First impressions: It's easy to pass up Blue Nile, an unassuming little storefront located in a strip mall. In fact a dining mate did just that three times before he found us. But once inside the restaurant, the simple tables, bright yellow walls and cartoonlike folk art welcome guests. At the end of the room, a TV plays Ethiopian satellite channels. Local Ethiopians flock to the 1-year-old place, and it was even visited by Ziggy Marley, who, according to the menu, ordered the veggie combo and the fish in Blue Nile sauce.On the plate: Generous portions of traditional Ethiopian fare in a homey environment. There is plenty for vegans, vegetarians and carnivores. Highly spiced dishes range from fiery lamb stews and raw ground beef along with salads, lentil and pea dishes. Everything is served on top of huge, thin Ethiopian pancakes called injera.
At your service: Servers are friendly and helpful but food -- all cooked to order -- can take a while to hit the table. Other little things like supplies of napkins, filled water glasses and utensils can be hard to come by. This could be because we were eating with an Ethiopian friend and the servers might have thought we didn't want Western amenities.
Second helpings: We loved the generous portions of soft, spongy injera (slightly sour pancakes that should be torn off with the right hand and used to scoop up food) along with the intensely spicy and tomatoey doro wat (chicken stew with two pieces of meat and a hard-boiled egg). The yebeg alicha (lamb in an onion, butter and garlic sauce) was just as fiery and tasty. The bozena shiro (bean powder cooked in garlic, onion and oil) tasted pleasantly like refried beans with chorizo even though it's meatless. For kids, the combo of yellow split peas, carrots and string beans was easy to eat and not as spicy as the rest of the dishes we tried, though they mostly ate the injera. We also liked the lentil and beef sambusas, which are deep-fried turnovers.
Take a pass: None of us ever quite fell for the kifto, which is essentially steak tartare in a butter and spice sauce. The collard greens were OK but could have used more seasoning.
Thirst quenchers: Soft drinks, sparkling water, tea and coffee are available. But we enjoyed the housemade sweet honey wine, which complements the complex spices well. They have Ethiopian beer for $3.50; a corkage fee is $2 per glass.
Price range: Appetizers, $3; meat entrees (served with injera and some vegetables), $11-$12; vegetable dishes, $11. A veggie combo with eight dishes on injera, $11.99; drinks $1-$1.50; honey wine, $5 a glass or $20 a bottle.
6118 N. Ravenswood Ave.
Hours: Noon to 10 p.m, daily
Credit cards: M, V, A
Noise: Conversation friendly
Global shops: Devon Avenue (between Ridge Avenue and California Street) features an array of South Asian clothing stores and shops.
Coffee break: Metropolis Coffee Company (1039 W. Granville Ave.; 773-764-0400) offers Wi-Fi, art installations, pastries, house-roasted coffees and some of the best roasty bean smells in the city.
Ratings key: 4 forks, don't miss it; 3 forks, one of the best; 2 forks, very good; 1 fork, good
Reviews are based on anonymous visits by Tribune staff members; meals are paid for by the Tribune.
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