I recently spent a dreamy week in Stockholm, taking in its stately buildings, water-water everywhere, and stylish, genetically smiled–upon population. However, when mealtimes rolled around, I sometimes experienced sticker shock: It's not unusual for main courses at ordinary restaurants to approach $30. Luckily, I found ways around this, from bargain lunch deals to fascinating food halls. Read on to learn how to eat in Stockholm on the cheap.
1. Haunt the food halls
Scattered around the city, Stockholm's food halls feature kiosks selling cheeses, meats, and other produce—a good bet if you're looking to picnic—alongside fast-casual places to eat and even full-on sit-down restaurants. They range from super-traditional, like the famous Östermalms Saluhall, to new and globally on-trend, like K25, near Stockholm Central Station. The latter has burgers, tacos, and Asian options as well as classic Swedish seafood.
I had possibly my best meal of the trip at Kajsas Fisk, inside Hotorgetshallen Market Hall, where a huge bowl of fisksoppa (fish stew swimming with salmon, shrimp, and other seafood) goes for under $12 and includes unlimited salad and bread.
Note that food halls tend to close by 6 or 7 p.m., so are best for lunch or an early dinner.
2. It's all about that lunch
Dagens lunch, that is. That's a phrase you need to recognize on chalkboards and restaurant menus around town, since it refers to the changing daily lunch specials served Monday to Friday. They usually include a choice of several main courses (say poached salmon or meatballs), plus bread, salad, and coffee or tea—sometimes even a glass of beer or wine. Even touristy Gamla Stan, the city's stunning old town, has many restaurants offering dagens lunch deals if you poke around the neighborhood's twisty streets a little.
One charmingly old-school option is Den Gyldene Freden, which on Thursdays offers the traditional Swedish Thursday repast of pea soup and pancakes. At about $16.50 per person, it's not dirt cheap, but it is good value, with soup and freshly baked bread included.
3. Seek out street food
For seafood and street food lovers, the Herring Wagon is not to be missed. Recognizable by its bright-yellow fish-shaped sign, this cart is conveniently located at Slussen, a major transit hub and the area where the Gamla Stan old town and the island of Sodermalm converge. Try the lightly fried herring on toast for less than $5 or splurge on the whole plate, featuring mashed potatoes, lingonberry, and crispbread, for around $8. The city is also going through something of a food truck boom; check out their locations here.
4. Bring on the chef spin-offs
One trend of the past few years is that some of the city's most celebrated chefs and restaurateurs have opened more casual, affordable places to complement their fine-dining outposts. Tasting-menu-only Gastrologik has no-reservations Speceriet next door. If you don't want to splurge on Michelin-starred Mathias Dahlgren's namesake restaurant at the historic Grand Hotel (or if you can't score a reservation), less formal Matbaren, in the same building, offers lower prices and a number of bar seats nightly for walk-ins. And one of the city's most beloved restaurants, the waterside Oaxen, has two options: high-end Oaxen Krog and the more casual Oaxen Slip. None of these spin-offs is super-cheap, but at least you won't blow a week's salary on dinner.
5. Don't forget the grocery store
This is a great option, particularly if the weather is nice enough for picnicking by one of Stockholm's ubiquitous bodies of water. It's not much more expensive than buying groceries at home. Ask at the butcher counter for a half or quarter roast chicken, or pick up some excellent Nordic salmon or tiny pink bay shrimp. Grab some rye bread and an apple, and you've got a simple but tasty lunch.
6. Remember these names:
Herman's for a $15 vegetarian buffet with a funky vibe and water views.
Vigårda for darn good burgers, offered with salad and a side for under $10.
Urban Deli for tasty "lunch boxes" and salads for around $8.50 apiece.
Meatballs for the People for the Swedish meatballs of your dreams, along with sauces and mashed potatoes, packed in handy (and affordable) takeaway containers. (You'll need somewhere to at least heat things up, though.)