Six meals out in Fairfield

Fairfield is so much more than transcendental meditation (although there is a lot of that). The town has an abundance of food options, including plenty of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.

For the biggest range of choices, schedule your day trip to Fairfield for late-week; Thursday through Saturday is optimal. Many restaurants only have weekday lunch hours, while others only open for dinner later in the week and on weekends.

Should you choose an overnight stay, your choices include two chain motels, a handful of local hotels and B&Bs and quite a few Airbnb options. My partner Matt and I chose an Airbnb about six blocks from the town square; it was available on short notice (we booked on Monday and drove down on Friday), and we could bring our dog Molly.

It was an easy walk to the square, and I took advantage of this by hitting up a cross-section of food and venues over the course of our casual weekend, often carrying my meals back to the Airbnb to hunker down. Unfortunately, the cold weather kept Fairfield’s plentiful patios closed.

Addis Ethiopian Cuisine owner Genet Areda. —Sid Peterson/Little Village

Addis Ethiopian Cuisine

200 N Main St

The Iowa City area no longer has Ethiopian food, making Addis Ethiopian Cuisine even more of a draw. Stroll down a corridor in the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center on a weekday morning and you’ll come upon owner Genet Areda preparing the day’s supply of injera, a delicious fermented flatbread that forms the base of most every dish (and is the best way to transport food from the plate to your mouth). There are tables in the convention center atrium to use, and on a nice day, you could walk down the block to a public outdoor seating area that includes tables.

I ordered the small beef meal ($11), which includes a serving of beef in a red stew (sega wat), a yellow stew with potatoes (atakilt wat), a side of cooked spinach (gomen wat) and, of course, a portion of spongey injera. Sides of samosas and salad were available as well, but my meal was already large enough to serve as my Friday and Sunday lunch.

A variety of Ethiopian dishes served with injera and fresh salad. —Sid Peterson/Little Village

Depot House

500 N 4th St

Matt and I met up with some Fairfield-based friends, Rob and Alex. They suggested dinner at a restaurant, bar and music venue called Depot House, noting “they’ve got a great vibe there.”

We began with bruschetta and cocktails. Matt and Rob were twinning with a Basil Old Fashioned, Alex had the Rosemary Corpse Reviver, and I had the Lychee Martini, which satisfied my desire for a novel cocktail anchored by hard liquor. I had two, and they packed a punch, which means I forgot to note ingredients or take a photo of the menu. You’ll have to trust me that their cocktail and dinner menus are more extensive in house than online.

I opted for the tasting menu ($45): you can choose smaller portions of two items from the appetizers/salad course, an entrée and a dessert. I had the soup of the day, a strawberry balsamic salad and Peruvian chicken. The thigh and leg were moist, and it was served with braised oyster mushrooms, mashed potatoes and greens.

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The virtue of Depot House’s menu is that you can mix and match small plates, appetizers and entrees, letting you get a taste of everything. They’re also open for lunch with various sandwich options. It was so lovely to share a feast with friends after a very long time, and it did my soul some good.

Cafe Paradiso on Fairfield’s historic square. —Sid Peterson/Little Village

Café Paradiso

101 N Main St

Matt ended up with a small hangover and the spins on Saturday morning, so we kept it lowkey with pastries and coffee from Café Paradiso.

By 9 a.m. the café was full. The coffee menu is exclusively espresso drinks; we went with Americanos. Their cinnamon roll had a nice crisp to it, flaky but thick, and similar to a croissant dough. Kudos for the frosting too: sweet with some cream cheese punch!

The blueberry scone was, in Matt’s words, “nice and hearty.” If you’re looking for a lighter breakfast option in the morning, this is a solid place to start, and in warmer weather, their outdoor patio on the square would be a very nice place to spend the morning.

Hungry Camel

121 W Broadway Ave

I took a solo trip in the afternoon to Hungry Camel, a six-table establishment with its entrance in an alley, adjacent to a municipal parking lot. The casual restaurant is one of the only lunch options open on the weekends, but I went a little after opening and was able to find a seat.

On the recommendation of staff, I had a Shalafel Pita, which includes both chicken shawarma and falafel in a housemade pita. The cinnamon came through nicely on the chicken, and the sandwich had a warm, nutty flavor from the falafel and hummus. The thinly sliced cabbage slaw, diced tomato and cucumber added a good crunch. There were also complimentary cups of Turkish coffee and apple tea, appreciated by all on such a cold day.

Broth Lab 641 owners Camp Boswell and Teah Benkoczy pose for a portrait. —Sid Peterson/Little Village

Broth Lab 641

102 N 2nd St

Across the street from Hungry Camel, tucked in a small home with a covered patio, is Broth Lab, boasting an impeccably curated menu of beers, ciders, cocktails, mocktails, wine and sake. The interior is bright and cheery with blue, pink and yellow stripes along the walls.

There are some snacks/appetizers to order; we tried the chili lime peanuts, enjoying a handful with dinner and crunching on the rest on the road back to Iowa City. The menu includes some handheld foods (bahn mi, bao and the Broth Lab Burrito), but we went with bowls. I had the No. 4: aros noodles coated in a miso ginger sauce and topped with chicken karaage, garlic chili eggplant, Szechuan broccolini, fried okra and kimchi. It was a charmer, as was Matt’s No. 3, a cashew milk paitan with Tokyo wavy noodle, braised mushrooms, citrus-sesame kale, pickled red onion and crispy tofu.

There’s a build-your-own bowl option for those who want to personalize. Both the signature bowls and BYO bowls include plenty of mix-and-match vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free broths, sauces, noodles (or rice), toppings and proteins, so it’s a great spot for folks with dietary restrictions. Meat and fish proteins are also available.

Alex and Rob usually build their own bowls and recommend the pork belly and tofu, along with fried cauliflower and okra for appetizers. Broth Lab 641 has never served them a dish they didn’t like, they emphasized.

Des Moines and Iowa City may eventually get Broth Labs of their own, as their website features a “Coming Soon!” for both cities. I can’t wait!

Bountiful Bakery

303 S Main St

Bountiful Bakery is so nice, we actually went twice. On Saturday, we bought pastries for an after-dinner dessert, and we returned for a Sunday breakfast.

The cinnamon croissant with cream cheese icing went over well; the classic flavor combination makes for an unexpected but pleasant croissant. Our second item was a Cruffin (croissant dough in a vertical muffin format) with a Guinness chocolate filling. Delectable.

The coffee shop is located on the first floor of an old house with plenty of seating inside and a spacious side deck. On Sunday, we ordered brewed coffee, Matt had a hearty poppy seed bagel with cream cheese, and I opted for a silky four-cheese quiche — a decadent start to my last day in town.

This article was originally published in the 2023 Bread & Butter dining guide.