When four of my closest friends all announced they were leaving Amsterdam and moving to Stockholm in January 2021, I was pretty devastated. After a year of lockdowns, my friendship circle had already diminished, and this was a major blow. Fortunately, however, there’s been an equally major upside: free accommodation in one of the most expensive cities in Europe! So far I’ve spent around three weeks in Stockholm, catching up with friends and (of course) going out to eat and drink. Yes, the booze is pricey – there’s no getting away from it. But the food is not all that much more expensive than Amsterdam, and overall the quality is extremely good. Plus, the high level of English and the excellent public transport system – including a network of ferries that hop between islands – make the city easy to navigate. There’s no denying it: Stockholm has all the ingredients for a dissertation-length foodie guide…
Top Restaurants and Cafés in Gamla Stan, Norrmalm and Östermalm
Gamla Stan is Stockholm’s old town – a tiny island right in the middle of the city. To the south is Södermalm (covered in the section below) and to the north are the neighbourhoods of Norrmalm and Östermalm. You’ll find that many restaurants have two locations: one on Södermalm and one on Norrmalm/Östermalm.
Fika at Kaffekoppen, Gamla Stan
The most famous Swedish tradition has to be “fika”, which is essentially a convivial coffee break in which to drink coffee (obviously), chat with friends and eat cake. What’s not to like? We took our first fika on the most photographed square in Stockholm: Stortorget in Gamla Stan (the city’s old town). You’ll see it in all the guidebooks, but it’s no less Insta-worthy for being touristy. Café Kaffekoppen is on the western side of the square, and does a delicious line in specialty coffees (the mochaccino came in a bowl topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce) and moreish cakes. We tried the rhubarb one, which was slightly like a crumble but firmer, and came with vanilla custard. Probably best to share if you have dinner plans later!
Ai Ramen has two locations – one on Södermalm and one on Norrmalm – but this time I tried the more northerly of the two. Ai Ramen Klara has a record-store theme to it, as well as a great selection of local beers and natural wines. I tried the Mariestad unfiltered beer on draft and a glass of natural red wine whose details I can no longer remember – both of which were surprisingly good. But it’s the ramen you’re really here for: we were big fans of the spicy miso ramen, which is chicken-based but we added an extra helping of pork belly. I’d advise you to do the same as it’s absolute, melt-in-the-mouth perfection. Oh, and don’t forget to order a side of kimchi.
Restaurant TAK is housed on the 13th and 14th floors of the Brunkebergstorg, a modern tower near Stockholm’s central station. The main dining room is elegantly designed with gleaming brass fixtures, white panels and stunning views over the city. Upstairs, the outdoor roof terrace comes alive in summer – attracting both visitors and professionals working in the area. The culinary mind behind TAK’s operation is Frida Ronge – a Swedish chef who also has experience in sushi and teppanyaki. And this shows in her menu: think pea guacamole with wonton crisps to start, followed by salmon bowls with kimchi, rice and roasted seasonal veg.
With its old-school American diner interior and music, Flippin’ Burgers is as much about the atmosphere as it is about the burgers. But it’s fitting into the trend of catering to vegans and vegetarians, too: all but one of the burgers are available not only with beef patties but also with Beyond Meat patties. Flippin’ Burgers’ meat comes from small-scale local slaughterhouses, Skärgårdskött and Gröna Gårdar, ensuring that the beef is as ethically produced as possible. Bread comes from Magnus Johansson Bakery in Hammarby Sjöstad, while drinks come from small, Stockholm-based suppliers as well. I loved the “Cricket” burger topped with cream cheese, jalapenos and caramelised onions.
As you can tell from the list below, I spent much of my time in central Stockholm in the Södermalm neighbourhood. It has an unmistakeable hipster vibe but, in that very Swedish way, it’s also not trying too hard. In between dining stops, there are some great shops to browse – from English bookstores to record shops to clothing and homeware boutiques – and a couple of leafy parks to wander around. So without further beating around the lingonberry bush, here’s what to eat and where to eat it in Södermalm…
Meatballs at Meatballs for the People
Clearly you can’t go to Sweden without gobbling down your fair share of Swedish meatballs. They crop up on many menus around town, but where better to sample a few different varieties than the aptly named Meatballs for the People? I tried the “all in” chef’s choice, which is made up of two meatballs of four different varieties (i.e. eight meatballs in total) plus silky potato purée, creamy veal gravy and tart preserved lingonberries. My favourites were the moose meatballs, closely followed by the pork, but all were excellent. The service was fantastic, too.
