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trip to riga and vilnius

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  • jblagg Feb 15, 2005 02:01 PM
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hello all! i would love some food recommendations for riga and vilnius. i searched the board and found one post on riga, but it only recommended one restaurant. i couldn't find anything on vilnius. the guidebooks on these cities are few and far between, so any input from someone that have been in either city recently would be grand. i was in vilnius 3 years ago, but i'm sure there are many, many more restaurants now.

thanks in advance!

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  1. We visited both cities (plus Estonia) last April for three weeks. Had a fantastic time. Ate fairly well, once we figured out that "traditional" usually means "tourist trap."

    Not only are the guidebooks patchy for food, but they are often wrong. Most guides to Riga and Vilnius are awash in kitschy cellar restaurants full of mounted animals, tourists and heavy, often tough game dishes. Avoid these establishments for anything other than drinking (and even then, beer tends to be overpriced). I actually love game and potatoes as much as anyone, but the "traditional" cooking at these places is often greasy and bland. For a little more money (and well under $25 a head, usually), you can dine far better.

    In Riga:
    Vincent's: Famous and justifiably so. Latvian farm ingredients are often used here to cook French-influenced international cuisine with local flair. Lovely modern room, even better service. Great wine list for the locale. You won't soon forget the seafood soup served in a French press, anything with lamb, or the Balsam ice cream served in an ice bowl with flowers. Not cheap, but still very good value compared to what you'd pay in the U.S. or Western Europe. A must.

    Sue's Indian Raja: Quite simply, some of the best Indian food I've ever had (I know, that sounds far-fetched, but it's not). A lot better than most of what you'll find in NYC. I think the owner had something to do with some famous hotel in India. Ask for your meal extra spicy so they know you're serious.
    Almost everything is exquisite.

    Urartu: Delicious Armenian food. Beats most of the other Caucasian choices in town. Great stews.

    Aragils: Not as good as Urartu, but still worth a trip if you want a change. Avoid the wine, though.

    Staburags: "Farm food" offshoot of the generally middling Lidl chain. But a hell of a lot better than the others. A bit stodgy, but fine traditional pork-and-potato standards, plus some of the best beer in Latvia (ask for it unfiltered). A great place to drink and snack.

    In Vilnius:
    Literatai: Elegant semi-Scandinavian place. Excellent fish and a really wonderful, upscale take on a traditional Lithuanian pork dinner. Pretty room and good wine list.

    Frescos: In the town hall. Eclectic but delicious. Perfectly cooked foil-wrapped river fish with vegetables, also an ultrarich, rather unsubtle but satisfying seafood rizotto. Decent game dishes. Very good value, well-done desserts.

    Vilnius is also full of small lunch and breakfast cafes, which often serve better food than restaurants. Most are amazingly cheap. Recommended for cakes, meat-filled pastries, soups, etc. Can't recall any names, but there's one located just below the ground floor of a building between the old market hall and the Gates of Dawn.

    Enjoy! Hope this helped.

    3 Replies
    1. re: chuletitas

      Chuletitas,

      Are you able to add any further tips for Tallinn? I like the sound of what you have suggested for Riga and Vilnius, and thought you might have picked up some good tips for Estonia as well.

      1. re: AnnaT

        Tere Anna,

        Ah, Tallinn. Haven't been there since 1999, which is like an eternity in post-Soviet years. I have no idea what the current restaurant scene is like, and I can't recall most of what I ate way back then.

        However, one place sticks out. It was a slightly fancy French restaurant called La (or was it Le?) Bonaparte. Really outstanding back then. Not so cheap in those days, but again, a bargain for what it was. No idea if it's any good now or if it's still open. Or if inflation has made its prices totally unreasonable. But it was a nice find at the time.

        If you go to Parnu ("a" needs an umlaut, and I can't find one), be sure to check out Munga, in a tiny, old house on the street of the same name. Parnu is a beautiful beach town that's reportedly hell in the summer, but it's magical and empty in the spring. It's halfway from Riga to Tallinn.

