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Posted on Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 10:40 a.m.

The Blue Nile remains a destination for tasty Ethiopian dining experience

By Julie Halpert

The Blue Nile is an ethnic restaurant with staying power. Specializing in Ethiopian cuisine, it started out in Kerrytown more than two decades ago before it moved to its current downtown location.

Habte Dadi purchased it 10 years ago, interested in owning a restaurant that served the food of his native country. He says it's managed to remain successful because of the good food and service it provides, and it helps that it's the only restaurant in Ann Arbor providing an authentic Ethiopian dining experience.

The Blue Nile is a cheery spot, with light streaming through the front windows. Large suns are painted on the yellow walls, while calming Ethiopian music plays in the background. Servers are dressed in traditional Ethiopian garb, with long skirts and cotton blouses.


The Blue Nile
221 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor
  • Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 5-10 p.m.; Friday, lunch 11:30 a..m.-3 p.m., dinner 4-11 p.m.; Saturday, lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 4-11 p.m.; Sunday, dinner 3-9 p.m.
  • Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover.
  • Liquor: Yes.
  • Prices: Moderate.
  • Noise level: Quiet.
  • Wheelchair access: Yes.
Every visit starts and finishes with the server bringing you warm towels to wash your hands, since you need no utensils here (though they're available if requested.)

I enjoyed the spiced Ethiopian tea, which had an abundance of cinnamon, along with rose hips, orange and lemon peel and cloves—a winning, sweet combination. We tried it served both hot and cold, and it was great either way. Refills of beverages are free, and we had our tea refilled several times.

The most popular option for dinner is the Ethiopian feast, which is $18.90 for an all-you-can-eat extravaganza and includes most items on the menu. There are both vegetarian and meat versions. The ultimate in family-style dining, the food is served on one large, circular platter that everyone shares. You use your hands to rip the Injera bread, then put the various food on top of it. The server will refill any one of your dishes when you want more.

The meat is placed in the center of the platter, with numerous vegetarian dishes surrounding it. This is a great place to frequent if you're vegetarian, since it has a plethora of hearty choices; none contain any dairy products. In fact, I preferred the vegetarian options to the meat choices we sampled.

These included vegetables that I often find bland — collard greens as well as cabbage that had the consistency of Thai drunken noodles. Both of these vegetables were prepared with onions, garlic and jalapeno peppers and were flavorful and delicious. However, in both these dishes and the mixed vegetables, jalapeno peppers advertised on the menu as part of the entree didn't provide any kick. That didn't stop me from enjoying the mixed vegetables, perfect comfort food made up of potatoes, carrots and green beans.

Other dishes were spicier, including the red lentils and the spicy split peas. As someone who prefers milder food, I appreciated that there were also non-spicy versions of both dishes. The mild split peas were roasted in a sauce made of onions, oil and tumeric. They were thick, creamy and addicting.

The feast comes with two types of chicken, spicy and mild, with drumsticks for each version. This reminded me slightly of the Indian tandoor chicken, due to the berbere sauce. Cooked with butter and marinated in lemon juice overnight, the chicken was moist, tasty and slid off the bone. The only dish that I disliked was the spicy beef, which I found overcooked and bitter.

Though we were stuffed from feasting, we ordered a refreshing palate cleanser, the raspberry sorbet. The chocolate cake resembled German chocolate cake, as it contained coconut. Condensed and evaporated milk, along with heavy cream, made it moist and delicious. Cheesecake had a thin consistency and could have used more spices or sugar. It was fine, though not outstanding.

We were one of only a handful of parties dining on a weeknight. While the server initially appeared quickly and delivered the feasts in a reasonable amount of time, she took quite some time to bring food refills. Still, all servers were extremely pleasant.

I've often been surprised that The Blue Nile dinner menu has stayed the same for all the years the restaurant has been in operation. I would welcome the chance to try some other types of Ethiopian dishes; that's been my only issue with this restaurant. But there is clearly a reason for its longevity. Blue Nile continues to add to the diversity of Ann Arbor's quality dining scene.

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Julie Halpert reviews restaurants for


Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 3:35 p.m.

Definitely one of my favorite spots in Ann Arbor. I really appreciate that it's very vegan-friendly.

Tex Treeder

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 11:20 p.m.

Vegetarian feast for lunch, always enjoyable. And the Yirgacheffe coffee is excellent.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 11:07 p.m.

I thought they didn't have any food in Ethiopia.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 6:11 a.m.

stihl1 You watch too much TV!....


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 6:09 a.m.

you watch too much TV!.....

Jaime Magiera

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 1:54 a.m.

1985 called. They want their current events back.

Jessica Webster

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 7:12 p.m.

Thanks for this review, Julie. I ran over and got myself some lunch to go after reading it. Enjoyed some Zilzil Wat with two veg sides (Metin Shiro Wat and Yemisir Kik Wat.) $9.95 for more food than I could possibly eat for lunch.

Jenn McKee

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 7:31 p.m.

For the record, Jess' lunch smells amazing - to such a degree that I just arranged to have lunch with someone there tomorrow. Power of suggestion and all that. :)

Julie Halpert

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 7:21 p.m.

I'm glad you enjoyed your lunch there, Jessica! Based on the comments, it seems like the lunch is clearly the best value.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 5:27 p.m.

Hapy to see these guys get some props. Alos, I want to apologize to everyone for them deciding to chanrge separately for the lamb when you get the Feast. That was probabaly my fault.

Jaime Magiera

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 4:56 p.m.

One of my favorite restaurants. The food is good and the decor is pleasant. Mr. Dadi is a gracious host. When I have guests in town, that's where I take them. The environment also lends itself to romantic dinners. The spiced tea is a nice relaxer after the big meal (they sell it by the jar as well). Glad this restaurant continues to do well despite the shifts of the downtown area and the faltering economy.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

I don't want to bag on Blue Nile, because they do what they do pretty darn well ... but I've eaten at Ethiopian restaurants around the country and even in Europe, and with just a few notable, disappointing exceptions, I preferred all of those places to Blue Nile. Also, I think Blue Nile may be the most expensive of all of the Ethiopian restaurants I've been to, and that includes places in L.A. and San Francisco. Don't get me wrong ... I still eat at Blue Nile from time to time, and I enjoy it. I just think they could "up their game" a bit, especially for what they charge.

Jessica Webster

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 4:56 p.m.

I enjoy lunch at Blue Nile. It's a lot of very tasty food for around $10.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 4:37 p.m.

I love going to Blue Nile when I have too much money and need to unload a bunch of it all in one go. But seriously, yes on all counts. Good, maybe even above-average, but for the price, I wish it'd be as good as some places I've been to that charge much less. A2 needs some competition in this regard. Tried a place out in Plymouth that was pretty decent too, but they're also the only place around there, so the prices were still kind of high.

Vivienne Armentrout

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 3:04 p.m.

The Blue Nile is a long-time favorite of mine and I agree that the vegetarian dishes surpass the meat dishes. I am an omnivore, but I find the Vegetarian Feast ($2 cheaper) to be quite adequate to my appetite. You don't mention the excellent salad, Timatim Salata. It has a refreshing lemon juice and olive oil dressing and makes an excellent foil for the rich dishes. It is well worth the additional $3.