In the old premises of what was possibly Riga's worst Chinese restaurant (anyone remembers Panda?) there is now what is possibly Riga's best Chinese restaurant. Pekina is the name, and it's been open for just over a year. My Chinese literate friend tells me that the Chinese letters on their sign means something like ”luxury food from Peking”, and that surely bodes well.
”LUXURY FOOD FROM PEKING”
Once inside, it's apparent that Pekina simply just took over Panda's furniture and interior decoration, because this place is downright ugly. Wooden chairs and tables wrestle on some ugly plastic floor, and epileptic orange walls are surrounding the spectacle. The standard, mail order-style Chinese lanterns don't provide any ambient light to the restaurant. Instead most of the light stems from the bright luminous tubes in the ceiling, making you feel like you're in a hospital. At one point they tried to play traditional Chinese music through an openly displayed laptop (yes, from the built-in speakers!) but they have fortunately given that up. Unfortunately, though, they have now mounted a big tv on the wall, which is both noisy and an unwelcome distraction when you go out to have a relaxing dinner. However, you don't come here for the ambience, rather you come here despite the blatant lack of it.
Do I agree about this being luxury food? Not by a long shot, but I would say that this is what I imagine that great street food would be like in China. It's not fancy by any means; the presentation is very simple, but what it lacks in presentation it makes up for in taste. They have a pretty good and cheap buffet (and not just during lunch hours, they have it all the time), but you should of course go for the menu to see what the chef can do. Most of the dishes are pretty standard, but they do have some hot plate dishes and a handful of special dishes that you won't see at many other Chinese places.
”THE CHEF WILL VENTURE OUT OF THE KITCHEN WITH A SMILE TO TREAT YOU TO SOME REALLY HORRIBLE RICE LIQUOR”
The food that the chef whips up (with lovely wok noise finding its way out from the poorly soundproofed kitchen) is rich in flavor, holds great variety and comes in large portions. If you're lucky, the chef will venture out of the kitchen with a smile to treat you to some really horrible rice liquor. Fantastic!
Pekina is definitely serious about the food that they serve, but I wish that they were equally serious about the restaurant itself. Some investments in interior design would help a great deal. I also wish that they would hire a waiter/waitress who spoke English. The lady who deals with all the guests doesn't speak a word of English, and I'm not even sure that she speaks Latvian. If you're okay with just pointing in the menu, that's fine, but if you have the slightest concern or question about the dishes, you're out of luck. The place is almost always completely empty, and I wonder if the poor first impression the place makes isn't a big part of Pekinas problem. However, I highly recommend that you try it out.
Lāčplēša 13 (no website)