11 Mar Great places to eat in Riga
There’s a misconception that the cuisine in every European country north of the Alps is composed entirely of pig and/or potato, perhaps with a side order of boiled cabbage, and that if you want to eat really well, you have to stick to the more southerly parts of the continent.
But (and as an English girl, I spend a lot of my time evangelising about this) having notoriously dull national food usually means that northern nations are more keen to experiment than their Mediterranean counterparts, and are extremely determined to prove all the haters wrong by serving up yummy nosh in beautiful settings.
And that’s exactly what you’ll find in Riga.
Here are a few places that you might want to get on your radar before visiting Latvia’s surprisingly stylish capital city, including spots for great breakfasts and brunches, tasty midday treats, date night dinner spots, and some all-day cafés where you can warm up, caffeinate, and rest those weary legs.
MiiT – Lāčplēša iela 10 | Facebook | Website
Open every day – click for opening hours
MiiT is a small, quiet and relaxing little spot where we actually had our first taste of Latvia’s foodie scene, popping in for a pancake brunch mere minutes after arriving in the city (and if anything’s going to make me love a destination right off the bat, it’s pancakes).
This thoroughly hipster café specialises in vegetarian/vegan food (we actually ended up there as we knew we could be sure there’d be something that lactose-intolerant S could eat) but you can enjoy MiiT even if you’re a carnivore.
On weekdays, you’ll find an à la carte menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, whereas between 11am and 4pm on weekends, you’ll come across a varied and veggie-friendly buffet instead, offering a variety of fun coloured pancakes and toppings, and plenty of savoury options too, from hummus to couscous to an unidentifiable but very delicious something-with-aubergines. The first of my rounds is pictured above – unfortunately the pancakes were wolfed down before I had a chance to take a photo (sorry not sorry).
MiiT is the kind of café you could happily go to alone to eat cake and get some work done, or with a couple of friends to catch up over some freshly brewed coffee. But let’s be honest, I already had you at “pancake brunch”, didn’t I?
Restaurans Riits – Dzirnavu iela 72 | Facebook | Website
Open 9am – 11pm from Tuesday to Sunday, and 12pm – 11pm on Mondays
Following on with the theme of delicious restaurants with two “i”s in their name, let me tell you about Riits.
The main reason to visit Riits is for the good quality, Latvian produce which forms the basis for all their dishes – ingredients are all sourced from local farmers, and you can really taste the freshness.
The menu is very Baltic in style – straight-to-the-point and thoroughly unpoetic (choose between options such as “chicken”, “pork”, and “soup”). But don’t be put off, as these simple Latvian classics – meat, fish, or vegetable-based – don’t need their descriptions to be zhushed up; the ingredients speak for themselves.
I went for the possibly dull sounding “pork” (full description: pork ribs, grey peas, hard cheese) which turned out to be absolutely sublime – who knew those sad-looking legumes could pack such a punch! – while S was so pleased with his unfussy “chicken” that we spent a good 10 minutes only breaking our contented silence to make assorted noises of appreciation. And don’t get me started on the white chocolate sour cream crème brûlée.
Interior design-wise, this place is a mashup of styles, with shabby-chic features like egg-box wall coverings and wooden bird houses mixed with modern graphic tiles and Nordic wood touches. Somehow, though, it works.
This little eatery is an ideal date night venue (although it’s also open for breakfast and lunch), and served some of the best food we ate in Riga – definitely a spot worth adding to your list.
Pagalms – Kronvalda bulvāris 2B | Facebook
Open 11am – 9pm from Monday to Wednesday, 11am – 10pm from Thursday to Saturday, and 11am – 5pm on Sundays
We ended up at Pagalms for a late brunch on a very cold and very snowy Sunday, hoping to find something warm to return our body temperatures to within the normal human range after 2 and a half hours of walking around in the deep freeze that is the Latvian winter.
From the outside, you’ll see a very unassuming wooden hut located next to a tennis court – we were actually expecting something bigger and more obvious, meaning that we almost walked past the place. Inside however, you’re in for a surprise, as the interiors are like something you’d expect to see in a trendy bar in Shoreditch rather than inside a little black shed in Latvia.
Pagalms seems to be well-known amongst locals for its breakfasts and lunches, and turned out to be another one of my favourites, both in terms of style and satisfaction (full English breakfast with juicy sausages and real baked beans, and tons of pretty cakes on display – need I say more?).
4. Uncle Vanya/Tēvocis Vaņa
Uncle Vanya was one of a couple of great recommendations from our friendly local Airbnb host, and although it was one of the more expensive meals we had in Latvia, it was worth every cent.
Around half of the population of Riga is ethnically Russian, so it’s no surprise that the Russian food here kicks some serious proverbial butt, but I will admit that I was sceptical about going out for a Russian dinner in any case; after all, my knowledge of their typical cuisine prior to this point was based exclusively on my high school canteen’s pitiful attempts at chicken kiev and one Buzzfeed article about a national obsession with putting dill on absolutely everything.
I was more keen to visit Uncle Vanya for the soviet-style restaurant experience as a whole rather than for the dinner itself, but it turns out that Russian food is really tasty, if done right. We tried some traditional meaty dumplings, then S chose pig feet with buckwheat (sounds gross, but isn’t), and I went for the yummiest, creamiest beef Stroganoff you can imagine.
The inside of the restaurant makes it feel like you’ve stepped not only back in time but also into the living room of a long-lost Muscovite great aunt, and the hospitality was, erm, stereotypically Russian, but honestly the judgmental glares as we walked in all just felt like part of the experience.
5. Café Leningrad
Café Leningrad – Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela 4 | Facebook
Open 12pm – 3am every day
After our Soviet-themed dinner, it only seemed appropriate to drop by Café Leningrad for a nightcap.
