The Best of Reykjavik Dinning

Did you know Iceland was under prohibition until 1989? Maybe all that time sober is what allowed the chefs in Iceland to master their craft. At first we thought we got lucky when our first meal was insanely good, but every place we went, from cafe’s to grills, put a smile on our bellies.

Our first dinner was a 9-course tasting meal at Grill Market (Grillmarketdurrin). Maybe it was the modern ambiance, or seeing the sun shine past 11PM, or the wonderful aromas we caught from sitting next to the kitchen, but whatever it was, it was one of the best meals we’ve ever had. (Checkout what we ate in the video below).

We were warned that Iceland was “cheap to get to, but expensive to stay”. So we weren’t surprised that the meal above set us back $116USD per person. That being said, the price included all tax and tip, and the quality, freshness, and size of our dishes were top notch. Factoring in the $1USD to $101ISK conversion, and the “all in” price tag, the menu price for that meal in San Francisco would have been $89. Not cheap, but an amazing deal for what we got.

Not every meal could be rationalized as “worth it”. While touring the Golden Circle we grabbed some food at a gas station quicky-mart. Our two small sandwiches and two small coffees came out to about $24USD, and a gallon of gas was about $7.50USD. So yes, you will feel the pinch of the higher price tags on the everyday stuff. Nevertheless, when it comes to dinning-out, we still think you come out ahead from the overall experience. Which is likely why Iceland still sees tourists come in droves.

Take our next meal at Messin for example. The “Pan Fish” was fresh, delicious, prepared quickly, and was plentiful in portion. A combination that would be hard to come by in the U.S. where the “menu price” would be about $30.  Again, you pay a premium on crap food and gas, but you win big when you consider the quality of food you get when dinning out.

After a couple days in Iceland it was time to clean some clothes. Conveniently, we read about a cafe down the street from our apartment that offered a laundromat in the basement called The Laundromat Cafe. Since we had laundry, and we were hungry, we took advantage of the combo. We were glad we did! I had the smoked trout with cream cheese on rye. Yum! Even the Chai tea I ordered was one of the better ones I’ve had.

With our clothes freshly cleaned and our whistles in need of wetting, we hopped on over to The Lebowski Bar. Yes, a bar in Iceland is dedicated to the movie The Big Lebowski and offers up 21 different varieties of White Russians. Those that know me know that (A) I’m a fan of the movie and (B) my drink of choice these last few months have been White Russians.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say these were the best drinks in the world, but they were good and it was fun to try a few versions of the after-dinner cocktail (about $20-$30 a pop).  The scene was fun and carried a big crowd, all enjoying the 80s music that you could hear from across the street.

The next morning we hopped over to the Bonus grocery store and got a pint of Skyr, Iceland’s traditional breakfast food. It’s basically a very thick yogurt, and goes great with berries. Although tasty, I wouldn’t say it is as unique as it is made out to be. Imagine a thick greek yogurt with a slightly more sour taste.

For our final restaurant we wanted to taste some Icelandic home cooked, traditional, comfort food. For that we found Salka & Valka (Fish and More). There we ordered the fish soup and traditional fish stew made with mashed potatoes, white fish and green onions. The dish was soft, creamy, and very comforting;  just what we were looking for!

We were on such a roll with food, that when the sign on the table said “You must try our rhubarb pie” we couldn’t resist. Sadly, the dry, underwhelming dessert was the only fail of the week. Don’t worry Iceland, we still love you!

New Zealand: An American’s Notes

We took a driving tour through North New Zealand where we had fun visiting waterfalls, villages, hot springs and seeing the magnificent countryside we’ve always heard about. We met some great people and tried some new foods and drinks along the way. Here are some of the smaller notes we made while there.


Tipping and the real cost of eating out

There is no tipping which  can really throw you off with understanding what is expensive or not in the country. For example, you may find that you can get two burgers (2X$10) and beers (2X$5) for a total of $30 NZD. That sounds pretty pricey at first,  but it includes taxes AND tip.

In the U.S. before tax and tip you’d be looking at roughly $21.84 ($30-%20-%9.) Then, you have to consider the exchange rate on top of that which is currently $1.3USD=$1NZD. So the true U.S. equivalent would be a $15-$16 meal for two with alcohol before taxes and tip. Not bad at all.

Paying at the counter

This threw us off at first, and even though you are reading this it will throw you off too. When you’re done with your meal you must get up and go to the host, tell them where you sat, and pay your bill there. It’s easy to get comfortable relaxing after your meal and forgetting there is one more bit of effort expected of you before you can leave. A friend told me they see this in most countries, out of the 10+ countries we have visited so far only Australia and NZ worked this way.

Ordering all at once

When you are in NZ the idea of ordering drinks, then apps, then the meal (with time breaks in between,) is lost on many waiters. They expect you to consolidate your whole meal upfront and give your final order all at once. We had a few awkward moments where they were waiting for us to keep ordering and us waiting for them to leave.

