My Favorite Cafes in Riga, Part 3

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One thing that continually impresses me about Riga is its well-developed cafe scene. First-time visitors to the city might be surprised to find expertly-brewed coffee, delectable pastries, and free WiFi at nearly every turn. Many cafes offer affordable business lunch sets of two or three courses for less than 10 euros. You will definitely not go hungry in this city! My go-to choices remain Art Cafe Sienna, Bakeberry, Makonis, Rocket Bean, and Index – which you can read about in parts one and two of this series. But variety is the spice of life, especially when that variety comes in pastry form. Add some zest with these Riga cafes!

Cafeterius Riga

cafeterius riga

A swath of central Riga between Gertrudes and Stabu ielas has become super trendy and packed with dining options in the last few years. Among the newest entrants is Cafeterius Riga. This cute little cafe beckons visitors with its cozy window nooks and keeps them happy with outstanding service and tasty treats. I followed the advice of the friendly gal behind the counter and tried their homemade Riga Black Balsam Currant cake. I encourage everyone to do the same – it’s fabulous! Quiches, salads, and sandwiches are also available.

Beze Konditoreja

beze konditoreja riga

beze cafe riga

Best Cafes Riga Latvia

A few blocks away is popular bakery Beze Konditoreja. The display cases are filled with beautiful confections that are surprisingly affordable; I don’t feel even a little guilty about ordering two at a time! Cakes and desserts are also available for pre-order should you wish to make your next event a little more special.

Laci

laci cafe riga

laci bakery riga

Famed Latvian bread maker Laci has opened a new cafe on Terbatas iela, and the aroma wafting out its doors is irresistible. Inside on the counter, baskets overflow with freshly baked cinnamon buns and savory meat pies. Cases by the door are stacked with pretty pastries and topped with trays of marmalade candy. Sip a latte while enjoying your treats in the back cafe area, then pick up a loaf of bread to go. Whole cheesecakes and tortes are also available.

Vest

vest riga

vest knockout barbershop riga

Latvian men have jumped on the facial hair bandwagon and a slew of chic barber shops have opened accordingly. One is Knockout Barbershop, which has several locations around Riga including one inside the hipster pub, Vest. The dining room/bar area overlooks the barbershop so that you essentially get free entertainment while you eat. While not technically a cafe in the truest sense, Vest offers one of Riga’s better business lunches (two courses for €7). Bonus: all the waitstaff are impeccably groomed.

Trusis

Trusis means “rabbit” in Latvian and, as you would guess, this cafe serves up healthy vegetarian lunch sets. (One meat option is also usually available.) The tastiest dishes tend to sell out so arrive early for the best selection. And if you see vegetarian lasagna on the menu, run don’t walk for a slice of that cheesy goodness. But I’d skip dessert.

Mon Amour

mon amour cafe riga

mon amour riga cheesecake

You’ll find sweeter offerings at Mon Amour cafe, tucked in an Old Riga alley near St. Peter’s Church. Mon Amour’s homemade cheesecakes are divine! My luscious slice was topped with a silky caramel ganache and fresh strawberry sauce – definitely a winning combination! This charming spot also serves savory snacks for lunch and weekend brunch.

Pasedet

pasedet riga

Caffee Pasedet immediately grabs your attention thanks to its half-timber facade. The interior is just as striking, with its brightly colored retro decor. In addition to an excellent value business lunch set (two courses and a drink for €5.30), Pasedet serves a variety of soups, salads, and pastas, as well as more substantial dinner plates.

Parunasim

Parunasim bills itself as “the most romantic cafe in Riga.” I don’t know if that’s true, but Parunasim does have one of the best locations: it’s hidden within an alcove of St. Jacob’s Church, which dates to the Middle Ages. Pricing, though, is definitely 21st century. The creamy fruit pies here are delightful, and you can never go wrong with a glass of vino. Other items are hit or miss.

Martina Bakery

martina bekereja riga

A more dependable, albeit less glamorous, cafe is Martina. Favored by locals, Martina churns out high-quality baked goods at affordable prices. Martina is so popular, in fact, that it can be hard to find a seat. Take your goodies to go instead and enjoy them on a nearby park bench. A half dozen mixed berry tarts should do the trick 😉

Vecriga

vecriga kafejnica

abolu kartaina

Another local favorite is Vecriga, a chain specializing in old fashioned pastries like grandma used to make. The star item in their repertoire is abolu kartaina, or apple “puff.” Kind of like a sheet pie, abolu kartaina consists of a cinnamony apple filling between layers of flaky pastry crust. The dish is a classic, and a Latvian friend assured me that Vecriga makes the best.

Ze Donats

ze donats riga

For more modern confections, head to Ze Donats cafe. The wildly colorful donuts were a hit with my family and guests. The hazelnut cream donuts (lazduriekstu kremigs) are reminiscent of Nutella and were unsurprisingly a crowd pleaser. Ze Donats’ coffee is also pretty good. I usually take everything to go, though seating is available.

Fat Cat

fat cat eclairs riga

Those with a serious sweet tooth should check out the vibrant eclairs at Fat Cat bakery. Opened in April 2017, Fat Cat already has a loyal following and it’s easy to see why. The gorgeously decorated eclairs come in a wide array of scrumptious flavors, like dulce de leche, white chocolate and lavender, and rum-raisin. Good luck deciding which to try first!

BONUS: Rocket Bean Bruvetava

rocket bean old riga cafe

rocket bean coffee riga

Fans of Rocket Bean Roastery will be delighted to find a branch in Old Riga! This small coffee shop, dubbed Rocket Bean’s “little brother,” serves the perfect fuel for a long day of sightseeing.

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Do you have a favorite Riga cafe? Tell me about it in the comments!

Cafeterius Riga
Address: Terbatas iela 45, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

Beze Konditoreja
Address: Brivibas iela 76, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €

Laci
Address: Terbatas iela 34, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €

Vest
Address: Stabu iela 1, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

Trusis
Address: Dzirnavu iela 43, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

Mon Amour
Address: Jana iela 14, Old Town, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

Caffee Pasedet 
Address: Stabu iela 10/2, City Center, Riga, Latvia 
Pricing: €€ 

Parunasim
Address: Maza Pils iela 4, Old Town, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€€

Martina Bakery
Address: Valnu iela 28, Old Town, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €

Vecriga
Address: Multiple locations; I like the one on Krisjana Valdemara iela
Pricing: €

Ze Donats
Address: Krisjana Valdemara iela 18, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €

Fat Cat Eklernica 
Address: Maza Jauniela, Old Town, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

Rocket Bean Bruvetava
Address: Kaleju iela 21, Old Town, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

The Best Meals We Ate in Amsterdam

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What comes to mind when you think of Dutch food? For me, it’s Gouda cheese and stroopwafels. But surely a culture of explorers and spice traders must have more to offer. With one full week in Amsterdam, I wasn’t sure what to expect of Dutch cuisine but had plenty of time to delve into the national dishes.

So, what is there exactly? For one, a popular snack called bitterballen, or deep-fried meatballs with a texture reminiscent of Spanish croquettes. These tasty little nougats are best served with grainy mustard and icy beer. Another Dutch delicacy is stamppot, a hearty mash of boiled potatoes and assorted vegetables. Stampot is often served with links of smokey sausage, though I did see vegetarian options on some menus. For dessert, it doesn’t get any better than apple pie. Thicker and drier than the American version, Dutch apple pie is almost cake-like in its consistency. Served with a generous dollop of cream, it’s the perfect end to any meal!

Dutch bitterballen and kroketten

Here are the best restaurants I found during my stay in Amsterdam. Addresses and pricing information can be found at the bottom of this post. If your favorite spot isn’t included, be sure to tell me about it in the comments!

