I RECENTLY WENT to Copenhagen to do a story on Noma, ranked the #1 restaurant in the world five times and most recently inaugurated into a new category — World’s 50 Best: Best of the Best. Since opening, the restaurant’s dazzling success has transformed the city into a global hub of culinary excellence and innovation. Prior to my arrival, the Noma team, a group of brilliant individuals from across the globe, shared a list with me of their recommendations around the Danish capital, from the finest of dining to their grungy after-work watering holes.
It rained almost the entirety of my week there. As I made my way through its disarmingly quaint neighborhoods, colored romantic by the moody weather, I remember constantly pulling the collar of my damp black overcoat up against the whipping winds — these enormous, bone-rattling winds whose gusts would grow with each nearing step to the waterside. My recollection of the city’s restaurants was thus paired with an overwhelming sense of warmth, little havens returning the blood to my icy fingers and aching ears through soul-warming combinations of salt, fat, and acid.
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The spaces themselves also seemed to hold an animate awareness of their ability to comfort. Far from the first to praise Danish design and the Scandinavian penchant for coziness, I had never actually encountered it before this trip — this implicit understanding of what makes a space feel good. In this way, my meals became not only a tour of cuisine, but the study of a culture rooted in humanism.
I tried quite a few restaurants during my time in Copenhagen, each charming in their own way. This selection features the ones that stayed with me.
This meal is something I’ll never forget. With just an 8-seat sushi counter, this small, quayside space is stunning. Golden light streams through gauzy white-curtained windows, and through a mesmerizing circular light fixture glowing an opulent orange. The custom-carved counter is made of blonde pine and the ceramics are sourced from Japan, lugged back in the suitcases of Chef Mads Battefeld. On the other side of the counter, Battefeld skillfully slices glistening slabs of local fish before your eyes, serving up delicate Edomae-style sushi in seemingly countless courses of exquisite elegance and depth. I highly suggest the sake pairing, which harmonizes beautifully with each course. At one point, somewhere between a fermented jerky-like slice of fish and the umami-rich crunch of a pickled root vegetable, I might have teared up a little with joy. Sandkaj 39, 2150 Copenhagen
Some Noma team members brought me to Chef Lisa Lov’s Tigermom one night, where I had an astonishingly delicious meal. We had the family-style Tigermom feast of seven courses with drink pairings, which ranged from playful cocktails to natural wines to fruity beers. Dishes included a tangy cultured mushroom salad textured with puffed wild rice, a pike ceviche swimming in lime leaf and lemongrass leche de tigre, and a pile of savory Danish mussels with lap cheong, a Chinese-style sausage closer to a salty, dried salami. The spirit of the restaurant is buzzy. We bumped into Noma’s interior artist while there, as well as a diner-turned-friend of Noma’s. It’s a joyful meeting spot to connect and sweat out the week’s stress over the zany chili pairings you can add to your meal — ranging from prickly to full-body heat. Ryesgade 25, 2200 Copenhagen
Set in a spectacularly cavernous warehouse space, Chef Matt Orlando’s Amass treats sustainability like a religion. With a zero-food-waste policy, any leftover ingredients that could be considered “waste” are incorporated into the meal in delightfully innovative ways. Some highlights included a fermented potato bread, chewy and savory, served alongside a leek and sage butter, and a confit pollock bathed in a ramson and chili vinegar hollandaise — each bite of fish flaking off in luscious, salty folds. I also experienced the latest product from their research space during one of the dessert courses: cacao-free chocolate. Acknowledging the notoriously unethical practices of the cacao-farming industry, Amass created a chocolate alternative made from the spent beer grains of small Danish breweries. Decadently rich and round, it had the undeniable snap and melt of the chocolate we know and love — with origins worth celebrating. Refshalevej 153, 1432 Copenhagen
For an elevated take on smørrebrød, the traditional Danish open-face sandwich, check out Selma. The space is exceedingly lovely, with spindle-backed chairs in different colors and walls lined in gorgeous, pastoral wallpaper. It’s a charming spot to get an artfully presented taste of the nutty breads, cured fishes, pickled vegetables, and creamy spreads that are the backbone of traditional Danish cuisine. Rømersgade 20, 1362 Copenhagen
Full disclosure: I didn’t have enough time to make it here, but I really, really wanted to. Another Noma recommendation, it seemed to be the new cool kid on the culinary block during my week in Copenhagen — even outside of the industry scene. My partner, who was with me on this trip to meet with some Danish architecture firms, asked around for local recommendations. This place came up more than once. Led by Chef Jonathan Tam, the Chinese-inspired menu comes to life in what appears to be a minimal, serene space. Stalking their menu online, I delighted in the idea of a mushroom and sambal wonton, blood orange with yogurt and lemon thyme, and an egg tart with poppy seeds and black tea. They’ve also just been added to the Michelin guide, so clearly this place is getting noticed. Rantzausgade 39, 2200 Copenhagen
This beloved pasta and wine bar is a magical place to get a glass of wine and a beautiful yet genuinely unfussy bowl of pasta. A Noma team member took me one evening, and it’s one of my fondest memories of the trip. Run by two Italians — one of whom embraced us with a bear hug and a joyful smile as if long lost family — the place has always been known as a late-night spot for those in the industry. Their clientele and popularity continue to expand, but to no loss of soul. Romantic green glass chandeliers illuminate the faces of diners in a flattering warmth, perfectly paired with the hominess of peeling-paint walls. Store Kongensgade 34, 1264 Copenhagen
Opened in 1737, this super local joint was recommended to me as the spot where Noma staff like to grab a drink after work. It’s an off-the-beaten-path, dim, smoke-filled relic of the past — formerly the watering hole of sailors. Referred to as a “bodega,” this classic Danish pub floods with young creative crowds as well as older, Danish regulars come night. Order a local beer and revel in its unvarnished authenticity. Wildersgade 58, 1408 Copenhagen
Connected to a university library, this coffee shop has a lovely buzz and spirit of studiousness. It’s the perfect place for a grab and go. The coffee is strong and delicious and the pastries are buttery and flaky. Post up by the high counters against their large windows, or sit on the little benches outside when the weather’s nice. Krystalgade 15, 1172 Copenhagen
I rolled into this spot on a rainy day and took immense comfort in the cafe’s cozy space and fresh cuisine. This place wasn’t on the recommendation list I was given, but I just happened to stumble upon it, and I’m glad I did. The decor is funky and quaint, with an old, exposed rafter ceiling and playfully painted pillars that reminded me of something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Patrons curl into couches and chairs in quiet conversation, sharing a pastry or reading a book. There’s a secret little curtained nook, and a phenomenal Mediterranean salad that’s perfect for a light lunch. Krystalgade 6, 1172 Copenhagen
Header image: Photography by Alexander Spatari / Getty Images
Sophie Mancini Writer
Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.