What does the Monarch butterfly and a restaurant on Pulkveža Brieža iela have in common? A nine month life span. This street really is Riga's boulevard of broken dreams. I am no longer amazed by the rate at which restaurants are given birth only to die young, and perhaps it is not to wonder. The stretch of Pulkveža Brieža iela between Elizabetes iela and Hanzas iela isn't the place you would just happen to pass by on a Sunday stroll. Except for a couple of hotels, some offices and apartments, it's a rather desolate part of Riga. Add to that what I suspect are quite high rents, and you have a very difficult financial equation.
”i committed the serious crime of ruining the food by soaking it in soy”
One such Monarch died to make way for a new Chinese restaurant called Misters Panda. I should probably admit that after my first couple of visits there, I sincerely thought that they should be very grateful if they would last even nine months. What I was served was among the most tasteless Chinese food I've ever had, even after I committed the serious crime of ruining the food by soaking it in soy and chili oil (come on, I was desperate!). However, I'm very happy to say that I've since then been very positively surprised. Deciding not to give up on them, I have been a very demanding customer (also known as a complete bitch). I don't know if I have ever nagged and criticized so much at a restaurant before. But it paid off! Suddenly Misters Panda serves really flavor-packed dishes and the spiciness level is among the most brutal experiences I've had in years. Now, it should be said that I can't be sure that this is how they cook for all guests now, or if they just do it when they see that I'm in the house. So if you go there, and the food is bland, know that it's not because this is all they got, it's because... they think that this is what Latvians want, I guess.
”the waitress had drawn a dragon on the paper”
I would also guess that their menu was conceived with locals in mind, because it's a rather standard menu, typical of many Chinese restaurants in our part of the world. You won't find many regional specialties (the chicken stomach was the most exotic thing I found), but to do that, I guess you would have to leave the Baltic region altogether. However, what they lack in originality, they make up for in serving sizes – they're huge! If you're not a big eater, you can easily bring home the leftovers and have two meals for the price of one, making the already affordable prices even more so. Oh, one adorable thing: I once noticed that the waitress had drawn a dragon on the paper slip with my order. Since my dish was super hot, I had to ask if this was her way of telling the Chinese chef that I wanted devilish heat. No, she explained, it was not a dragon, but a chicken, so that the chef would know which meat to cook!
Misters Panda has really struck gold with their business lunches, since the place is often packed around noon. While the rapidly prepared food may not be poetry on a plate, the selection of dishes is surprisingly large, and it's dirt cheap – a simple three-course lunch can be as little as €3–4. Sadly, in the evenings the restaurant is quite empty, even on weekends. Considering that they have proven to make really tasty food, they deserve better.
Is Misters Panda good enough to justify a cross-town trip? Perhaps not quite. But for people working or living in or around Quiet Center, there is now a perfectly decent Chinese on the block.
Pulkveža Brieža iela 13