Cafe Loetje

Our first meal at Loetje was so delicious we went back a second time later in the week. The house specialty is a thick filet of tender steak slathered in buttery gravy. My mouth waters looking at the photo! You can get the steak topped with extras like sauteed liver and onions, but sometimes unadulterated is best. For something a little “lighter,” I recommend the pork schnitzel. Side salads are large enough for two to share, but you might want your own order of crispy fries. Loetje is a good place to sample veal bitterballen, though I preferred the more delicate flavor of their shrimp kroketten. Loetje’s apple pie is also excellent, should you manage to save any room.

cafe loetje amsterdam

port schnitzel

Moeders Restaurant

It’s hard to imagine a more charming restaurant than Moeders, which is Dutch for Mothers. The walls are plastered with photos of smiling, happy women – mothers of people who have dined there over the years. Tables are set with mismatched china, also bestowed upon the restaurant by generous patrons. The end result is a comforting, homey atmosphere that immediately puts you at ease. Moeders’ cooking is equally satisfying, featuring an assortment of Dutch classics and comfort food. I opted for “Mother’s spare-ribs,” a half portion of delectable barbecue ribs served with fries and a cabbage salad. Those with bigger appetites should order the “Father” sized portion. Reservations are essential.

moeders restaurant amsterdam

moeders restaurant amsterdam

The Pantry

Another cozy nook is the Pantry. This highly-rated restaurant specializes in Dutch home cooking with a focus on quality over quantity. The Pantry’s limited number of dishes are divided into four set menus, each with three courses. My set began with crunchy, gooey goat cheese croquettes and ended with a plate of fluffy poffertjes, or mini pancakes dusted with powdered sugar. The main course was a flavorsome casserole of mashed potato, cauliflower, curried ground beef, and Dutch cheese. It was an excellent welcome on our first night in Amsterdam. (Incidentally, when we showed up to the Pantry without a reservation, I mentioned to the waiter that we had just arrived in town. He was so tickled that we chose his restaurant for our first meal, that he made room for us even though they were fully booked. His warm hospitality set the tone for the entire trip!)

pantry amsterdam menu

pantry restaurant amsterdam

Long Pura

Delicious as all that Dutch food was, it was a little heavy to eat every day for a week. To mix things up, we decided to check out Amsterdam’s Indonesian food scene. The Dutch East India Company was established in what is now Indonesia in the early 17th century. A booming spice trade was soon underway, introducing the exotic flavors of Southeast Asia to Northern Europe. Dutch colonists also introduced the rijsttafel, or rice table, as a means of trying many Indonesian dishes in one sitting. We enjoyed our rijsttafel at restaurant Long Pura, which aims to recreate the ambiance of a Balinese temple in the middle of Amsterdam. We were each served a generously-sized appetizer, then given a total of 12 dishes to share. The chicken satay, egg in a spicy chili sauce, sauteed green beans with tofu, and chicken stewed in coconut milk were especially memorable.

long pura rijsttafel amsterdam

Long Pura Indonesian Restaurant Amsterdam

La Oliva

While the Dutch Republic was dominating the eastern spice trade, the surrounding Low Countries were under the thumb of the Spanish Crown. After centuries of fighting, a French, British, and Dutch alliance finally succeeded in severing ties with the Spanish Empire and returning control of the region to the Austrian Hapsburgs. Thankfully, that tense history is long buried. Today, Spanish culture is celebrated in Amsterdam with tapas bars all over the city. At La Oliva, beautiful little pintxos line the bar, each more appealing than the last. We made our selections after having them all described by the waitstaff, and toasted a successful day of sightseeing with glasses of Rioja.

la oliva amsterdam restaurant

Winkel 43

For dessert, we walked a few blocks to Winkel, a cafe renowned for its apple pie. Each towering slice is crammed with tender slices of apple, perfectly seasoned with cinnamon, and accented with fresh cream. You will absolutely want your own piece! Don’t be put off by the line of people waiting outside; our party of four was seated quickly.

winkel apple pie

Pancakes Amsterdam

Another Dutch treat you must try is pancakes. The traditional varieties come topped with bacon, cheese, and apple. I went all out with a savory pancake covered in goat cheese, spinach, and pine nuts. It was out of this world! Pancakes Amsterdam uses a buckwheat flour batter for its dinner plate-sized creations, though you can request gluten-free if needed.

pancakes amsterdam

B&B Keizers Canal

Every morning in Amsterdam began with a lovely breakfast prepared by Paulo, owner of the B&B my friends and I rented for the week. Our wonderful host plied us with assorted cheeses and cured meats, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, fresh fruit and orange juice, and eggs cooked any way we liked them. While we ate, Paulo provided helpful advice about our day’s agenda and kept our coffee cups full. The B&B’s two basement rooms were surprisingly large and bright, and the townhouse’s central location makes it a great base for sightseeing. Since my friends and I rented both rooms, it was like we had our own private house for the week.

b&b keizers canal breakfast

B&B Keizers Canal Amsterdam

B&B Keizers Canal occupies the ground level and basement of this elegant building.

Which Dutch treat would you most like to try?

Have a favorite Amsterdam restaurant to add to the list? 

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Amsterdam Restaurant Guide

Cafe Loetje
Address: Johannes Vermeerstraat 52, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Pricing: €€

Moeders Restaurant
Address: Rozengracht 251, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Pricing: €€

The Pantry
Address: Leidsekruisstraat 21, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Pricing: €€

Long Pura
Address: Rozengracht 46-48, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Pricing: €€€

La Oliva
Address: Egelantiersstraat 122-124, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Pricing: €€€

Winkel 43
Address: Noordermarkt 43, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Pricing: €

Pancakes Amsterdam
Address: Multiple locations; I visited the one in the Nine Streets neighborhood
Pricing: €€

B&B Keizers Canal
Address: Keizersgracht 669, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Pricing: €€€


Three Days in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

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I recently returned home from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and am excited by the changes I witnessed since my first visit four years ago. The city’s skyline has so many glitzy new additions as to be almost unrecognizable. The massive coils of electrical wires that once snaked overhead have been neatly buried, while pedestrian crosswalks (with lights!) have been added at many intersections. Western chains like Starbucks and Carls Jr. have spread like wildfire. Yet some things remain charmingly familiar: women in traditional hats selling fruit and snacks from baskets on the sidewalk; scooters swarming the streets like schools of fish; crumbling French colonial facades overgrown with tropical plants.

ho chi minh city tet decorations

ho chi minh city nightlife

ho chi minh city street food

driving in ho chi minh city

My parents joined me this time around, keen to explore a place of historical significance for Americans of a certain age. Our visit coincided with the lead-up to Tet, what the Vietnamese call Lunar New Year. Colorful decorations heralding the Year of the Rooster lent a fun and festive air to the already vibrant city. I loved having my family along even though it meant a less strenuous sightseeing schedule than normal. But even with our leisurely pace, we managed to see a lot thanks to the city’s easy walkability. It also helps that many of the key attractions are centered in District 1. The itinerary I’m sharing here combines the best of both trips, highlighting the Saigon of yore and the rapidly developing Asian metropolis of today. Here is how I recommend spending three days in Ho Chi Minh City.

ho chi minh city vietnam

tet decorations saigon

year of the rooster vietnam

celebrating tet in vietnam

A good starting point is Reunification Palace, the seat of power of what was once South Vietnam. Saigon fell to North Vietnamese troops in 1975, marking the end of the Vietnam-American War. Two of the tanks that crashed dramatically through the palace’s front gates remain parked on the lawn, symbols of the North’s victory. The building has been turned into a museum, with the 1970s interior left intact. Visitors can wander three floors of fully furnished rooms, as well as the rooftop veranda and underground bunker still hung with military maps. Reunification Palace closes every day between 11:00-13:00, so be sure to plan accordingly. Also note that the building doesn’t have a/c and can get oppressively hot in the afternoons.

Reunification Palace Ho Chi Minh City

reunification palace tank

reunification palace tour

reunification palace interior

reunification palace bunker

Take an early lunch break at Nha Hang Ngon, which I happily discovered on my last trip to Vietnam. While I thought the quality had diminished slightly since that first euphoric experience, you really can’t go wrong with a big steaming bowl of pho inside an old French villa!

nha hang ngon saigon

vietnamese pho

The French colonial empire of Indochina, which included most of modern-day Vietnam, lasted from 1887 to 1954. During that time, French authorities constructed an array of lovely government buildings and theaters in the hopes of wooing European settlers to the exotic outpost. The Saigon Central Post Office is a shining example from that era. A sunny yellow exterior (freshly painted since my last visit) fronts a cavernous space bustling with activity; my mom was amazed to find that the beautifully restored edifice still serves as a working post office! It’s a great place to buy postcards and stamps, as well as magnets, books, and other souvenirs.

saigon post office

Saigon Central Post Office

saigon central post office

Notre Dame Cathedral floats in the center of a busy street a few steps from the post office. This Roman Catholic church, erected on the site of a disused pagoda, was established in Saigon in the 1880s to serve the needs of French colonists. All the building materials were imported from France, while the statue of Our Lady of Peace gracing the small garden out front is made of Roman granite. Today the cathedral is only open for religious services.

Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral

saigon traffic

A few blocks away is the unmissable Ho Chi Minh City Hall, a near replica of the Hotel de Ville in Paris for which it was originally named. A statue of “Uncle Ho,” arm outstretched to greet his followers, towers over the square out front. While not open to the public, the elegant building makes a perfect backdrop for photos.

ho chi minh city hall

My parents were ready for a break at this point, so we headed back to our hotel for a bit. I chose the Caravelle Saigon both for its convenient District 1 location next to the Saigon Opera House and for its historical status. Originally opened by the French in 1959, the Caravelle became home base for foreign journalists covering the war. It’s said that towards the end of the conflict, as the front moved ever closer to Saigon, reporters could watch the action from the rooftop bar – then the highest point in the city! That famous bar is still there, though thankfully a fiery sunset is the most action it sees these days.

caravelle hotel saigon

caravelle saigon rooftop bar

saigon sunset

We kept the French theme going with dinner at Au Parc Saigon. The Mediterranean menu has something for just about everyone, from hummus and falafel to pasta and grilled seafood. I opted for a Greek salad, Middle Eastern spiced chicken, and a cup of dark chocolate mousse. Every bite was perfection!

au parc saigon

au parc saigon menu

After a leisurely morning checking out some of the neighborhood shops, we stopped by L’Usine for an early brunch. I savored the pulled pork, pumpkin, and potato hash while my parents thoroughly enjoyed pillowy pancakes topped with honey butter and mixed berry compote. The coffee here is also excellent. After the meal, we perused L’Usine’s expertly curated shop. If I lived in HCMC, this is a space I would frequent!

tet in saigon

The entrance to L’Usine is through the “Art Arcade” on Dong Khoi, opposite the Caravelle.

l'usine saigon

Ben Thanh Market was built in the 1870s, making it one of the oldest French structures in HCMC. The cavernous space is filled to the rafters with a vast array of souvenirs, and throngs of tourists jostle for space along the narrow flues. We bought our requisite t-shirts and moved quickly on to the next attraction, eager to escape the crowds.

ben thanh market saigon

ben thanh market ho chi minh city

vietnam souvenirs

ben thanh market saigon

The Bitexco Financial Tower is easily identified thanks to the jaunty helipad perched on the side. Even with a slew of new high rises, the 68-story tower remains the tallest in HCMC. Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor offers sweeping 360-degree views, and unique high-quality souvenirs can be found in the gift shop. To admire the distinctive helipad from ground level, stroll over to the Saigon River where a new park has been added.

bitexco tower saigon

View of Saigon from Bitexco Financial Tower

saigon skydeck view

saigon river boat

Dedicate the afternoon to one of the city’s many museums. Ho Chi Minh City Museum is housed in lovely Gia Long Palace, another French-era construction. The grand staircase, long airy corridors, and tile floors are definitely worth a gander. The museum itself features an odd assortment of exhibits ranging from natural history and farm equipment to old maps and coins. There is an interesting display on the wedding rituals of the country’s various ethnic groups, including costumes, bride gifts and dowry items. Vietnam’s war history is also covered in depth.

gia long palace saigon

ho chi minh city museum

My favorite restaurant from the earlier trip, Temple Club, was a bit of a disappointment the second time around. In fact, I hesitated to include it here. But that first meal was SO GOOD that I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt – maybe they were simply having an off night. Every table in the place was full, after all.

temple club saigon

What’s with this lettuce garnish?

More adventurous types would do well to book a food tour with Saigon Street Eats. I previously ate my weight in crustaceans on the Seafood Trail tour, and would recommend it to anyone keen to experience the local culture.

saigon street eats seafood tour

Another highlight from my first trip was a visit to the Jade Emperor Pagoda, which was erected by Cantonese immigrants in 1909 to honor the preeminent Taoist god. The colorful temple filled with incense, worshipers, tourists, and a handful of feral dogs doubles as a turtle sanctuary. Feeding the creatures is a popular merit-making ritual for religious faithful. Jade Emperor Pagoda is a pleasant 30-minute walk from the Caravelle Hotel.

jade emperor pagoda saigon

Take a slight detour on the way back to enjoy lunch at Pho Hoa Pasteur, one of the city’s most popular pho noodle joints. You’ll be rewarded with simple, hearty flavors in a lively yet unpretentious atmosphere.

pho hoa pasteur saigon

For a decadent dessert, make your way to Fly Cupcake Garden Cafe. While I haven’t been to the new location, Fly Cupcakes are some of the most creative and delectable I’ve had the pleasure of eating. I know from experience that it can be difficult to choose between the many varieties, so order two to make up for all the calories lost wandering around HCMC in the searing heat.

fly cupcake saigon

If the weather is nice, consider spending the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the Caravelle’s outdoor swimming pool. This is a vacation after all!

caravelle saigon pool

Alternatively, you can opt for a day trip to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels. The tenacious Vietnamese dug a vast network of underground tunnels to aide in their fight for independence against the French. Several decades later, the tunnels played a key role in the North Vietnamese defeat of the American-South Vietnamese alliance. Going down into those same tunnels as a tourist is a surreal experience. Even though those at Cu Chi have been widened enough for larger Westerner-sized bodies to squeeze through, I still felt claustrophobic after a five minute crawl. I can’t imagine living down there in the dark for months at a time! The site’s anti-American vibe might be a bit disconcerting for some – which is partly why I didn’t take my parents – but it was enlightening to learn about the war from a different perspective.

cu chi tunnels vietnam

How would you spend three days in Ho Chi Minh City?

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The Best Meals We Ate in Kyiv, Ukraine

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Prior to my trip to Kyiv, the only Ukrainian dish I was remotely familiar with was Chicken Kiev. Or so I thought. As it turns out, Kyiv’s best restaurants offer a delightful mix of regional flavors, from Crimea to the Carpathians, and put their unique spin on a range of classic dishes including crispy potato pancakes, pillowy varenyky (pierogi), stuffed grape leaves, cabbage rolls, salty cheese crepes, and good old apple pie. Trendy spots serve up more modern fare and a surprising array of Ukrainian craft beer. Even better, affordable prices make it possible to sample a variety of delicacies without breaking the bank. Here are my favorite meals of the trip, with addresses and pricing information listed below. Know of any other great restaurants or cafes in Kyiv? Share them in the comments!

Musafir

Musafir Restaurant Kiev

Crimean food

Musafir was once the most popular Tatar restaurant in Crimea until Russia annexed the region and forced the owners to relocate to Kyiv. But Crimea’s loss is the capital city’s gain, as Musafir delights locals and tourists alike. Waitresses wear traditional ethnic costumes and the decor hearkens to Turkey or Uzbekistan. All the food at Musafir is halal (Tatars are traditionally Muslim) though Ukrainian beer is available except during Ramadan, because all are welcome here. My favorite dish was yantiki, a baked pouch of thin dough stuffed with meat, cheese, and mushrooms. Served with sour cream and tomato salsa, it reminded me a bit of a Mexican quesadilla. The beef-and-onion manty (dumplings), on the other hand, seemed similar to Tibetan momos. Good food is universal, it seems!

Кіфлик (Kiflik)

Кіфлик Kiflik Restaurant Kiev

Carpathian Mountain Cuisine

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Varvar is a new Ukrainian craft brewery which opened in 2015.

Billed as an “Ethno Gastro Pub,” Kiflik brings the flavors of the Carpathian mountains to downtown Kyiv. There was no English menu at the time of my visit, so I asked the friendly owners to bring me dishes that best represented the region. The first course was a creative take on bruschetta, with thick slices of doughy bread topped with a variety of ingredients including smoked sausage and salty cheese. Next up were dense potato pancakes in a creamy mushroom sauce. The star of the meal was a plate of glazed pork ribs over cabbage noodles which I was very reluctant to share. How I’d love to have another plate of those right now!

