Split-pea soup, sausages, and boiled potatoes are still around, but in the past decade Stockholm has emerged as a citadel of fine dining. Its improved reputation is due partly to the legendary freshness of Swedish game and produce and partly to the success of Sweden's culinary teams at cooking contests throughout the world. Some social pundits claim that Sweden's chefs are now practically as famous as its national hockey-team players.
Food is expensive in Stockholm, but those on a budget can stick to self-service cafeterias. There are an estimated 1,500 restaurants and bars in Stockholm alone, so you'll have plenty of choices. At all restaurants other than cafeterias, a 12% to 15% service charge is added to the bill to cover tipping, and the 21% value-added tax also is included in the bill. Wine and beer can be lethal to your final check, so proceed carefully. For good value, try ordering the dagens ratt (daily special), also referred to as dagens lunch or dagens menu, if available.
The Best Panorama in Old Stockholm -- If you don't mind going farther afield, into the industrial landscapes of Södermalm, the mostly residential once-working-class island directly to the south of Gamla Stan, the finest panorama in Stockholm is visible from the Fåfångan Café, Klockstapelsbacken 3 (tel. 08/642-99-00; www.fafangan.se). Perched high on a cliff top, directly above the channel from which the warship Vasa was excavated, and with a view that sweeps out over the Old Town, this is a simple, modern, and unpretentious self-service cafe with a sprawling outdoor terrace and an interior that might remind you of a school cafeteria. Thanks to its view, you'll get a sense of the ironies and growing pains that Stockholm experienced through the centuries. In the foreground, you'll see flotillas of some of the biggest cruise ships in the world, smaller ships heading out for tours of the archipelago, the copper-sheathed rooftops of Skansen, and the vestiges of imperial Sweden as represented by Gamla Stan's compound of royal buildings.
Main courses cost from 70SEK to 180SEK ($14-$36/£7-£18), and might include Caesar and Greek salads; nacho platters; various pastas; fish soup with fresh salmon, shrimp, and aioli sauce; and open-faced sandwiches. From May to October, it's open daily from 11am to 10pm, and from November to April, it's open only on Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 8pm. To reach it, take bus no. 53.
Picnic Fare & Where to Eat It -- Fast-food eateries and fresh food markets abound in Stockholm, especially in the center of the city, around Hötorget. Here you can visit Hötorgs Hallen, a fresh food market where you can buy the makings of an elegant picnic. Recently arrived immigrants sell many Turkish food products here, including stuffed pita bread.
For the most elegant fare of all, however, go to Östermalms Hallen, at the corner of Humlegårdsgatan and Nybrogatan, east of the city center. Stall after stall sells picnic fare, including fresh shrimp and precooked items that will be wrapped carefully for you.
With your picnic fixings in hand, head for Skansen or the wooded peninsula of Djurgården.
Bar Food -- Don't rush into a bar in Stockholm for a pick-me-up martini. "Bars" in Stockholm are self-service cafeterias, and the strongest drink that many of them offer is apple cider.
While touring Djurgårdsvägen, you can enjoy lunch at Café Blå Porten, Djurgårdsvägen 64 (tel. 08/663-87-59), a cafe/cafeteria that often draws patrons of the Lilijevalch art gallery next door. Soups, salads, sandwiches, and hot meals are served.
Also at Östermalmstorg is the well-known Örtagården, Nybrogatan 31 (tel. 08/662-17-28; www.ortagarden.gastrogate.com), on the second floor of the Östermalms food hall. It allows you to help yourself to a small smorgasbord of both hot and cold Swedish fare costing 85SEK to 125SEK ($17-$25/£8.50-£13). It is increasingly rare to find the typical Swedish smorgasbord in Stockholm these days, and Örtagården is a holdout of the old culinary tradition.
Cheap Dining in a Food Boutique -- You'll find some of the widest and best selections of cost-conscious food within Stockholm's most lavish delicatessen: NK Saluhall ("Food Emporium") in the cellar of the NK (Nordiska Kompaniet) Department Store, Hamngatan 18-20 (tel. 08/762-80-00).
It serves up to 10 kinds of wine by the glass, priced at 65SEK to 95SEK ($13-$19/£6.50-£9.50). At the cheese bar, select the ingredients for a platter of cheese, accompanied by bream, jam, marmalade, and pickles, which to us represents one of the high points of the civilized world. A few years ago, the organizers of this cheese bar won third prize in a pan-European contest for the best selection of cheese in Europe. Platters with one kind of cheese cost 65SEK ($13/£6.50); platters with three cheeses, 125SEK ($25/£13); platters with five kinds of cheese, 165SEK ($33/£17).
Main courses here cost from 115SEK to 250SEK ($23-$50/£12-£25). Fish is grilled, smoked, or pickled. The best examples include grilled tuna filets on a salade niçoise, smoked halibut with aioli sauce, or lobster bisque with mussels and a garlic-based rouille sauce.
Both NK and its food court are open Monday to Friday 10am to 7pm, Saturday 10am to 6pm, and Sunday noon to 5pm (T-bana: Kungsträdgården).
Grand Veranda -- Many foreign families like to patronize this landmark because of the lavishness of its buffets. You should find something to please everyone.
Lisa Elmqvist -- Because this restaurant is found in the produce market, Östermalms Saluhall, having lunch here is a colorful adventure. One favorite dish to try is a portion of shrimp with bread and butter. Families can dine under a tent, which evokes a county-fair setting.
Solliden -- Near the top of the Skansen compound, a Williamsburg-type park dating from 1891, Solliden (tel. 08/566-370-00) is a cluster of restaurants set in a sprawling building. This all-purpose dining emporium has an array of eating facilities, which makes it attractive to families. Solliden offers a lunch smorgasbord. It's open only from June to August daily noon to 4pm.