Signature or Pin

I know much of the world has moved onto the chip and pin for credit cards but New Zealand had the hardest time understanding what do with my pinless card. It really confused them. Most countries have just run the card and handed me a pen to sign the receipt. I know it wasn’t a language issue, since we speak the same language. I visited many countries so far and the pinless card (even though it had a chip) confused NZ/AUS the most.

Lost In Translation

Between all the above customs our first few days in NZ felt a bit awkward at the restaurants. There were a couple times we clearly ordered one (with the one finger gesture) coffee for Jackie and we would still get two. Weird. Is it our accent???


Grilled cheese sandwiches are lovingly called “Toasties.”

Kiwi’s offer a lot of lamb, avocado,calamari, steak , and fish & chips in their menus.

McDonalds in Aukland
McDonalds in Aukland

We noticed that fast food joints like McDonalds or KFC were a bit more up-scale and modern looking, compared to our fast food teenage run shacks. I personally think the chicken at KFC was better – Jackie didn’t care for it. (I would agree that the biscuits and the mashed potatoes were sub-par).  There was far more variety at the McDonalds stops with a larger McCafe selection and tasty salads and lamb wraps.



We also thought the burgers in New Zealand were pretty bad. To each his own. I’m sure they say the same about us. BUT for other Americans out there, I’d try something else on the menu. The bread is crumbly and the meat is –  bits of chewiness. We tried burgers at local fast food joints as well as restaurants and they all had the same textures and flavours.I think it is the local preference. We did quite like the sides though. The Sweet Potato fries and Pumpkin Balls were great.  Also, the ribs were a bit off for me.

hqdefaultSavory Pie

Every country has a local favorite that gets replicated in every store, from 7-11 to, McDonalds, to a full blown restaurant. (In Japan for instance they had sushi at 7-11.) In New Zealand it was meat pies. We had a few, at the best and not so best places. I didn’t find a huge difference between the best and worst. It is basically a gravy rich chicken pot pie you ate with your hands. Meh.


The kiwis seem to prefer sparkling water so check the label. Yes every country has options for either but New Zealand leaned to sparkle.

Alcohol and Beers


We have ginger beer in the states but they are non-alcoholic. Ginger Beer in NZ and AU were mixed with vodka, others Rum etc. They were our favorite drinks. We couldn’t get enough.

The liquor store carried tons of premixed beverages. Almost every standard mixed 0002852_johnnie_walker_red_cola_375ml_cansdrink came pre-mixed and canned.  (eg. Johnnie Walker and Code, Rum and Coke)

If you like ciders than NZ and AU are great spots for you. They have a plethora of cider selections eg peach, pear, apple – you name it.

If you like India Pale Ale you are out of luck. Jackie loves the stuff and most Kiwi and Aussies had no idea what we were talking about when we asked for the stuff.

Street Talk

A few times we asked for directions. The person would tell us “it is a minute up the road.” It turned out to be 5 steps away. A minute was what we would call “a sec.”


In the U.S. our salutations usually go, “How you doin?” or “How’s it going?” In New Zealand it is merged into “How you going?” The U.S. response to “Thanks” is either “All good” or “No problem”, “you’re welcome” or even “no worries.” In New Zealand we often got “that’s alright” or “that’s ok.”


It may say “yield to pedestrians” but no car yields for pedestrians. We would almost get run over on designated crosswalks and plenty of distance for the car to slow down and stop. We would get edged off the cross walk. Rude drivers overall I’d say across the country.

Public Holidays

The rules for stores and restaurants vary greatly on public holidays. Some areas are shut down, some are not. We were around for easter and many spots (if open) had rules that a customer couldn’t drink without ordering food. The amount of food required varied greatly as well. Some places demanded multiple meals, others just allowed an appetizer. 

Supposedly, from what we heard, drinking rules are strict – they post measurements of how to rate the intoxication level of customers (eg. by talkativeness, slurring, and posture) on the bars. 

Internet Scarcity

Don’t get me started on this. It was hard as hell to get internet in New Zealand and Australia. If we got it it was limited, if it wasn’t capped it was slow as molasses. Upload and download speeds were faaaaar below 1Mb/s. Hotels would often give us a 50 MB vouchers that we could use for free while there. Gee thanks. :-/


When you turn on the telly you might be surprised with some of the sports you see. I don’t think snooker or rugby would surprise anyone, but there is one game called Netball where people run around with a version of a basketball (without dribbling) and shoot a into a hoop without a backboard from a few feet away.


Other micro notes

We noticed the Kiwis were pretty chill about rules. A few cents here or there were no problem. If something was misunderstood about an agreement or rule the business didn’t put up a fuss. 


Get a camper or suv if you can swing it. The higher view over fences as you drive would have been worth it for us.

We heard that all emergency care is completely covered by the government whether you are a resident or foreigner. So, that’s nice 🙂


I know this is a small thing, but I started to notice that all the lights were set as down being on and up being off. Subtle, but noticeably different.