Do you have a soft spot for the days of unbridled consumerism, songs about baking cakes and a numbing fear of nuclear war, gays and blacks? No, I'm not talking about modern day Eastern Europe, I'm talking about 1950's United States. If so, perhaps you'll find this review interesting (or rather, the restaurant this review is about). The place in question is nothing less than a full on American 50's diner with all the design features of the era.
CityDiner, on the corner of Barona iela and Alfrēda Kalniņa iela, looks a lot like the American diners you've seen in the movies. The color scheme is uniformly red, white, black and chrome, just like an old Cadillac, and hanging on the walls and from the ceiling are tons of 50's style details. Add some flame paint and Brian Setzer would feel right at home. The serving staff are dressed accordingly, wearing small, red outfits with short skirts. I was happily surprised to find a mini arcade game (Arkanoid!) in the kid's corner in the back, which once again aroused my desire for a pinball place in Riga. Please, CityDiner, I know it would be a nuisance for you, but couldn't you convert a small part of the restaurant to a pinball room with, say, five machines? Nothing says classic diner like having a well-kept Indiana Jones pinball machine somewhere. And preferably also a Double Dragon arcade cabinet.
”the burger slob that i am, i immediately went for the knockout”
Since this is now only a wet dream and not a steaming reality, the main reason for visiting CityDiner would be to, well, dine. If CityDiner's menu has a heart, I'd say it's is the burger section, although they also have lighter dishes such as salads and soups, as well as some traditional main dishes, snacks, desserts and milkshakes.
Being the burger slob that I am, I immediately went for the knockout. The €10 double burger with jalapeños was humongous bordering on ridiculous! Probably the biggest burger I've seen in Riga, and by far the greasiest. Unfortunately, the sexy illusion came crumbling down when I sank my teeth into it. As you can see in the photo, the burger was drenched in some cheese sauce (or was it melted cheese, even?) that became disgusting after only a few bites and completely ruined the meal for me. It actually left me with such bad memories that the next time I went to CityDiner to have a burger, I just needed one look at the burger section to go ”mmm... no.”*. Instead I went for thepelmeņi, which were tasty, although not worthy of a song. For the very reasonable price of €4,40, however, you get a surprisingly generous serving. Finally, on my third and last visit, I had the beef Stroganoff (€8,50), and this one is clearly the winner. Although not as fantastic as the Stroganoff at the newly resurrected Slavu (in fact it's not even close**), it was still by far the best of the three dishes I've had at CityDiner.
”citydiner would be wise to tighten up their menu a bit”
Since they haven't been in business that long, it's a bit too early to close the books on CityDiner. Things might still change which would change my opinion about the restaurant, but for the time being, I'm concerned. It seems that CityDiner is failing in its mission to be a gateway to US nostalgia. As for their American food, which should be their forte, there are currently plenty of places in Riga which whoop CityDiner's behind. Likewise, for the other dishes I've tried, there are other restaurants which are far ahead. I think CityDiner would be wise to tighten up their menu a bit, lose the more exotic parts of it and focus on perfecting the American style food. In this segment of the Riga food scene, being a constant runner-up is rarely sustainable.
* it seems CityDiner has now removed this burger from the menu, which was a wise decision
** more on this in an upcoming review