        Munga is filled with nice antiques and even better food. The wild boar special last spring was among the best game dishes I've ever had--supposedly killed the previous day. Served in a light red wine sauce. Dessert is also notable, as are salads (and a truly memorable salad is a rarity in that part of the world). And cheap! Really obliging and cool waitress, if she's still working there. A bit like eating at someone's funky historic house. Munga is easily my favorite restaurant in Parnu, maybe in all of Estonia . . . (Uhhhh, although there is a so-so game restaurant nearby that boasts taxidermy, staff in period costumes, and a dwarf bartender in a jester's cap; I kid you not, it's the Addam's Family of dining establishments.)

      2. re: chuletitas

        sue's indian raja was the worst food. It gives indian food a bad name. I've lived all over the world and live in Riga now. I was surprised when I ate there how horrible it was.

      3. The In Your Pocket booklets beat the piss out of the Lonely Planet and Bradt guides for these towns easily. See link below.

        In Riga, get thee early to the pirags place near the University foreign language faculty (I think it's on Avotu Street). Place does tons of volume, so everything's very fresh. Tea from the massive samovar is pennies a glass. Play the slots. Have an 8:00 AM beer with local scumbags. Enjoy.

        I also recommend the Alus Pagrabins on Raina near the station. A grubby sh*thole and a rough crowd, but the beer is cheap and the food is surprisingly good (Russian).

        Lots of Georgian snacks on offer in the tirgus.

        Link: http://www.inyourpocket.com/

        1. Vincents in Riga is a unique dining experience. Go to the area early and walk around the streets to see gorgeous art nouveau buildings. Have a drink at the hotel next door to Vincents.
          In Tallinn eat dinner at Tshiakovsky in the Hotel Telegraff and check out a hotel for drinks called Three Sisters.

          1. Was in Riga last weekend. Don't have any recommendations for outstanding places, but the Blue Cow (http://www.zila-govs.lv/ZG_edienkarte...) had excellent soups (we tried the chanterelle soup and the cold watercress soup with trout caviar) and a delicious ginger, plum and cinnamon compote. Not super cheap, but whoever was in the kitchen knew what s/he was doing with flavours.

            Del Popolo, in the old town, also had some lovely soup (onion with shrimp and thyme) and decently cooked pasta dishes. Didn't have enough space to try the marscapone with tomato marmalade, but the waiter was kind enough to bring me a taster of the marmalade (jelly made of green tomatoes coated with sugar - too sweet for me, but I appreciated being able to try it). Again, the food wasn't what I would class as astonishing, but the cooking showed a nice level of attention to detail, service was calm and unobtrusive, and prices weren't overly high.

            1. Overall I was impressed with the food in Riga. Fairly diverse options available, and the quality of ingredients was great.

              For restaurants, I really enjoyed Rozengrāls. It’s a medieval restaurant that makes an effort to only include ingredients that were available in the 1200s. So… wild game and a surprisingly good vegetarian menu, and no potatoes, tomatoes, coca cola, artificial light, etc. I think they make an exception to the rules for wine and spirits. You will likely need to make a reservation. Oh yeah, and it’s overpriced as well – so be prepared for that.

              I also liked Galerija Istaba – a little art café with a gallery on the ground floor, food and drinks upstairs.

              For drinks, be sure you try Kvass – the “Latvian Coca-Cola”. It’s basically a sweet soda that tastes like dark rye bread. They also have a bitter spirit called Riga Black Balsam – sort of like a Fernet Branca or Unicum.

              Looks like neither place is listed in the Chow database, so here are the details:

              Galerija Istaba
              31a Kr.Barona iela
              Riga LV-1011, Latvia
              +371 7281141

              Rozengrāls
              Rozena 1
              Rīga, Latvija
              +371 7224748
              www.rozengrals.lv

              1. I nearly forgot – for cheap eats, try XL Pelmeni. There are a couple two/three locations in Riga. Fill up a big bowl with pelmeni (the Russian dumplings) filled with a variety of meats and pay by the kilo. I ate here at least three times.

                XL Pelmeni
                Location 1: Kalķu 7
                Location 2: Stacijas laukums 2, ORIGO CENTRS
                Location 3: Audēju 16, Galerija centrs
                http://www.xlpelmeni.lv

                -----
                Pelmeni XL
                16 Audeju Iela R , LV

                1. I'm confused - I'm here in Vilnius and Sue's Indian Raja is here, not Riga, at OdminiU g. 3, near the Cathedral. There is a place called "Indian Raja" in Riga. Are posters getting them confused below? I haven't tried either but am thinking about going to the former.