One year ago this month, McDonald's went out of business. Well, the franchise in Reykjavík did at least. Citing rising costs, the global restaurant giant pulled out of Iceland, leaving hungry residents without a place to go to satisfy their hamburger cravings. Or did they? In fact, as I discovered during my visit to the capital earlier this year, several other burger joints still lie scattered around the city, offering filling, affordable creations to rival the sandwiches sold by one of the world's biggest brands. Over the course of five days in Reykjavík, I tried three different spots and have ranked them here in my preferred order, from third to first.
This place was recommended to me by a graduate student I met during my stay and it looked very much like an upscale fast food restaurant you might find in the States: dim lighting, real silverware, wood tables at the booths, and large framed photos of musicians such as Eminem, Jim Morrison, Alanis, and Justin Timberlake. Overall, I was struck by its similarity to the Hard Rock Cafe chain. Most of the other patrons appeared to be in their teens and twenties.
The hamburger I got was large and fairly juicy, but the flavor of the beef was lost under a heap of pickles, shredded lettuce, red pepper, raw onion, and a house sauce that tasted like a blend of ketchup and mayonnaise. Although I appreciated the sesame seed bun, the fries the accompanied my order were somewhat limp, lukewarm, and essentially unseasoned. In the end my bill came to 1,415 ISK—about $12.72 at the current exchange rate.
I sought out Hamborgarbúllan soon after arriving in the capital, having learned of the waterside establishment from a piece in the Washington Post and another published by Serious Eats in 2009. Unable to resist the bacon burger, I added a coffee shake to my order and grabbed one of the three small tables placed around the restaurant. Natural light and several strings of Christmas bulbs lit the room, and rumbling truck engines and the occasional car horn interrupted the jazz playing over the ceiling-mounted speakers.
Compared to those I'm accustomed to eating in New York, my burger was on the thin side again, but it was char-grilled and enhanced with fatty strips of chewy bacon. A little lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a splash of tangy Heinz chili sauce made it a meal while the thick shake found the perfect balance between bitter coffee and creamy sweetness. The price I paid for a view of the harbor and a savory patty of meat? Roughly $14.11, or 1,570 Iceland Kronur.
My pick for the best burger in town. And at 1,500 ISK ($13.49) for thick-cut fries, an ample burger cooked medium-rare and topped with tomato, raw onion, blue cheese, and garlic sauce, along with what the bartender told me was "the only dark beer we have," it was probably the best deal, too. Messier than the other sandwiches, the Forget-Me-Not burger and the bar that serves it might just be the ideal remedy for the Arctic chill of Iceland's winter. Try it with a bottle of the molasses-thick Islenskur Urvals Stout (5.8% ABV).