Чачапури (Chachapuri)

Chachapuri Restaurant Kiev Ukraine

The bill was delivered in a faux Georgian passport complete with immigration stamp!

Georgian Cuisine

I stoked my curiosity about Georgian cuisine at Chachapuri, one of the top rated restaurants in Kyiv. Grilled meats reigned supreme, from well-seasoned lamb kebab with pomegranate seeds to succulent chicken-and-cheese sausage with buttery zucchini. Everything came heaped with dill and crispy onions. The menu was a bit overwhelming and we definitely ordered too much food, but nary a crumb was left behind. We even devoured the free canapes and vodka (or some other potent clear liquor) that was sent to our table with compliments from the chef. I know that I will eat well when I eventually make it to Georgia!

Lviv Handmade Chocolate

Lviv Handmade Chocolate Kiev

Even though I was stuffed after all that yummy Georgian food, I still managed to roll myself next door to Lviv Handmade Chocolate. Originally dating to the Hapsburg era, the confectionery from western Ukraine has become so popular that branches have opened across the country. You can create your own collection of pretty truffles and bon-bons, which have adorable names like nutty whirligig and pistachio whims, or choose from the boxed assortments. My favorite treat was called honey barrel, though I might need to taste a few more to be sure.

Kocatka

Kosatka Kiev

kyiv16

Kocatka was packed with locals and it’s easy to see why. This hip, European-style gastro pub impressed me with its relaxed atmosphere, friendly service, and, most importantly, some very tasty food. The stewed chicken with lemon and honey came with a heaping serving of baked apples and I worried it would be too sweet, but the combination was wonderfully savory thanks to the use of fresh herbs. Likewise, the creamy chicken and dumplings benefited from a big bunch of peppery arugula. The servings were a little smallish, but that just left room for dessert. I highly recommend ordering a slice of warm apple pie with hints of caramel and ginger! Kocatka is about a 10-minute walk from St. Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery, making it an ideal spot for lunch on a busy day of sightseeing.

Andrew’s Descent Cafe

kyiv18

I don’t know the name of this little sidewalk cafe on Andrew’s Descent, nor do I know if it’s open year round. But if you see a bunch of umbrellas around the bend from Mikhail Bulgakov’s Museum, pop in for a plate of potato pancakes and a beer. Hungry or not, it’s a great spot for people watching! If I lived in Kyiv, I’d be a regular on weekends.

Restaurant Matisse

City Hotel Kiev

Restaurant Matisse is located on the 15th floor of CITYHOTEL Kyiv.

Traditional Ukrainian Food

Chicken Kiev

Let’s have a close-up of all that butter.

You didn’t really think I’d go all the way to Kyiv and not try the city’s namesake dish, did you? I actually enjoyed Chicken Kiev my very first night in the city! Tired from a day of travel and touring, I opted for dinner in my hotel’s restaurant. While Matisse is primarily known for Italian cooking, I saw online that the chef also offers a menu of Ukrainian specialties. The waiter seemed momentarily surprised when I asked for that one instead of the Italian one offered, but quickly and politely acquiesced. (Of note, the prices on the “national cuisine” menu were drastically lower.) I’m sure the pasta dishes are great, but HELLO CHICKEN KIEV! Herbed butter oozed out in all the right places and it was more wonderful than I dreamed.

City Hotel Kyiv Breakfast

CITYHOTEL’s breakfast buffet, served in Restaurant Matisse, is also worth mentioning. Platters of cold cuts, cheeses, and fresh fruits and vegetables supplemented cooked items, such as potato pancakes with creamy spinach-and-mushroom sauce and perfectly poached eggs. All this was offered alongside warm bread and beautiful pastries which changed daily. Considering breakfast was included in the room rate, I thought CITYHOTEL went above and beyond what was expected. I would definitely stay there again!

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Which do YOU think are the best restaurants in Kyiv?

Have any favorite Ukrainian dishes?

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The Best Restaurants in Kiev

Musafir
Address: Saksahanskoho St, 57А, Kyiv, Ukraine
Pricing: €

Кіфлик (Kiflik)
Address: 4 Shota Rustaveli St, Kyiv, Ukraine
Pricing: €€
Чачапури (Chachapuri)
Address: Tarasa Shevchenko Blvd, 36А, Kyiv, Ukraine
Pricing: €€

Lviv Handmade Chocolate
Address: Tarasa Shevchenko Blvd, 36/16, Kyiv, Ukraine
Pricing: €€

Kocatka
Address: Velyka Zhytomyrska St, 25/2, Kyiv, Ukraine
Pricing: €

Andrew's Descent Cafe
Address: Andriivs'kyi descent, 13Б, Kyiv, Ukraine
Pricing: €

Restaurant Matisse @ CITYHOTEL Kyiv 
Address: Bohdana Khmel'nyts'koho St, 56, Kyiv, Ukraine
Pricing: €€
48 Hours in Helsinki Finland

Falling in Love with Helsinki, Finland

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Have you ever visited a new destination and felt instantly at home, as if you could move there tomorrow and your life would fit in seamlessly? I’ve traveled through over 40 countries, but only felt that sort of serious connection to a handful of places, including RigaDublin, Budapest, Paris, and New York. Another city I’d be happy to move to is Helsinki, Finland. It’s quiet, unassuming, and a little quirky – like me! I only spent a weekend in Helsinki, but it left an imprint on my heart. Here’s how I made the most of my short time there, and why I’m so eager to return.

Helsinki Finland

Helsinki is a shopper’s paradise, with boutiques and designer stores at every turn. Famous names like marimekko and iittala might be the big draw, but Helsinki’s Design District boasts more than 200 venues where one can peruse the latest in fashion, jewelry, and home decor. I loved being surrounded by that level of creativity, even if I could only afford to window shop!

Helsinki iittala store

marimekko helsinki store

Vibrant marimekko fabric for sale at the brand’s flagship store in Helsinki.

Helsinki Design District

The distinctive Finnish aesthetic can be further appreciated at the Design Museum. The ground floor takes visitors on a walk down memory lane through showrooms filled with innovations by decade. Upstairs, it’s all about fashion. It’s really a shame some of the styles never caught on!

Helsinki Design Museum

During the warm summer months, artisans and farmers sell their wares in Market Square next to the harbor. This is a great place to pick up affordable souvenirs, seasonal produce, and fresh fish. Nearby in the Old Market Hall, you can find all manner of Finnish delicacies. My friends and I put together a picnic of cured reindeer meat, crusty rye bread, sea buckthorn jam, and cold pear cider.

Helsinki harbor market

Helsinki harbor market fresh fish

Old Market Hall Helsinki

We enjoyed our picnic on Suomenlinna, a UNESCO-listed island fortress not far from the city. Built by Sweden in the 1750s to protect against Russian expansion, the fortification changed hands several times over the centuries, as did Finland itself. No longer used for military purposes, Suomenlinna – which means “Castle of Finland” – is a grass-covered haven for tourists and locals alike. To get there, hop aboard the ferry which departs from Market Square harbor. Tickets cost €5 and are good for 12 hours.

Suomenlinna Island Fortress

Helsinki Suomenlinna Fortress

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Interestingly, around 800 people live on Suomenlinna year round.

Helsinki’s Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral is a striking visual reminder of the century Finland spent within the Russian Empire. The redbrick church topped with golden onion domes is perched on a hillside above the city where it captures the morning light.

Helsinki Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral

Helsinki Orthodox Church

It’s possible to visit Helsinki as a day-trip from Tallinn, Estonia, but I don’t recommend it. Helsinki deserves much more than a single day (as does Tallinn)! Plus, where else can you spend the night in jail and not have it show up as an offense on your permanent record? Hotel Katajanokka is located in a historic building that was used as a prison until 2002. Although tastefully updated into a modern boutique hotel, many of the prison’s interior features have been left intact. It was definitely one of my more memorable hotel stays!

Helsinki prison hotel

As ever, I ate well during my time in Helsinki. The Sea Horse restaurant has been serving up traditional Baltic fare since 1934. I feasted on pickled herring, Finnish meatballs, and pancakes sweetened with homemade strawberry jam in the homey bistro setting. At the other end of the dining spectrum, Restaurant Kuu puts a modern spin on those classic flavors. Reindeer steak is updated with barley risotto and a port wine reduction; the humble salmon is elevated with a delicately herbaceous broth. I regret not sampling one of Kuu’s innovative desserts, but I was saving room for salmiakki, or salty licorice, ice cream and all the Fazer chocolates.

