tel.: +354 56 12345

Open Mon./Fri. 11am – 6:30pm
except Wednesdays 11am – 5pm
Open Saturdays 12am – 5pm
Closed Sundays

Whether you choose a chip shop or a cafe or visit a standard restaurant with vegetarian options, Reykjavik is sure to surprise you with its many options.  Here are a few more examples:

  • The Laundromat Cafe offers a vegetarian breakfast, veggie burger, and a Latin Avocado Sandwich.
  • Núðluskálin’s entire menu can be made vegan with vegan broth and best of all, it’s super affordable.
  • Eldur og Is  offers vegan crepes and who can pass on that?

If you fancy yourself an adventurer, I highly recommend that you take a trip to Iceland to experience the evolution of Reykjavik vegetarian restaurants for yourself.

Are you a vegetarian? Have you ever gone to a vegetarian restaurant in Reykjavik or while traveling abroad?

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8 thoughts on “The Evolution of Reykjavik Vegetarian Restaurants

    1. Samiya I’m always looking for good eats when I’m traveling and was so surprised at the great vegetarian food that is out there. Excited to be part of #TheWeeklyPostcard, too.

  1. Don’t you love it when you say you eat “fermented shark” and in fact you eat some sort of veggies? I love vegetarian food, although I’m not a vegetarian. It’s only that it is a lot of time consuming to prepare it.

    1. Oh yeah – so not eating fermented shark! LOL! I guess I’ve been eating this way for so long that I don’t see it as extra prep time. One way to cut down on the time is to say, cut an entire onion up and put away half for another meal. I do that with lots of my veggies so I always have food ready to make. I recently made a butternut squash mac and cheese that was 100 times better than traditional mac and cheese, but with veggies. 🙂

  2. Fermented shark? Ew, I’m out. I had expected that Iceland’s island locale would mean that seafood is king, and I don’t eat anything from the ocean except for fish with fins and scales. You’ve really inspired me with your list of vegetarian restaurants, happy to read this post! Now I don’t need to worry so much about eating while in Iceland, which is seriously a relief.

    Thanks for linking up with us on #TheWeeklyPostcard.
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    1. Yeah – I’m not big on that, but that’s because I don’t eat meat. But they do have some great alternatives to the weird stuff. You should definitely check it out.

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