Before moving to Riga, Latvian cuisine was to me an unknown entity. I imagined it entailed lots of rye bread, potatoes, beets, and cabbage, along with fish owing to its Baltic Sea location. My instincts have mostly been proven true, though Latvian food is so much more than those basic ingredients. I’ve been impressed by the use of local, seasonal produce as well as meticulous attention to detail and masterful presentations that go well beyond what one would expect of mid-range restaurants. Latvians take great pride in their work, and it shows. Food of this caliber wouldn’t be out of place in Paris or New York, but it would probably cost twice as much.
Having lived in Riga for one year now, I’ve tried my fair share of the city’s restaurants. Some have become fast favorites to which I return again and again, while others make for a nice splurge on special occasions. The following are what I feel to be the best restaurants in Riga. Yes, a few of them can be expensive, depending on what you order, but many are very reasonably priced – no matter what the elaborate plating in the photos may suggest. I like many of these restaurants equally, so rather than provide a ranking, I’ve listed them in alphabetical order. Addresses and pricing information can be found at the bottom of this post. If you have a favorite dining spot in Riga, be sure to tell me about it in the comments! I’m already planning for part two.
Of all the restaurants on this list, 1221 probably serves up the most traditional Latvian food; beaver, elk, venison, and sturgeon all show up on the menu. But don’t let that scare you! We’ve taken friends here to introduce them to the local cuisine and received rave reviews. Classic beet-red borscht gets an update with salmon and sturgeon, while simple mashed potatoes are elevated with truffles and Parmesan cheese. I’ve yet to try 1221’s desserts, as I’m always too full by the end of the meal, but one of these days…
3 Pavaru Restorans
At the “3 Chefs,” the food is almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Meals begin with one of the three head chefs creating a beautiful appetizer literally on your table, drizzling various sauces and dips on the white paper tablecloth for you to mop up with bread. Afterwards you’ll have a tough time deciding among the scrumptious dishes on the ever-changing menu, as all feature locally-sourced seasonal ingredients cooked at the slowest temperature possible to protect the food’s flavor and nutrients. The deconstructed presentation might be a bit too fancy for some, but I’m a big fan of these edible works of art!
With a riverside location and large covered terrace, Aqua Luna is the perfect spot for a leisurely weekend lunch. I’m not normally a fan of salad bars, but this one has converted me: Greek salad with feta, toasted quinoa, cold beet soup, fresh fruit, and a variety of pickled vegetables are just a few items on offer. Diners are also free to choose their own fish and meats to be grilled on the spot. If you leave Aqua Luna hungry, you are doing something wrong!
B-Bars is well known in Riga, as.. well, a bar. Some of the bartenders are flair champions, and they invented the original Black Balsam cocktail, the Clavis Riga. But rather than serving greasy bar food, B-Bars dishes up beautifully composed plates worthy of a fine dining establishment. Appetizers, such as the fig, prosciutto, and Roquefort salad, and desserts, such as the chocolate lava cake with fresh fruit and homemade ice cream, are particularly successful. Service, on the other hand, can be hit or miss.
Whether it’s drinks with friends or a romantic dinner, Biblioteka has become my go-to spot. The service is impeccable, the sommeliers are attentive and knowledgeable, and the atmosphere remains library-quiet even when the restaurant is fully booked. In addition to the expertly prepared dishes (which are what I would call “modern Latvian with a twist”), the chef sends out amuse-bouches and between-course palette cleansers with his compliments. Biblioteka is first class all the way.
Considering Domini Canes is located between the churches of St. Peter and St. John and the museums of porcelain and the applied arts, you might expect it to be a tourist trap with dubious, over-priced food, but thankfully that isn’t the case. The menu changes seasonally, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the fish or chicken dishes. Domini Canes also has some of the tastiest desserts in town!
The definition of cozy, Istaba (Latvia for “the room”) features a limited number of tables with colorfully mismatched furniture arranged as if in a room of a house. There is no menu per se; rather, diners choose from the meat and fish options of the day (given as beef, duck, salmon, etc.) and the chef does the rest. While the proteins are being prepared, the feast begins. First comes house-made bread with assorted dips and spreads, then a leafy-green salad with generous shavings of cheese. The vegetable-heavy sides come next, meant to accompany the meat dishes and be shared by the table. You’d think after all that food, one would be too full for dessert, but there is always “room” for Istaba’s fabulous marzipan cake!
The kitchen and dining area are located in a loft above a shop of Latvian handicrafts. Reservations are essential, even during weeknights.
Maja, which is Latvian for “house,” is located across the river in Riga’s popular Kalnciema Quarter, a neighborhood famous for its wooden Art Nouveau architecture and Saturday craft market. The restaurant can actually be found next to the market inside a restored wooden home, and dining there feels almost intimate. The menu features farm-fresh local produce and game in addition to some innovative Continental fare. A discounted business lunch menu makes Maja popular during the week, so it’s best to book ahead.
