Ethiopian food is quite unlike anything else that I'm accustomed too. Back when I was in undergrad, I vaguely remember sampling some cuisine from a local restaurant that has since gone out of business. My only recollection of the experience was that it seemed exotic and it was spicy. Fast forward to the present and a soujourn in Orlando. Presented with the opportunity to give a full Ethiopian meal a shot, I was powerless to resist.
I won't claim to be an expert on the subject, and I have little grounds for comparison, but Nile Ethiopian Cuisine is absolutely exceptional. The restaurant itself is located in a strip mall just off the tourist-trap laden International Drive. Coming inside you'll find a warm and vibrant environment, with several more private rooms off to the left. If you choose one of these, they're traditionally furnished with divans and wicker, hourglass-shaped tables. In Ethiopian cuisine "injera" is a staple, kind of like a cross between a chewy crepe and a bubbling pancake disc before it's flipped. Made from "teff," a fine grain unique to Ethiopia, they provide a nice vessel to enjoy an assortment of meats and fillings, and they allow for sharing. The friendly waitress helpfully explained the traditional way of eating, which is really just as straightforward as tearing some injera off with your hands, and using it to scoop up the selected dish. If you know what you want you can choose an individual plate, but if you're not alone I'd suggest opting for one of their combination platters for maximal enjoyment. As an added bonus they've even got a full vegetarian option, so your meat eating friends need not be left out.
We began with the Azifa, an appetizer consisting of lentils, onion, green pepper, and lemon juice, mixed with Ethiopian mustard. Bold and tangy, with a touch of pungent acidity from the lemons, it was spectacularly delicious.
The collard greens were exactly like the kind you could find at any quality Southern-style restaurant, slightly bitter and moist. The Kik, which originally didn't appeal to me very much, turned out to be my absolute, I can't-get-enough, hands down top choice. A smooth, mild pile of yellow looking glop, it was divine! I'm not quite sure how it was prepared, but I tasted hints of turmeric, ginger and garlic. We managed to finish our first batch of injera pretty quickly, and wonderfully, our attentive waitress brought us more without any prompting!
The unique gamut of flavors and spices was unlike anything else I've had. While I'm sure you can request hotter choices, I really appreciated that nothing we got was intolerable. I was surprised by how many families we saw dining around us...who says that kids are picky? I guess given the opportunity to forgo silverware and use their hands, children will jump in. Accordingly, I'd highly recommend making this a stop for any occasion. Fun for all ages and spectacularly delectable to boot! Wash your hands and dig in (literally)!
Nile Ethiopian Cuisine
7040 International Drive Orlando, FL 32819