High on any local foodie’s list is Agrikultur, which is actually in the northern end of Vasastan. It was also fully booked by the time we got our act together, so we visited their sister restaurant – Bar Agrikultur – on Södermalm instead. It’s a small venue with packed-in tables (but a large terrace if you’re nervous about that) and a compact menu of local, seasonal sharing plates. We started with some high-quality charcuterie: think mortadella, coppa and pork rinds. We then moved onto the warm dishes, my favourite of which was courgette with peas, mint and ricotta, garnished with the most deliciously crunchy, garlicky breadcrumbs. The wine selection was also lovely.
Moving away from the typically Swedish, one of the best discoveries we made was Indio Kitchen – serving up a winning fusion of Peruvian and Japanese flavours. I’m a sucker for a chef’s menu (Get to try everything? No decisions needed? Sign me up!) and since it was our wedding anniversary, we decided to indulge in the “grande” version of the omakase menu. After some lightly spiced miso soup and edamame beans, dinner kicked off with zingy ceviche, umami-tastic tiradito, and decadent lobster rolls. Next came several rounds of sushi, each more elaborate and luxurious than the last. We ordered plenty of booze too, which meant the evening was pretty pricey, but it was definitely worth the price tag. A hidden gem in SoFo.
Just down the road, the aptly named Bird is all about poultry. Chicken comes as wings (either buffalo-style or Sichuan-style), classic buttermilk fried chicken with dill-heavy ranch dressing and hot honey, bang-bang chicken wontons that are a veritable party in your mouth, and Middle Eastern-marinated chicken kebab skewers. All were fantastic. The only thing I didn’t rate was the glass of Cava I drank with dinner, but perhaps it was just one dodgy bottle. While we ate at Bird Söder, there’s also a Bird City in Norrmalm (although I can’t vouch for the kitchen there).
PS Matsal is a combination of wine bar, dining room, greenhouse, event space, cookery classes and photography/film studio. Housed in a spacious, high-ceilinged, airy building in Södermalm, PS Matsal is owned and run by culinary duo Per and Sofia, after whom the restaurant is named. The curated wine list ranges from a light Riesling to a Washington Cabernet Sauvignon whose name – “Wines of Substance” – says it all. PS Matsal’s excellent dinner menu includes roasted cherry tomatoes with yoghurt, hispi cabbage with harissa, and pan-fried fish with a tart sauce of peas and capers – all of which come on sharing plates.
Mahalo’s motto is “Vegan is the new black”, which pretty much sums up the concept of this popular lunch and brunch spot. The interior is colourful and fun, with the creative lighting giving the whole place a soft pink glow. The menu is predominantly bowl food – from acai smoothie bowls to savoury falafel bowls. But there are also breakfast staples like American pancakes and baked oats, as well as plant-based burgers and fries.
Housed in the Söderhallarna shopping centre, Mama Rukia’s is a Swahili street food concept that brings a taste of Mombasa to Stockholm. A proudly black-owned business, the team serve up a different lunch special each day of the week, plus staples like samosas and crispy fried potatoes with tamarind sauce. The day I visited, the special was a spicy, warming beef stew – perfect for the rainy weather outside.
The Swedes like to go out for bubbles… And if you’re ordering a glass, you might as well split a bottle… And if you’re ordering a bottle, you might as well do it on a view-sweeping roof terrace overlooking the iconic black roofs and spice-coloured architecture of the city centre. That’s what you’ll find at the Champagne Bar on the seventh floor of the Södra Teatern at the northern end of Södermalm. Somehow I manage to justify these things to myself – I’m sure you can find a way…
If you can’t get enough of the views over Stockholm (and that’s understandable), an impressive spot for a cocktail with a view is Himlen. From the outside, this Grill & Cocktail Bar looks to be in a rather ugly tower block. But once up on the 26th floor, over 100 metres above the hustle and bustle of the main street below, it all makes sense. The cocktails are creative, and the food is decent though not outstanding. A good location to impress a date (or your boss).
During my visits to Stockholm, I wasn’t actually based on one of the central islands – I was staying with friends on Lidingö, east of the city in the suburbs. It’s an affluent island with a large nature reserve in the centre, replete with plenty of forest for wooded walks and a lake for swimming. It’s well connected to central Stockholm by public transport, and is a good jumping off point for the islands of the archipelago from Gåshaga Brygga at the eastern tip. We were also fortunate to eat some fantastic food there.
Smoked brisket and pulled pork at Långängens Gård, Lidingö
Deep in the nature reserve I mentioned above, you’ll stumble across Långängens Gård – a farmhouse serving arguably some of the best BBQ I’ve ever eaten. Having tried everything from Texan brisket to Tennessee ribs, no one was more surprised than I was. The place itself is full of cosy character, with low-slung wooden ceilings and a stunningly ornate fireplace. But it’s the smoked brisket and pulled pork that are the real stars of the show. Meltingly tender with an enviable smoke ring, they come with all kinds of fantastically crafted sides as well: coleslaw, roasted onions, beans, cornbread… the list goes on. Långängens Gård is only open at lunchtimes Wednesday through Sunday, so treat it as a pitstop during a walk rather than a dinner destination.
