Snapshots from Iceland: Burgers and Shakes from Hamborgarabúllan in Reykjavik

I visited Iceland from April 18 to 24. Although this sparsely populated country may not be known for its cuisine, there was plenty of interesting food to report on. I've been sharing it via these Snapshots from Iceland.


Burgers aren't what you think of eating when you go to Iceland, but when you're a part of AHT, burgers are always on the brain. During my recent vacation to Iceland, I made it a point to visit Hamborgarabúllan, an easy choice because it was pretty much the only place that came up when I searched for where to get a burger in Iceland. (There are other restaurants in Reykyavik that serve burgers, but they're not as burger-centric.) My choice was reinforced by reading this interview with proprietor Tommi Tómasson, who started making burgers in Iceland in the 1980s and, with four locations of Hamborgarabúllan under his belt, shows no sign of stopping.


Opened since April 2004, the original location of Hamborgarabúllan on Geirsgata is a small burger joint with a comfortable, homey feel—from the handwritten sign outside to the interior adorned with Christmas lights and a mish mash of signs handwritten notes of burger love. You could forget that you're in Iceland until you look out the window and see a quiet harbor with mountains in the distance.


I went with a double burger (890 ISK), strawberry shake (550 ISK), and small fries (300 ISK). Before my trip a friend warned me that food was expensive in Iceland, but due to the economic collapse (unfortunately, probably the only reason I could afford to go to Iceland), the prices were perfectly reasonable. As of this writing, 890 ISK is about $7, 550 ISK about $4.30, and 300 ISK about $2.40.


The double burger comes with two 80/20 beef patties for a total of about five ounces, topped with lettuce, tomato, American cheddar cheese, chopped onions, Heinz ketchup, Dijon mustard, and mayonnaise. The buns are the standard soft, squishy, white burger buns. For a little extra, you can get bearnaise sauce or cocktail sauce on the side, primarily for fry-dipping, but Tommi says that customers sometimes replace all the sauces on the burger with their homemade bearnaise.


The first sound I heard when chomping into the burger was a cronch—that was some crispy lettuce leaf. Unfortunately the bun didn't lend any crunch; although warmed on the griddle, its cut side didn't reach crunch level. On the upside, the meat was moist and exhibited a satisfying amount of pink, especially considering the thinness of the patties.


The pinkness is easier to see in my friend's single cheeseburger.

Meat, bun, and salad parts = yay, but sauce = uh oh. Tommi takes a page from his favorite burger joint, Burger Joint in New York City's Le Parker Meridian Hotel, by using ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, but the sauce content was too heavy handed for my tastes. It saturated the bun; what was once perfectly soft and squishy lots its integrity in the face of too much moisture. By the time I reached my last few bites I was shoveling the burger into my mouth with ketchup-slicked fingers so it wouldn't completely fall apart. The great amount sauce in my burger (there seems to be less so in the single) also meant that I tasted less beef, more ketchup—fine if the meat is dry and flavorless, which doesn't seem to be the case here. But "here" is in Iceland, where Tommi says the preference is to use more sauce than we do in the US. I don't think I'll adopt this saucing practice at home, but when in Iceland I can eat as the Icelanders do.


There's a selection of condiments available near the front door in case you want more stuff on your burger. Relish and Tabasco sauce, anyone? Perhaps the way to go is to order a sauce-less burger and add condiments yourself.


The fries and strawberry shake were satisfying in more ways than one. Fries were of the thin, crispy McDonald's-esque sort, and the thick and creamy strawberry shake made of Kjörís ice cream reinforced that Icelandic dairy products are awesome. (Other awesome dairy products I ate during my vacation: skyr and whipped cream.) But aside from taste, I loved that the fries and shake were just large enough to satiate my hunger: a small pouch of fries and a 12-ounce cup of shake goodness. While I know these sizes exist in the US, when eating at a burger joint I tend to run into unmanageable sizes (for example, the "small" fries from Five Guys, or the huge-ass shake from Stand) that knock me into a food coma. (Admittedly, this is because I have almost no self control. You might fare better.)

Aside from the fries and shake, the burger is a good size too. A single would've satisfied me, but I was feeling greedy (or is that "hungry"?) when I went for the double. I finished off all of my food without feeling too bloaty.


My friends and I walked off the burgers (or a minuscule percentage of them) by strolling down the neighboring dock under the late setting Icelandic sun (this photo was taken around 9 p.m.). If only more evenings of burgers could be like that. I'll be sure to do it again when I go back to Reykjavik.


Geirsgata 1, 101 Reykjavik (map)
Open daily, 11:45 a.m. - 9 p.m.
For other locations in Iceland, visit

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