Helsinki Sea Horse Restaurant

Helsinki Restaurant Kuu

Finnish Salmiakki Ice Cream

I think part of the reason I felt such a connection to Helsinki is that it reminded me of my beloved Riga, particularly the architecture. I had a constant crick in my neck from looking up at the unusually-shaped buildings decorated with unexpected details. Pear cider in a leafy park helped me recuperate.

Helsinki 25

Helsinki train station

Helsinki architecture

Helsinki in summer

Like Riga, Helsinki comes alive during the summer months.

Tell me: how would YOU spend 48 hours in Helsinki?

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48 Hours in Helsinki, Finland

15 More of the Best Restaurants in Riga

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Unbelievably, it’s been a full year since I last wrote about Riga’s robust restaurant scene. I’ve discovered lots more places since then and thought it was time for a follow-up to one of the most popular posts on my website. In this list you’ll find even more of the city’s best mid-range and high-end restaurants, as well as a few budget-friendly and vegetarian options. Good food doesn’t have to be expensive! (Pricing information and addresses can be found at the bottom of this post.) Know of any other worthy spots? Be sure to share them in the comments!

Kolonade

Kolonade Riga

Riga Kolonade Menu

I’ve dined at Kolonade several times and it keeps getting better and better. Located in a historic building between the Freedom Monument and Opera House, Kolonade seeks to tell the story of a modern-yet-traditional Latvia through food. Talented chef Ainars Volodka transforms the country’s farm-fresh produce into edible works of art, each plate brought forth by friendly and attentive servers. If you want to experience the best of Latvian cuisine, you would do well to book a table here.

Monterosso

Monterosso Riga

Monterosso Restaurant Riga

Riga’s first Italian restaurant continues to impress diners more than a decade after its debut, with classic Italian fare served up in fine European style. Monterosso’s stunning dining room and impeccable service hearkens back to the golden 1930s, while the delectable food whisks you away to the Amalfi Coast. I was very happy with my selections off the special spring menu, though the regular options are equally satisfying. Be sure to save room for dessert!

Portofino

Portofino Restaurant Riga

Portofino Riga Menu

Portofino, the second of four Italian restaurants to make this list, is an elegant hideaway in Riga’s Art Nouveau district. My entire meal was excellent, from the black bean dip accompanying the artisan bread to the thoughtfully plated dessert. The wait staff made me feel welcome the second I entered, and didn’t bat an eye when I asked for my fish to be filleted rather than served whole. Portofino came recommended to me by several blog readers and now I fully understand why!

Entresol

Entresol Riga

Riga Entresol Menu

For a little taste of France head to Entresol, one of Riga’s most exciting new restaurants. Award-winning head chef Raimonds Zommers has created an innovative compilation of canapes which perfectly compliment his heartier fare. Winners include the scallop served elegantly in its shell, creamy potato soup, and foie gras with chorizo. Entresol also boasts an excellent value business lunch which comes with your choice two canapes (plus a full-size main course).

Mute

Mute Restaurant Riga

Mute Food Riga

The food at Mute, which means “mouth” in Latvian, is sure to delight your taste buds. Everything I’ve had here has been impressive, from plated breakfasts on weekends to savory fish-and-veggie dishes at lunch. I also appreciate the inventive flavor combinations of the bakery items, such as the lemon-lime-coconut custard tart pictured above. My only complaint is that Mute’s fabulous business lunch menu isn’t available during the summer months, when the locals go on holiday.

Amarone

Amarone Restaurant Riga

Amarone Riga Menu

Amarone Italian restaurant is owned by the same group as Rossini, which made my original list of recommendations. Service here is flawless and the bartender is generous with pours, which can’t be said for a posh competitor around the corner (*cough*Prego*cough). Amarone’s prices are also much more reasonable. I often enjoy a fresh seasonal salad and heaping bowl of pasta or risotto on the patio with a crisp glass of pinot grigio.

Bon Vivant

Bon Vivant Belgian Restaurant Riga

Belgian mussels in Riga, Latvia

Riga’s only Belgian restaurant, Bon Vivant, is the place to go to satisfy your hankering for a steaming pot mussels. (Try the Leffe Blonde version – it’s my favorite!) The classic pub also boasts several dozen Belgian brews, all with their official corresponding glasses, which, as we all know, makes the beer taste even better.

LIDO

LIDO Restaurant Riga

If you want to experience authentic Latvian home cooking, your best bet is to head to one of the many LIDO restaurants located around Riga. Don’t be put off by the cafeteria-style atmosphere – the food here is delicious, and the affordable prices mean you can sample many different items without breaking the bank. Simply grab a tray and fill it with as much as you can carry. (Yes, everything on the tray above was for me – and cost less than €10!)

Naples 

Naples Swimming Pool in Riga

Naples Restaurant Riga

A crispy pizza hot from a wood-fired oven and the azure waters of a private swimming pool. What do these two things have in common? Both can be enjoyed at Riga’s newest Italian eatery, Naples! I’ll admit to thinking it sounded too good to be true, but the pizza and the view are among the city’s best. I went for lunch during the week and managed to snag a table right next to the marina, though I imagine reservations are needed on summer weekends.

Valmiermuiza Beer Kitchen

Valmiermuiza Beer Kitchen Riga

Valmiermuiza Alus Restaurant Riga

Valmiermuiza Alus is one of Latvia’s premier craft beers, hailing from the charming little town of Valmiera. Many bars and restaurants across the country serve this tasty ale, but none pair it as expertly with food like Valmiermuiza Beer Kitchen, the brewery’s “embassy” in Riga. The menu changes seasonally, as do the beers on offer, though you can never go wrong with the pork belly and a filtered light beer. Round out the meal with garlic bread and a selection of Latvian cheeses!

Stockpot

Stockpot Riga

Stockpot Restaurant Riga

In 2012, a Brit with a penchant for Asian spices opened a bistro with his Latvian wife and has been winning local hearts and stomachs ever since. A rotating cast of soups, stews, and curries, ranging from mild to light-your-hair-on-fire hot, are served along with rice or bread and a pile of cilantro – all nutritious and highly affordable. Crowd favorites are chicken tikka masala and beef chili, though vegetarian and vegan options are usually available. Snag a seat at a communal table and an icy cold beer and if your lucky the chef, Richard, will pop by for a chat. Note that Stockpot is closed on weekends.

Indian Raja

Indian Raja Riga

Spicy food can be hard to come by in Riga, which is surprising since it can be a great way to warm up on a chilly Baltic night. Thankfully, Indian Raja turns up the heat with some truly fiery curries. Some of the dishes are so hot that the Latvian waitresses will actually warn you against ordering them! Don’t listen 🙂

Forest

Forest Restaurant Riga

For an elegant pre-theater meal, I suggest Forest Restaurant which is conveniently located across the canal from the Opera House. Service is fast (for Riga) and the seasonal international cuisine is as pretty as it is scrumptious. Reservations are essential.

Kasha Gourmet

Kasha Gourmet Riga

Kasha Gourmet Riga Menu

When a friend told me to check out Riga’s new porridge restaurant, I was highly skeptical, wondering how my standard breakfast chow could be elevated to “gourmet” status. Kasha lives up to its name by utilizing a wide array of grown-up grains – quinoa, lentils, buckwheat, pearl barley – and high quality Latvian ingredients. The Greek salad with fried feta cheese and lentils, and the salmon fillet with beet risotto, are especially successful.

FoodBox

FoodBox Riga

Think you can’t get good doner kebab or falafel in Riga? Think again! This popular eatery next door to the Swedish Embassy turns out dependable Turkish fare, from delectable wraps to heaping platters of iskender kebab – so long as they haven’t run out. FoodBox is packed come lunchtime! (The restaurant closes at 7pm and weekend hours seem to vary, so double check that it’s open before you go.)

