Jyri Engeström founded two internet companies: Jaiku, acquired by Google; and Ditto, acquired by to Groupon. He now splits his time between San Francisco, where he builds electric skateboards at a startup called Boosted Boards; and Helsinki’s picturesque Käpylä neighborhood, where he runs a café–Kahvila Siili–during the summer.
“Because I live in San Francisco during the winter months, I’m excited to see all the new places that have opened while I was away. Helsinki just keeps getting better and every year it’s harder to leave. These are my current favorites.”
Tucked snug against the majestic Katajanokka granite rise, just steps away from the waterfront and dramatic icebreaker boats, restaurant Wellamo is a real hidden gem. Start with the russian-style pickles with honey & smetana, then order the lamb pelmeni for mains. Finish off your meal with old-style ice cream. Our children love coming here, because they can run around in the nearby playground while the grown-ups relax at the restaurant.
ROSLUND BURGER STAND
Until this summer Helsinki hasn’t had a burger stand worth noting. Roslund the butcher has changed this for good (my burger-loving American friends agree). There is a stand at the Swedish Theater, one at Teurastamo and one at Hietalahti Market Hall (Hietalahden kauppahalli).
Hietalahti Market Hall
HAKANIEMI MARKET HALL
A classic on many lists, the Hakaniemi market hall (Hakaniemen kauppahalli) charms with its unspoiled authenticity. The butcher, fishmonger, bread bakers, organic vegetable stands, tea shop, gourmet pasta and olive oil, incredible fresh feta cheese, shredded ham & siskonmakkara sausage, and cheese shop with farm-churned butter by the kilo are but a few of the culinary delights found here. Take a break from shopping and have a satisfying bowl of bouillabaisse at Soppakeittiö. Then wander upstairs, where only those in the know go, and find the Marimekko store, excellent antique glass sellers, and my favorite used bookseller.
Helsinki’s public sauna revival was catalyzed by the construction of Kulttuurisauna, a project that became the full-time occupation of talented graphic artist Nene Tsuboi and her husband, Rem Koolhaas-trained architect Tuomas Toivonen, who is known in Helsinki as DJ and the frontman of 90s band Giant Robot. Follow the sauna protocol: show up with one friend (but not more - groups larger than two aren’t allowed), take off your shoes at the door, and let the owners explain how the sauna works before heading in.
Another new entrant, Bier Bier is conveniently located dead center of town on Erottajanrinne, and offers a fantastic selection of APAs, saisons, and other beer types loved by friends of the current worldwide revival of microbreweries. A perfect place to meet for beers after work.
Perhaps the most San Franciscan of Helsinki’s repertory of new restaurants by young chefs, Ox is a perfect mix of quality and laid-back style. Walk in and take a seat at the bar (no reservation required, although tables are sought after and should be reserved well in advance) and be charmed by the friendly Finnish chefs who work hard to deliver the impressive platings (the whitefish starter and pulled pork main are my favorites).
Pieni Roobertinkatu 13
Just a few steps up the street from Ox is Vinkkeli, a recently established instant must-visit spot for fine dining. No signs of taciturn Finnish service here – Vinkkeli’s founding staff, formerly of Savoy a classic Helsinki restaurant known for its smooth service, will take excellent care of you. The food matches the quality of the service; this is one of the best meals I had all summer.
Pieni Roobertinkatu 8
KÄPYLÄN MAJAKKA & KAHVILA SIILI
Off the beaten path is charming Käpylä, a wood-built workers’ neighborhood reachable by Tram 1 from the market square (go all the way to the final stop). There you will find, surprisingly, some of the best sushi Helsinki has to offer at Majakka, as well as some of the best coffee at Kahvila Siili, serving London’s famed Square Mile coffee in a tiny yet beautiful space that used to be a corner grocery in the 1950s.