The folks who once hawked baba ghanoush and gyros, nomad-style, out of their royal blue, hieroglyphic-topped food truck have settled down, offering an Egyptian oasis along the Old Santa Fe Trail. Gigi and Dave Griffo, owners of Nile Café on the Trail (620 Old Santa Fe Trail 501-0612), now serve breakfast, lunch and dinner out of the tiny kitchen inside the old Griego’s Grocery store location, opposite the Mellow Velo bike shop.
The couple converted the historic three-room space that most recently housed the Dish N’ Spoon, and now operate their popular food cart almost exclusively on weekends, generally at the Flea Market at the Downs.
A bold Eye of Horus marks the café’s new digs—the prominent logo warding off evil and symbolizing restoration.
Inside, a baklava-filled deli case and funky shelf lined with camel collectibles share space with a couple of tables. A step up reveals a second small dining area, its blue and white beadboard walls hung with contemporary art. A narrow hallway leads to the kitchen, which Gigi oversees from the doorway as she sears lamb and chicken for sandwiches and flips falafel-based veggie patties and beef kufte burgers ($6.50 and $9.95, respectively).
Salads, Middle Eastern spreads and favorite dishes from Gigi’s childhood round out the menu, which also features a Friday-night-only dinner section with three entrees: a beloved baked chicken and rice dish ($14.95), boneless roasted leg of lamb over rice ($16.95) and a hearty vegetarian mousaka ($14.95) that finds deep-fried eggplant slathered with roasted garlic and Gigi’s secret tomato sauce.
Lunch seems the logical time to sample Nile’s expanded menu, and midday offerings are indeed the cafe’s most abundant. Four salads, a soup, eight sandwiches and four plate lunches are available.
An unusual watermelon and feta salad ($5.95 half; $9.95 full) combines sweet, wet melon with salty black olives and tangy crumbled feta, plus a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds. It’s a contrast of flavors, to be sure, yet comes together in spite of its odd, palate-teasing play of tastes. A shwarma ($7.99) comes served on a colorful plate piled high with lettuce, onions and tomatoes atop the slices of roasted lamb you usually see carved off a spit, and fluffy pita bread makes manhandling the tzatziki-drenched tangle easy.
Nile’s falafel sandwich ($5.95), a truck favorite, remains the real deal. In it, patties of chickpea meal, speckled green from fresh parsley, are deep-fried until crisp and come served on the same chopped lettuce and tomato garnish as the gyro but, unlike the gyro, the patties are slathered with a tart house yogurt sauce.
To open the eyes of the plaza-area commuters first thing in the morning, the café brews Turkish coffee ($2) and Egyptian tea ($1.50). Nile’s restorative eye beckons those stopped dead “on the Trail,” promising exotic breakfast fare—a welcome change of taste. Nile rolls the truck’s popular lamb, egg and potato breakfast burrito ($6.95). Other eye-popping entrees include shakshuka ($6.95), a baked egg dish with garlic, tomatoes and hot chile pepper served on pita bread, and a breakfast pie of feta-plugged pita dough layered with sautéed onions, peppers and garlic ($7.95).
For meaty morning indulgences, Gigi wraps lamb gyro meat and kufte burgers in pita and layers them with cheese and egg. Those seeking authentic Egyptian sustenance can ward off hunger with Nile’s powerhouse breakfast platter ($10.95), an invigorating combination of baba ghanoush, hummus, olives, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, kufte meat and pita bread.