Lunch is a big deal in Latvia. There’s no question that it’s the most important meal of the day and should, of course, involve several courses, perhaps even dessert. Nipping out for a quick sandwich simply won’t do. If you’re wondering where to go in Riga to channel the local love of lunch and Latvian cuisine, we have you covered with this definitive list of the best cafés and restaurants in Riga.
But first, Latvian culture is deeply rooted in nature. It is for this reason that the locals incorporate so many hand-picked, natural ingredients in their cuisine. Many Latvians still forage for their supper, literally; carefully plucking berries from bushes and grapes from the vine, as well as grabbing bunches of fresh, aromatic herbs for drying.
Dictated by the four seasons, Latvians are also known for pickling, curing, smoking and fermenting their food. This results in creative dishes that are diverse in both flavour and texture.
If you’re wondering where to go in Riga to experience the depth and breadth of Baltic cuisine, you’re going to be spoilt for choice.
Latvian food to try in Riga
For any epicurean, there are a handful of traditional Latvian specialities you simply have to sample. First on the menu – the humble pickle. Let the sharp tart flavours hit your tongue during a visit to one of the local markets, the best place to sample these. From pickled tomatoes and beans to cucumbers and cauliflower, there is never any shortage of these bottled Latvian favourites. Many of the locals will recommend piling your plate with pickles. Add a dash of crisp sauerkraut on the side and you’re in Latvian heaven.
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Despite this, most Latvians consider the festive meal of ‘grey peas’ to be their national dish, even if it’s largely a Christmas-time staple. Considering that locals believe consuming peas brings them an abundance of luck and fortune in the New Year, you’ll want to spoon these up in abundance. The secret recipe doesn’t really involve more than cooking up dried peas with sautéed onion and adding a dash of salty, smoked bacon. It’s utterly delicious, nutritious and simple.
Rasol, another Latvian classic, is centred around the number one go-to local ingredient: potatoes – plural. This is essentially a layered potato salad, comprising herring, smoked meats, vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, a sprinkling of dill (the locals’ favourite herb). Lashings of sour cream and mayonnaise hold it all together.
On the sweeter side, the most traditional dessert in Latvia is arguably rye bread pudding, or maizes zupa. The Latvians serve this soupy, syrupy dessert most commonly in little pots or ramekins with – you guessed it – dark rye bread being its main ingredient.
The rye bread is usually dried in the oven, then boiled before being mixed with a few sweet additions, including cranberries, apples and plums. A generous dusting of cinnamon and a splash of whipped cream adds the finishing touch.
Our favourite restaurants in Riga
Here’s the tough part. Recommending our favourite restaurants in Riga is difficult because it is practically impossible to go wrong. After all, the vast majority of the local eateries serve up traditional dishes featuring fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.
Having said that, there are a few restaurants in Riga that stand out above the rest.
Entresol serves a range of innovative knapas, which is basically the Latvian version of tapas. This is one of the several cafés in Riga that also offers a wide variety of Latvian classics on the menu, including rye bread with lard and pickles. Entresol is certainly a top choice for travellers looking to get a better feel for the local cuisine.
Rocket Bean Café
Locals hail Rocket Bean Café as one of the best cafés in Riga. Rocket Beach Café specialises in richly fragrant coffee and serves one of the heartiest brunch buffets in Latvia’s capital city. The abundant spread consists of crisp salads tossed with sprigs of herbs. Also on offer is a diverse selection of soft and hard cheeses, cured and smoked meats and fish, delicately flavoured cocktail sausages, eggs however you prefer them, crunchy granola, creamy swirls of yoghurt both flavoured and plain – the list goes on and on.
The Catch is a hidden gem in the capital and a must for those interested in trying the region’s famous fresh fish. Embracing Asian influences, The Catch serves up the best sushi you will ever taste outside of Japan. The sashimi is simply melt-in-your-mouth, and the chef doesn’t shy away from crafting some never-seen-before creations, including seabass truffle rolls. These sushi delights are firm and crisp on the outside and silky soft on the inside.
Stage 22 is a cocktail bar and restaurant in Riga celebrated for both its food and its vistas. Here, you can enjoy your meal and drink of choice nestled atop the Grand Hotel Kempinski. Panoramic rooftop views complement the intricate flavours of their famous cold appetisers. These appetisers include refreshing spinach salads and Hamachi served with cucumber, dill, plump sea grapes, and quinces on the side.
Have you been lucky enough to sample the Latvian food scene yourself? Tell us all about your personal foodie favourites in the comments below…