On the other side of the same lake, you’ll find a similarly atmospheric café in the woods with picnic tables and umbrellas down by the water. Vattenverket bakes their own pastries (try the cardamon bun!) and serves an excellent line in salads, sandwiches, pastries and coffees. It gets busy on weekends, but the venue is large (inside as well as out) so you should have no problem finding a table. Again, Vattenverket is an ideal spot to refuel before or after a walk or an invigorating swim.
Strolling along the waterfront of Delanum, you get the impression that this is where all the rich Swedes and expats must be living… Luckily for us, we could pretend to be just such rich Swedes for a couple of hours at waterfront pizza restaurant 450 Gradi. My top tip here is to order the rosé prosecco: despite being one of the cheapest wines on the menu, the quality is amazingly high. From there, peruse the list of pizzas and try not to be too purist about it. I’ve no doubt the average Italian would have a heart attack if you put prawns, lemon, garlic and parsley on their pizza. But I say: don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. We also ordered the spicy Höst pizza, because we’re addicted to all things chilli, and it was equally good. My only criticism is that perhaps 450 degrees is not quite hot enough – the dough was a little flabby underneath. But I can forgive that for the fabulous flavours, pretty-in-pink prosecco and slick service.
In the centre of Brevik is family-friendly restaurant Quarti. Each day, they have a different special (I’ve heard good things about Schnitzel Sunday!) but there are some delicious dishes on the a la carte menu too. The starters we tried – cheesy garlic bread with romesco sauce (great for kids), fish eggs and cream cheese on toast, and a charcuterie board – were all excellent. But the best dish for me was the Iberico pork main: smoky and perfectly cooked from the grill, served with jalapeno cream, grilled lettuce and pickled cabbage. A triumph of flavours. The interior of Quarti is a little dated, but the friendly atmosphere more than makes up for it.
On one of our ferry trips from Lidingö, en route to the islands of the archipelago (more on that below) we stopped at the ferry terminal on Nacka Strand. With an hour and a half to kill before our connecting ferry (we screwed up the planning slightly), we spontaneously decided to eat lunch at Restaurant J. It turned out to be a happy accident. The day was warm, so a pitcher of sangria seemed like a good way to take the edge off our scheduling problems. And my salmon bowl involving edamame beans, pickled cabbage, steamed barley and mango dressing – not to mention the ultra-fresh marinated fish itself – was exactly the light lunch I needed. All tables have views over the water, and both kids and pets are well looked after, making it a good option for a family day out.
Where to Eat in Stockholm’s Archipelago: Vaxholm and Fjäderholmarna Islands
From Stockholm, there’s a whole archipelago to discover – and your best bet is just to hop on one of the hundreds of commuter ferries leaving from central Stockholm or (in our case) Lidingö. We never quite could get the hang of the timetables and ferry numbers (google didn’t seem to agree with the timetable, which didn’t seem to agree with the number of the ferry that actually turned up). But so long as you’re not on a tight schedule, I’d suggest just showing up at the ferry terminal and making sure to check your destination as you get on board. During our stay, we made it to Vaxholm and Fjäderholmarna, which are arguably the most accessible islands, but there are dozens more to explore.
Local Swedish specialities at Vaxholms Hembygdsgårds Café, Vaxholm
If you’re on an island as picturesque as Vaxholm, you’re going to want to be sitting outside overlooking the water. Vaxholms Hembygdsgårds Café is the epitome of relaxed waterside dining, and those with a sweet tooth will be particularly impressed by the mountain of desserts arranged on a huge buffet table inside. Even if you prefer your lunch to be savoury, you won’t be disappointed: the smoked shrimp are ultra fresh and come with spiky aioli and chewy sourdough toast (in a good way). One of the specials the day we visited was a Swedish sausage – which tasted a bit like haggis but with dill – served with new potatoes, beetroot and capers in a creamy dill sauce. You can’t get more local than that.
If you’ve not already filled up on desserts at Vaxholms Hembygdsgårds Café, it’s also worth stopping for ice cream at Glass på Hörnet, right by the ferry terminal. The queues out the door speak to the quality of the gelato: my hazelnut and blueberry varieties were exquisite. If you can’t get a table outside, take a stroll along the dock and watch the boats coming and going.
Tiny but very close to central Stockholm (a 30-minute ferry ride) is the island of Fjäderholmarna. I’m not going to pretend that it’s undiscovered by tourists, but don’t let that detract from the stunning views, rocky beaches and quaint little shops and cafés. I’ll be honest and say that I only had a drink at Röda Villan – literally translating as the red villa – with its relaxed seating area sprawling over the rocky cliffs leading down to the sea. But I have it on good authority from a few different locals that the Hugo cocktails and shrimp salad are the best on the island.