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Kolonade
Address: Brivibas bulvaris 26, Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

Monterosso
Address: Valnu iela 9, Old Town, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€€

Portofino 
Address: Ausekla iela 7, Center, Riga, Latvia 
Pricing: €€€

Entresol
Address: Elizabetes iela 22, Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€€

Mute
Address: Terbatas iela 63, Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

Amarone
Address: Jura Alunana iela 2, Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

Bon Vivant 
Address: Marstaļu iela 8, Old Town, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€ 

LIDO 
Address: Multiple Locations
Pricing: €

Naples 
Address: Eksporta iela 4, Andrejsala, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€ 

Valmiermuzas Beer Kitchen 
Address: Aristida Briana iela 9, Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

Stockpot 
Address: Gertrudes iela 6, Center, Riga, Latvia 
Pricing: €

Indian Raja 
Address: Skarnu iela 7, Old Town, Riga, Latvia 
Pricing: €€ 

Forest 
Address: Raina bulvaris 21, Center, Riga, Latvia 
Pricing: €€€ 

Kasha Gourmet
Address: Stabu iela 14, Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

FoodBox
Address: Antonijas iela 6A, Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €

 

Beautiful Bergen: Gateway to the Fjords

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Nestled in a mountain valley next to the sea, Bergen, Norway is an ideal jumping off point for those wishing to venture into the spectacular Norwegian fjords. But Bergen deserves a visit all its own! I spent four and a half days exploring the city’s charms and could easily have stayed a week. Museums, architecture, cafes, shopping, and killer views – Bergen has everything!

Your first stop in Bergen will undoubtedly want to be Bryygen, the city’s UNESCO-listed Old Town. In the Middle Ages, the Hanseatic League set up shop along the wharf, turning it into a prosperous center of trade that lasted for centuries. Bryygen’s brightly painted wooden buildings still stand, although they lean so precariously against one another a mountain troll could probably tip them over like dominoes.

Bryygen in Bergen Norway

Bryygen UNESCO Site Norway

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Bryygen Norway

The nearby Fish Market is a lively spot for a stroll and a quick meal. Simply choose the crustacean you want and have it grilled on the spot! Yes, it’s pricey, but when else are you going to eat freshly caught seafood in Norway? The market is also a good place to shop for fun souvenirs like moose sausage and tinned fish. You’re welcome, family!

Bergen Fish Market

Fresh Seafood in Bergen Norway

Bergen Fish Market

Worth the splurge!

Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains, making for some truly dramatic scenery. Mount Floyen is closest to the city center, and easily reached thanks to a funicular railway (Floibanen) that stops conveniently near Bryygen. We visited Bergen in June during a rare span of good weather (a local told us it rains 360 days a year), and fleeting rays of sunshine danced through cottony clouds over water as smooth as glass. I’d love to go back during a season when the sun actually sets to watch the sky turn a million shades of pink.

Bergen Mt Floyen Viewpoint

Mount Floyen Bergen

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Mount Ulriken, Bergen’s highest point, is a popular hiking destination for locals and tourists alike. A vintage cable car whisks you to the top in minutes, some 643 meters above sea level. You can return the same way or paraglide down, if you dare. I recommend giving yourself several hours to hike around the extraordinary mountain terrain dotted with lakes and secluded cottages. Just know that if you take the tourist bus from the fish market, the last return from Ulriken is 5:30pm. We only found this out at 6pm when we showed up at the bus stop and were told we’d have to find another way to get back to town (i.e. walk to the main road and catch a local bus).

Bergen Mt Ulriken View

Mt Ulriken Bergen NorwayMount Ulriken Bergen

Mt Ulriken Hiking

Art lovers should make a beeline for KODE, the Art Museums of Bergen. Comprised of four separate buildings in the heart of the city, the museum’s extensive collections could easily take a full day to admire. My favorite was the Rasmus Meyers Collection in KODE 3, the 18th century mansion of Dutch Consul Henrik Fasmer. Visitors can enjoy the historical details of the house before moving into brightly-lit rooms of contemporary Norwegian paintings. Edvard Munch is naturally the star.

KODE Art Museum in Bergen

Norwegian Paintings

Another point of interest in Bergen is Fantoft Stave Church. Although the original 12th century building burned down in 1991, an exact replica now stands in its place. You’ll need to take public transport to reach the church, but it’s worth the effort to see those fantastically carved eaves!

Fantoft Stave Church

Stave Church in Bergen, Norway

Of course, my favorite thing to do in Bergen was simply to wander its quaintly cobbled streets in search of pretty architecture and cozy cafes. I found both in spades, along with a surprising amount of street art. Bergen is a university town with a cool vibe in a historic setting. It’s the kind of place I could happily call home for a while.

Bergen Norway Alleyways

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I’ll be moving into this house. Hopefully the owners won’t mind!

Bergen Norway Architecture

Street in Bergen Norway

Bergen Street Art

All that sightseeing will work up quite an appetite (at least if you’re me). Thankfully, Bergen’s dining scene has you covered. Cafe Bastant is an excellent lunch spot near Bryygen, dishing up hearty bowls of soup and toasted cheese sandwiches. It’s the perfect way to chase away the chill!

Bergen Bastant Cafe

Pingvinen serves traditional Norwegian fare (lamb sausage, grilled fish, lots of pickled things) in a fun brew pub setting. Be sure to sample some of the tasty craft beers, which pair well with the savory food. Pingvinen is incredibly popular so you might have to wait for a table at the bar.

Bergen Pingvinen Restaurant

To experience Norwegian fine dining, head to Lysverket and prepare to delight your senses. We opted for the 7-course tasting menu, which involved a lot of interaction with the waitstaff. Each dish was beautifully presented and elegantly prepared, from the artisan bread and butter to the homemade donuts with rhubarb chutney. It’s a culinary adventure I won’t soon forget!

Lysverket Bergen

Lysverket Tasting Menu

How would YOU spend four days in Bergen, Norway? Tell me in the comments!

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My Favorite Cafes in Riga, Part 2

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It’s been over a year since I wrote about my favorite cafes in Riga, Latvia. While I stand by the original list, there are quite a few new (or new-to-me) spots that deserve recognition. Riga boasts one of the most outstanding cafe scenes in all of Europe, with a focus on craft coffee and locally-sourced, high-quality food. The Latvian attention to detail is bar none! Oh, and did I mention that nearly every cafe in town has fast, free, and easy-to-access WiFi?

Rocket Bean Roastery

Riga Rocket Bean Roastery

Rocket Bean Riga

Riga Rocket Bean Cafe

Open since the spring of 2015, Rocket Bean has quickly become a local favorite thanks to its fantastic coffee and bright convivial atmosphere. During the week Rocket Bean dishes up good value (and delicious!) business lunches while full breakfast plates reign on weekends (as opposed to the brunch buffets offered at other spots around town.) But the real draw is the coffee, which is sourced directly from growers around the world and roasted on site. According to Rocket Bean’s owner, Martins, “coffee is like bread: it’s better when it’s fresh out of the oven.”

Note: If you plan to make a day of it on trendy Miera iela, go on Saturday as all the shops are closed on Sunday.

Makonis

Makonis Cafe Riga

Riga Makonis Cafe

Previously located in Old Riga, Makonis (which means “cloud” in Latvian) is a welcome addition to the burgeoning Stabu iela food scene. I stop by often to partake of the tasty lunch specials and homemade cheesecake. On weekends, Makonis causes a sensation with all-you-can-eat waffles during the day and whiskey tastings at night. (Check their Facebook page for current events.)

Fazenda

Riga Fazenda Cafe

Riga Cafe Fazenda

I adore this charming little cafe/restaurant and, thankfully, with two locations on either side of the river, one is always near at hand. (There’s one in Sigulda too, but that’s not near at hand.) The owners and waitstaff want customers to feel at home and they succeed in a big way. The cafes are styled like country-chic cottages, while the mouthwatering dishes focus on Latvia’s seasonal ingredients. Save room for a delectable slice of marzipan ice cream cake!

MINKA

Minka Cat Cafe Riga

Riga Cat Cafe

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Riga’s one and only cat cafe is so popular that reservations are essential to stave off disappointment, especially on weekends. Food is surprisingly good and the space is very hygienic, so don’t hesitate to order lunch. MINKA is located in the up-and-coming Agenskalns neighborhood and well worth the trek across the river. Just know that there are only three cats (that I’ve seen) so you might not get to play with them as much as you’d like. Unless, of course, one curls up on your lap.

