There’s something a little odd about the corner of 17th & R. It’s not Cobalt, which has dominated the corner for decades, nor is it any of the other restaurants and bars that dot 17th Street… It’s Mikko, the bright and airy bakery / cafe that looks like it was transported straight from downtown Reykjavik and popped onto a random corner in D.C. Owned an operated by Chef Mikko (what a shocker), the shop focuses on Nordic cuisine, drawing inspiration from classic dishes and ingredients (expect a lot of dill and a lot of rye bread). If you’re not spending your summer traveling to Iceland, Finland or Norway (like everyone else on Instagram), Mikko is definitely the next best thing. You might even be able to fool your friends with a well lit herring shot.
Walk through the small, yet adorably designed space, and make your way to the back, where a long bar leans right up against the kitchen and you can watch Chef Mikko and his team get to work. The restaurant very recently got its liquor license, so while you can absolutely grab a sandwich to go and take your Scandi meal out and about, feel free to order a shot of Finnish vodka and relax for a little while. After sipping a shot (or two) hopefully we’ll be able to convince you that order soup in the middle of this D.C. heat is a good idea. Because it is. Even though the air is feeling more and more like soup these days, the Finnish fish soup and the seasonal mushroom soup we tried felt hearty and rejuvenating from the first sip to the last drop. Soak it up with some of your rye crackers (or Chef Mikko’s seven-seed bread) for ultimate enjoyment.
Of course, those aforementioned sandwiches aren’t anything to miss out on either. Of the three we tried, the gravlax was our favorite. The rye bread, mustard, dill and cured fish combo is refreshing and packed full of flavor. It might make your breath smell like a nightmare factory, but it’s certainly worth the cost.
Want something bread adjacent? We were blown away by Mikko’s “surf and turf” hotdog, a Swedish concoction that basically involves putting a scoop of shrimp salad on a hotdog. It’s deceptively simple, but the savory and cool shrimp salad kills it on top of a hotdog and I don’t even like hotdogs. Why haven’t I been doing this forever? Why aren’t I eating one right now?
And yet, the belle of the ball was the herring, served with a shot of Finnish vodka, it’s an overwhelming dish jam packed with flavor. Fatty, sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy, the tastes and textures shift constantly, and that’s not even including the grainy burn of the vodka. In my experience, vodka pairs best with poor decision making and a bad headache, but I’ll take it with herring any day.
Before you leave, grab a caramel tart (it almost tastes like a bougie Rolo, I love it) and a packet of rye crackers. You’re living your best Scandi life now even if you’re going to sweat through your shirt on the walk home.