The underground bar, with its 1980s radios, vintage wallpaper and old, dusty books is pure, unadulterated tourist fodder.
I suspect that locals wouldn’t be seen dead in there, but it is kind of a must-visit if you’re in Riga, if only for the novelty factor and a pint of local beer. So grab a table, take a sip, and take the opportunity to do some (drunk-)people watching, with some great rock music in the background.
Terapija – Bruņinieku iela 69 | Facebook
Open 12pm – 9pm from Monday to Saturday, 12pm – 5pm on Sundays
(psst – it’s cash only)
I must admit that I discovered this little vegan café almost by accident – I’d stumbled upon the name of a different vegan place on a blog, and was considering adding it to my “restaurants where S can definitely eat something not drowning in butter” list, but after checking out the reviews on Facebook, I saw that plenty of people who’d visited hadn’t had a great experience. However, I came across a comment from a local guy who suggested Terapija as an alternative to the other place (which shall remain nameless) – he said it was cheaper and less touristy, with really great vegan food. And that sounded worth investigating.
From the photos, Terapija looked sweet – as you know, I am a big fan of anywhere with this many white walls and bright green pot plants, and also appreciated the fact that they have Latvia’s answer to the couch from Friends in the middle of the restaurant. I couldn’t find a menu in English anywhere, but it wasn’t far from our apartment, so we just gave it a shot one lunchtime.
When I say this place is cheap, it is an understatement. We had a delicious, filling meal for two, including yummy curry and falafels, fresh juice and a dessert (yeah, that beautiful slice of cake covered in flowers!), all for about €10. On Saturdays and Sundays, you can go for brunch, but for the rest of the week it’s the kind of place you can pop in for a chilled lunch with friends (daily specials are written on the blackboard), or even bring your laptop and have coffee and dessert while you work.
The best thing about Terapija (apart from that couch)? Finally a vegan place which acknowledges that meat free meals don’t need to be pimped up and hugely overpriced to be inviting.
7. La Kanna
La Kanna – Tērbatas iela 5 | Facebook | Website
Open every day – click for opening hours
The last restaurant we ate at before leaving Riga was La Kanna, a place which, if I must be truthful, doesn’t seem to really know what it’s trying to be. The decor is a little bit Provençal, the menu a touch Italian, the ingredients certainly Latvian. Who cares what they were going for – the food is good, the atmosphere is nice, and that’s what matters.
We originally tried to come here for brunch on Sunday – another place highly recommended by lovely Maria from Airbnb – but we made the rookie error of not booking, arrived to find the place absolutely rammed, and had to go elsewhere.
However, La Kanna was on the way to our bus back to the airport, so we popped in to satisfy our curiosity. We both ordered a glazed duck breast for lunch which (although it took quiiiite a long time to arrive) was divine. La Kanna is one of those places where the plates look like little works of art – usually something which makes me roll my eyes, but style and substance were thankfully equal in this case, so it was forgiven!
La Kanna isn’t the cheapest place around, but if you’re after a nice dining experience, go for it anyway – and if you do manage to get in there for brunch, please tell me how good it was!
The bonus round: Coffee places in Riga
If you, like me, find yourself in Riga with an Italian, you will encounter a certain amount of frustration when it comes to finding a good coffee. Despite all the cute little hipster bars, a really good espresso is pretty hard to come by.
The only place we found truly Italian-approved coffee was a café called Innocent – a pretty normal, unassuming little bar not far from our apartment.
Another place which came close was a café and roastery in the Old Town named Strada, which is right in the middle of the tourist zone but kind of tucked away down a little street, so it still feels like a bit of a discovery.
It wouldn’t be a guide to Riga without mentioning the Rocket Bean Roastery (pictured above) – one of the most famous coffee shops in the city and a cool little place to stop for a break. The flagship café is located in Miera iela – the street well known for its hipster boutiques and cool cafés – but another, smaller café has also cropped up near the Art Nouveau district. If we’re doing full disclosure, I will admit that I actually got a delicious prosecco cocktail rather than a coffee here, and S opted for a truly yummy mulled-apple-cider-cocktail-thing (we had got really cold, ok?!) but this place obviously takes their coffee seriously, so it’s going on the to-try list anyway.
Last but not least
A few final tips about eating out in Riga:
- Brunch is a big thing in Latvia (you can imagine how happy I was to discover this), and you’d be silly not to take advantage. Especially at weekends, many cafés and restaurants have a brunch menu running until 4 or 5 in the afternoon.
- If you’re able to make a reservation, do so – many restaurants have a booking system on their website, and it’s not a bad idea to use this if you can – particularly in the freezing winter, strolling around to look for a last-minute plan B may not be particularly appealing.
- Local food is pretty heavy on the meat and butter, but there are so many veggie/vegan-friendly options that you really don’t have to panic if you’re not a carnivore.
- If you’re visiting from further south in Europe, the mealtimes may feel a bit odd in the Baltics. Due certainly in part to the amount (or specifically, lack) of hours of daylight in the winter, everything closes a little earlier up there. So be prepared to set your alarm and get going with your day an hour or two before you usually would, and perhaps turn in for the night earlier too. Bear in mind that many cafés close at 5pm, and a lot of restaurants shut their doors for the night at 10 or 11pm (stopping serving even earlier) so be organised, if you can!
- Riga has WiFi literally everywhere (I know – I didn’t expect that either) so if you need to get some work done while you eat, take your laptop along and just ask for the password.
- Latvians are some of the least noisy people I’ve ever come across. As a result, cafés and restaurants frequented more by locals than tourists tend to be super quiet and peaceful. If you’re accustomed to the kind of racket Mediterraneans make when they go out to eat, you’ll be quite surprised by the silence in Latvia, but will get used to it in no time, and probably miss it once you’ve returned home.
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