Big Bad Bagels

Riga Big Bad Bagels

Bagel Cafe Riga

Having previously lived in Manhattan, I have fairly high standards when it comes to bagels. Most places don’t even come close. So when a bagel cafe opened in Riga, I was skeptical. But Big Bad Bagels nails it! The bagels are dense and chewy while the toppings live up to the Latvian standard of freshness. My favorite sandwich is “Bacon in Mexico,” which comes loaded with cream cheese, guacamole, bacon, and a fried egg. YUM!

BakeBerry

BakeBerry Cafe Riga

Best Cafe in Old Riga

Recently opened in a beautifully restored Old Riga building, BakeBerry boasts some of the best pastries in town! I’m partial to the heavenly pistachio eclair, but everything I’ve ordered here has been great. And the cozy interior – complete with a porch swing and bountiful pillows – will ensure you’ll want to linger.

Miit

Riga Miit Vegetarian Cafe

Vegetarians and vegans take note! Miit serves up healthful and creative fare seven days a week, though is particularly popular for its all-you-can-eat pancake brunches on Saturdays and Sundays. An endless supply of thin crepes in a variety of flavors (plain, beet, carrot, chocolate, etc) are paired with hot and cold salads, dips, veggies, and fruit. Everything is so plentiful and filling, even carnivores will leave sated. Promise!

Pagalms

Palgams Cafe Riga

Riga Palgams Cafe

For the longest time after I moved to Riga, I’d walk by this old building next to some tennis courts in Kronvalda Park and lament its decaying state. Then, one day, a construction crew appeared and got to work rehabbing the space. I figured it would have something to do with sports, but lucky for us a chic cafe was the end result. Pagalms (which means “courtyard” in Latvian) has become a peaceful spot to while away an afternoon over coffee or lunch. I suspect the romantically-lit terrace will be very popular come summer.

Kukotava

Kukotava Riga

Riga Kukotava Cafe

A made-up word that roughly translates to “cake place,” Kukotava is renowned for producing the best cakes in Riga. After hearing on multiple occasions that the gorgeous slice I was enjoying came from none other than Kukotava, I finally stopped by the bakery to see what other treats were on offer. A team of women was busy rolling out dough in the open kitchen while tantalizing smells wafted from the ovens and eager customers queued at the counter. If I lived closer I’d be in that queue every day!

La Kanna

La Kanna Cafe Riga

Riga La Kanna

Want to enjoy a nice lunch before indulging in dessert? Pop across the street to La Kanna, a local hotspot that is packed come twelve o’clock. In-the-know Rigans flock to La Kanna for its excellent-value Mediterranean- and Asian-inspired fare and well-stocked bar.

Innocent Cafe

Innocent Cafe Riga

Riga Innocent Cafe

According to online reviews, Innocent Cafe has the best coffee in Riga. While I prefer the brews at some of the other places on this list, I am a big fan of Innocent’s hearty two-course Latvian lunch specials. If cold beet soup is on the menu, order it! Innocent Cafe also boasts an ample breakfast buffet every day of the week.

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Riga Cafes

Do YOU have a favorite cafe in Riga? Tell me where I should try next!

Rocket Bean Roastery
Address: Miera iela 29/31, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €

Makonis
Address: Stabu iela 42, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €

Fazenda
Address: Multiple locations
Pricing: €€

MINKA Cat Cafe
Address: Meza iela 4a, Agenskalns, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

Big Bad Bagels
Address: Baznicas iela 8, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €

BakeBerry
Address: Audeju iela 11, Old Town, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €

Miit
Address: Lacplesa iela 10, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €

Palgams
Address: Kronvalda bulvaris 2B, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

Kukotava
Address: Terbates iela 10/12, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€

La Kanna
Address: Terbatas iela 5, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €

Innocent Cafe
Address: Blaumana iela 34-2, City Center, Riga, Latvia
Pricing: €€


The Best Meals We Ate in Croatia

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Before my road trip across Croatia, I’d never given much thought to the country’s cuisine; now that I’m home, I can’t stop! The salty essence of just-caught seafood, the vibrant punch of saffron, the clean taste of high-quality olive oil, and the granular sweetness of figs all linger on my palate. Croatian food is a wonderful amalgam of local ingredients and foreign influences: pasta and pizza from Italy, lamb kebabs and baklava from Bosnia, hearty stews with Hungarian roots. As I drove north, it was interesting to see how the cuisine changed along with the climate.

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Croatian specialties at a local farmer’s market.

Starting with Dubrovnik and ending with Rovinj, here are the best meals we enjoyed in Croatia. You can find the restaurant details at the end of this post. Know of a great spot I missed? Tell me about it in the comments!

DUBROVNIK

Lokanda Peskarija

Our first meal in Dubrovnik turned out to be one of the best of the whole trip, thanks to a recommendation from the owner of the apartment we rented. We’d just landed in Dubrovnik the night before and wanted a leisurely lunch by the sea. Lokanda Peskarija delivered big time! Lunch consisted of huge chunks of tender squid that were lightly battered and flash fried, seafood risotto swimming in saffron broth, and a fresh salad of cucumbers, red onions, cabbage, and some of the best tomatoes imaginable. All this was washed down with icy cold beer and made for a perfect introduction to Croatian cuisine.

Lokanda Peskarija Dubrovnik

Croatian food

 

Konoba Ribar

The most memorable dish from my few days in Dubrovnik was the stuffed squid at Ribar restaurant. Succulent squid were stuffed with Croatian ham and cheese and grilled until the cheese oozed onto the plate. A simple but tasty side of boiled potatoes and green beans and a mug of beer completed this excellent meal.

Konoba Ribar Dubrovnik

Stuffed squid

 

Taj Mahal

With Bosnia and Herzegovina just over the mountains from Dubrovnik, I definitely wanted to try Bosnian food while in the neighborhood. Online reviews led me to the curiously named Taj Mahal, said to be one of the best Bosnian restaurants in town. We started with pepper slices covered with spicy kaymak cheese and glasses of Bosnian wine as suggested by our waiter. Next came my veal and veggie shish, although honestly the highlight was the baked potato stuffed with more of that spectacular cheese. As for the meat, I preferred the zesty sausages of my date’s pita. But my entree jealousy was quickly forgotten because, baklava.

We rolled up at 6pm on a weekday in September and snagged the last free table. I recommend making reservations in advance to avoid disappointment.

Taj Mahal Dubrovnik

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Bosnian food

 

Oliva Pizzeria

After a long, hot day of sightseeing, sometimes a girl just needs to devour an entire pizza. Oliva Pizzeria came to the rescue with a ham and mushroom pie, hot out of the oven. I don’t think you could go wrong with any of the pizzas here.

Oliva Pizzeria Dubrovnik

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SPLIT

Villa Spiza

Villa Spiza is a tiny hole-in-the-wall tucked down a narrow alley in Split’s Old City. The day’s menu is posted outside and dishes are crossed off as they run out. I was lucky enough to get the last available order of meat stew with Gorgonzola polenta – and this was at 6pm. Arrive early so you don’t miss out! I was told that the mussels in white wine were also excellent, though I wasn’t a fan of the Croatian custom of not cleaning the shellfish before cooking.

Villa Spiza Split

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best gelato in Split

For dessert, head across the street to Love Gelato and get a big scoop of fig gelato. You won’t regret it.

 

TROGIR

Pizzeria Mirkec

The best pizza of the trip (including the week in Italy that followed these two weeks in Croatia) I found at an unassuming waterside joint in Trogir: Pizzeria Mirkec. A wood-fired crust, tangy sauce, oozy cheese, and fresh-sliced mushrooms – what’s not to love?

Pizzeria Mirkec Trogir

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ZADAR

Restaurant Kastel

Hotel restaurants can be hit or miss, but that didn’t deter me from trying Kastel, the restaurant of Hotel Bastion in Zadar. Good thing, too, because their rendition of stuffed squid knocked my sandals off! Kastel’s squid was filled with a potato-bacon mash so delicious that it took every ounce of my self control not to lick the plate clean. The fig parfait dessert was equally delectable and had us regretting not ordering individual servings. Given the remarkable food and service, I was surprised there were so few other diners. We made a reservation but it was totally unnecessary.

