Photo by Helaina Thompson
Nile Ethiopian Restaurant
89 2nd St #2, Coralville
Open Tuesday–Sunday 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Closed Mondays
“Finally” seems to be the most frequently expressed response to the recent opening of Nile, an Ethiopian restaurant just off the Coralville strip. Finally Iowa City transplants who once hailed from big cities rich with international food scenes can reconnect with a long-lost comfort food. Finally Eastern Iowa natives, young and old, can again enjoy a lesser-known cuisine without a long drive — or trial-and-error in one’s own kitchen.
That’s not to say Nile won’t inspire your culinary instincts, but their deftly crafted and promptly delivered dishes are hard to beat. A combo platter, which I recommend for its range of distinct textures and flavors — from hearty, simmered collard greens to saucey, slow-cooked chicken on the bone — can be ordered entirely vegetarian or meat-friendly for around $20. Served on large oval-shaped plates, these spice-laden platters are ready in 15 minutes and are meant to be shared between at least two people.
Each table comes with a set of instructions titled “How to Eat Ethiopian Food.” The first step is washing your hands, because they will serve as your primary utensil. Injera, a crepe-like fermented flatbread, sits beneath each meal at Nile. “Using your right hand, tear some injera,” the instructions suggest, then “use the injera to pick up some food. Put parcel in mouth and enjoy!” A plate of extra injera comes with your meal, so there’s no need to be conservative with it.
Nile’s buttery doro wot, a heavy chicken stew that reminded me of Mexican chicken mole, is a must-try dish at Nile for those who enjoy a little heat. Sugar is optional in your Ethiopian coffee, which arrives steaming in a tiny cup, but it will certainly balance out the doro wot’s pinch of chili powder. Meanwhile, in Nile’s split pea dish called kik wot, turmeric and ginger turn the peas bright yellow for a milder, almost citrusy bite.
During my meals at Nile (I’ve already visited twice since its mid-April opening), the service has been quick and attentive. Coffee? Coffee. Refill? Refill. How does everything taste? Amazing, thank you.
The front half of the spacious seating area is softened by natural lighting, which bodes well for Instagram-worthy food photos, and the restaurant’s decor is unpretentious and very clean.
Injera, with its spongy, porous properties, soaks up the juices of the food atop it, making those final soggy bites perhaps the most enjoyable yet. The gentle heat of the traditional Ethiopian berbere spice blend lingered on my tongue as I payed my bill, and then still as I drove home. The injera swelled in my belly, and I felt contentedly full even hours after my meal. Ethiopian cuisine like this will surely get you through the day.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 221.