A few doors down from Domini Canes, Muusu also exceeded my expectations for a restaurant located in tourist central. (A second location with a lower-priced menu can be found in Riga’s Art Nouveau district.) Muusu’s two head chefs, who trained at Noma in Copenhagen, create seasonal menus of modern European cuisine with Scandinavian flair. I am very eager to try the new summer dishes!
Tucked into the ground floor of Neiburgs hotel, the eponymous restaurant is fittingly chic with clean lines and contemporary decor. I would describe the food as Latvian fusion, with traditional Baltic ingredients given a global twist. My oven-roasted duck breast with mashed sweet potatoes, saffron pears, and foie gras sauce was a delight!
The stunning Art Nouveau hotel was originally built in 1903 as the family home of Ludvigs Neiburgs. During the post-WWII Soviet Occupation of Latvia, the home was confiscated and converted into a communal dwelling, with 22 families living in 13 flats. The Neiburgs family regained ownership of the property in 2003 and a few years later opened the current restaurant and hotel.
Honestly, I was too intimidated to dine at Riviera for a long time. Its clientele is always impeccably dressed and its curb packed with fancy sports cars; Riviera seems to be THE PLACE in Riga to see and be seen. It’s so popular, in fact, that a second location just opened up a block down the street. Curiosity finally got the best of me and I went to see what all the fuss is about. Turns out, the Mediterranean-inspired food is scrumptious and service is exceptionally attentive. We were offered the chance to sample wines before ordering full glasses (not a common practice in Latvia) and given refreshing palate cleansers. I recommend ordering the seared scallops and the steak.
The Latvians have a love affair with Italian food and Rossini serves up some of Riga’s most appealing. The risotto with porcini mushrooms (listed as “penny buns” on the menu) and spaghetti with lobster are especially tasty, as are autumn and winter specials showcasing Latvian mushrooms and pumpkin.
I adore Valter’s Restaurant. Just about everything here is sourced in Latvia, from the farm-fresh produce and dairy to the tableware and artworks adorning the walls. (The paintings are for sale – ask your waiter for a price list.) Valtera’s menu is dictated by what’s available from local farms as well as the current hunting and fishing season. Check the restaurant’s Facebook page for weekly business lunch options.
If you are looking to impress an important guest or splash out for a special occasion, this is the place to do it. Vincents has been a Riga institution since 1994 and counts Elton John, Prince Charles, and the Emperor of Japan among its preeminent guests. British-born Latvian celebrity chef Martins Ritins commands the kitchen, which utilizes the very best of Latvia’s organic, seasonal ingredients and a slow-food philosophy.
The five-course tasting menu (€90 per person) is a culinary adventure of epic proportions. It features perennial favorites off the regular dinner menu, such as foie gras ravioli, Baltic Sea flounder, and grilled rack of lamb. During my visit, Martins’s playful sense of humor was present throughout, from the “Danger! Thin Ice!” sign stuck atop a pastry-covered fish stew, to the garden variety tin of sprats that he hand-delivered and gleefully revealed to contain a spectacular salmon tartar hidden within. (This is probably the single best dish I’ve consumed in the past year.) In addition to everything just mentioned, we were given an inventive selection of amuse-bouches, an array of cheeses, and our choice of house-made chocolates from a literal jewel box. As we were rolling ourselves towards the door, Martins greeted us with little boxes filled with pistachio-dusted meringues he called “kisses from the chef.” Man loti patik!
Our meal at Uncle Vanya’s started off with a bang, with a complimentary amuse-bouche and shot of cold horseradish vodka – surprisingly delicious, I might add! It was everything you would expect from one of Riga’s finest Russian restaurants. The menu features classic pre-revolution Russian dishes just like great grandma used to make. I started with the “hiking snack,” which consisted of slices of marinated eggplant topped with tomatoes and cheese, and moved on to a dynamite rendition of beef stroganoff with potato pancakes. We were extremely pleased with the warm and gracious service at Uncle Vanya’s and we’ll definitely be back.
What do you think are the best restaurants in Riga?
1221 Restorans Address: Jauniela 16, Old Town, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$$ 3 Pavaru Restorans Address: Torna iela 4, Old Town, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$$ Aqua Luna Address: Andrejostas iela 4, Petersala, Latvia Pricing: $$ B-Bars Restorans Address: Doma laukums 2, Old Town, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$ Biblioteka No.1 Address: Terbatas iela 2, Vermanes Park, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$$ Domini Canes Address: Skarnu iela 18/20, Old Town, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$ Istaba Address: Krisjana Barona iela 31A, Center, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$ Maja Address: Kalnciema iela 37-5, Agenskalns, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$ Muusu Restorans Address: Skarnu iela 6, Old Town, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$ Neiburgs Address: Jauniela 25, Old Town, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$ Riviera Address: Antonijas iela 13, Center, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$$ Rossini Address: Dzirnavu iela 31 (entrance on Antonijas iela), Center, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$ Valtera Restorans Address: Miesnieku iela 8, Old Town, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$ Vincents Address: Elizabetes iela 19, Center, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$$$ Tevocis Vana Address: Smilsu iela 16, Old Town, Riga, Latvia Pricing: $$