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The best stuffed squid in Croatia

 

Pet Bunara

In stark contrast to Kastel, reservations are absolutely necessary at popular Pet Bunara (which I nicknamed Pat Benatar. It’s the little things). Pet Bunara’s menu featured so many tempting Dalmatian specialties that we dined here twice. Standout dishes included cheese ravioli with shrimp in a fig jam sauce, a warm octopus salad with chick peas and sauteed onions, and veal stuffed with cheese curds atop a broad bean mash.

Pet Bunara Zadar

Croatian food

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Restoran Kornat

Every meal I ate in Zadar was a winner, including the fisherman’s risotto with fried squid at Kornat. The dish was loaded with fresh seafood and herbs, and the portion size was generous for the price. Kornat is located outside Zadar’s old city walls along a quiet stretch of harbor. It was fun to watch the boats come and go as we enjoyed some wine.

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Seafood risotto

 

ROVINJ

Kantinon

As is usually the case, the best meal of the trip was also the last. Based on the rave reviews, I knew I wanted to dine at Kantinon and, since it was a weekend, went to make a reservation as soon as we arrived in Rovinj. It’s a good thing we were in town for a few days because the restaurant was already booked solid Friday and Saturday nights!

Kantinon’s menu is printed in a fun newspaper format and the specials reflect the day’s catch. I started with a satisfying bowl of inky cuttlefish tagliatele with clams, sausage, and broad beans, and finished with a scrumptious dish of monkfish. I had hesitated before ordering the monkfish – whose flavor and meaty texture resembles lobster – because the dish included more sausage. I now know that there’s no such thing as too much Istrian sausage.

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Maestral

“Come for the view, stay for the food” should be Maestral’s motto. For a restaurant so well situated, the food is surprisingly affordable – not to mention delicious! The salted-fish pie and octopus stew with cheesy polenta were crowd favorites, though everything we tried was excellent.

Maestral Rovinj Restoran

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Male Madlene

For a meal that’s as charming as it is tasty, head to Male Madlene in Old Rovinj. Take a chair in the front parlor turned dining room and watch as the owner prepares Istrian tapas in the house’s tiny kitchen. Memorable bites included fresh figs with goat cheese, oysters with tomato salsa, and a strawberry cream tart. One tasting set was enough for two people to share for lunch.

Male Madlene Rovinj

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best gelato in Rovinj

Be sure to stop by Gelateria Italia for the best gelato in Rovinj!

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Croatia Dining Guide

Which of these delicious Croatian dishes would you most like to try?

Know of any restaurants I should hit up next time?

Lokanda Peskarija
Address: Na ponti bb, Old City, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Pricing: €€

Konoba Ribar
Address: Kneza Damjana Jude bb, Old City, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Pricing: €€

Taj Mahal
Address: Ul. Nikole Gučetića 2, Old City, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Pricing: €€

Oliva Pizzeria
Address: Ul. Cvijete Zuzorić 2, Old City, Croatia
Pricing: €

Villa Spiza
Address: Ul. Petra Kružića 3, Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia
Pricing: €

Pizzeria Mirkec
Address: Budislaviceva 15, Trogir, Croatia
Pricing: €

Restaurant Kastel
Address: Ul. Bedemi zadarskih pobuna 13, Zadar, Croatia
Pricing: €€

Pet Bunara
Address: Stratico 1, Zadar, Croatia
Pricing: €€

Restoran Kornat
Address: Liburnska obala 6, Zadar, Croatia
Pricing: €€

Kantinon
Address: Obala Alzo Rismondo 18, Rovinj, Croatia
Pricing: €€

Maestral
Address: Obala Vladimira Nazora, Rovinj, Croatia
Pricing: €

Male Madlene
Address: Svetog Kriza 28, Rovinj, Croatia
Pricing: €

The Best Meals We Ate in Stockholm

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Meatballs are to Sweden what fried chicken and apple pie are to the United States – no visit to the Scandinavian country would be complete without eating a steaming plate of them. Before traveling to Stockholm, my experience with Swedish meatballs was limited to Ikea; needless to say, I knew there were surely better options. Some online research for the best meatballs in Stockholm led me to Bakfickan, the casual “hip pocket” (literal translation) to fancier Opera Bar next door.

According to new friends we met in Bakfickan’s communal dining space, most Swedes don’t order meatballs in restaurants because they can never compare to Grandma’s version back home. But it’s hard to imagine that Bakfickan’s could be made any more delicious. Served with fresh tart lingonberries, pickled cucumbers, mashed potatoes, and mouthwatering gravy, this was unquestionably the best dish I had in Stockholm.

Swedish meatballs at Bakfickan

A close second was Bakfickan’s Baltic herring appetizer – as fun to eat as it was to look at. The artistically arranged plate featured herring pickled in a variety of ways – curry sauce, mustard, black currant juice – and accoutrements including potato, sour cream, and red onion. I think you should always try the local specialties of wherever you’re visiting, especially when they are this sensational!

Pickled herring platter

Bakfickan Stockholm

When I asked the front desk clerk of my hotel to make a reservation at Master Anders, he responded that it was one of his favorite restaurants. So I knew we were in for a treat! Located in Kungsholmen far from Stockholm’s touristy Old Town, Master Anders has been a local institution since 1905. The menu boasts an intriguing mix of Swedish, Parisian and New York bistro fare: think smoked salmon with dill potatoes, escargots Bourguinon, Maine lobster, chicken Caesar salad. I opted for a fillet of Arctic char hot off the grill with tomato salad and a drool-inducing potato gratin on the side. The daily special was a succulent roulade of pork belly with roasted summer vegetables. It’s easy to see why this place is a favored dining spot.

Master Anders Stockholm

Kryp In (pronounced creep in) is Swedish for “cubbyhole,” or a small, cozy place that you won’t want to leave. After my earlier success with pickled herring at Bakfickan, I was eager to try Kryp In’s version. Unfortunately, my palate was overwhelmed by the grape jelly flavor of one of the preparations and I’ve forgotten how the rest of the dish tasted. But I do remember my reindeer steak! The tender meat was served atop cheesy mashed potatoes with silky celeriac cream, sweet apple compote, tangy dried lingonberries, and a rich red wine sauce. Each mouthful was more delectable than the last!

Kryp In Stockholm

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Pork belly showed up again at the Flying Elk, this time as the star of a BLT. This rendition of the classic sandwich was elevated by oven-roasted tomatoes, garlic mayo, two types of cheese, and, of course, luscious pork belly. The fish and chips, while perfectly executed, paled in comparison to this knock-out flavor combination. The highlight of this meal, though, was the cheddar gougere appetizer. Those tiny little bites packed a savory punch!

The Flying Elk Stockholm

One of the most enjoyable attractions in Stockholm is Skansen, the world’s first open-air museum. We spent the better part of a day there, discovering how Swedes of yore used to live. When it came time for lunch, we skipped Skansen’s restaurants in favor of grilled-to-order sausages on the outdoor summer terrace. Served on a bun with a heap of coleslaw, it was absolutely delicious. Also, I’m a huge fan of pear cider. Can the rest of the world please catch on to this Nordic-Baltic trend?

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The Swedes are so passionate about the morning ritual of enjoying coffee and pastries that they have a special word for it: Fika. I must be part Swedish because I’ve been practicing fika for years. The best places for fika in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan are Kaffeekoppen (order the cinnamon bun) and Under Kastanjen (get the sponge cake). Both are located on beautiful squares surrounded by candy-colored architecture so I recommend going early to beat the crowds. In central Stockholm, Luzette is a serviceable option that’s conveniently located in the train station.

Kaffeekoppen Stockholm

Under Kastanjen Stockholm

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Stockholm Restaurant Guide

Which restaurants do you like best in Stockholm?

What dishes should I try next time?

Bakfickan
Address: Jakobs torg 12, Stockholm, Sweden
Pricing: €€€

Master Anders
Address: Pipersgatan 1, Stockholm, Sweden
Pricing: €€€

Kryp In
Address: Prästgatan 17, Stockholm, Sweden
Pricing: €€€

The Flying Elk
Address: Mälartorget 15, Stockholm, Sweden
Pricing: €€€