Nile Ethiopian Restaurant has been around for six and a half years, which is about six years longer than any other Ethiopian restaurants lasted in the area. I have my theories why Nile succeeded when the others failed, but at the heart of the matter is simply this: Nile serves wonderful Ethiopian food as authentically as possible.
That means no utensils. None. They’re just not provided. Instead, you eat the saucy wats and other delicacies with your hands. Actually, you might consider the injera, the spongy bread made with teff, to be a utensil. Grab a piece of injera and pinch some wat with it and bring it to your mouth. Repeat.
The entrees are served on large round platters with a big piece of injera splayed out on it, looking sort of like a super-sized pancake. The injera has a bit of a fermented taste, sort of a vinegary note.
My guest and I started with an order of sambusa, little triangular pastries similar to the Indian samosa. These were filled with lentils and green onions and lots of spices that filled the mouth and nostrils.
For our entree we ordered both a beef and a lamb wat (wat is the term for the stews that make the base of Ethiopian cuisine). They looked similar spread across the injera platform, but they had distinctively different tastes. I like them both, but I think I preferred the lamb a bit more. The meat was super tender, and the sauce was just a bit spicy, an indication of the berbere inside. The wats were accompanied by a bit of green salad and some sauteed collard greens, which were delicious.
All of this was just leading up to the coffee ceremony that is a specialty of Nile, performed by owner Abeba Gonesse. Coffee was “invented” in Ethiopia, not Colombia, as some people would want you to think (I’m talking to you, Juan Valdez!). Sitting on a platform at the front of the restaurant, Gonesse roasts the coffee beans in a small pan, shaking it to keep the beans from burning. As the beans reach a smoky peak, she parades the pan around the room inviting guests to smell the aroma.
The beans are then taken to the back for grinding and brewing, and the rich, dark liquid is served by Gonesse from a special wooden stand. I promise you you’ve never had anything this wonderful from Starbucks.
I had not been back to Nile since it had first opened. Since that time, the restaurant space has doubled. The walls are a sunburn orange and hold various gewgaws of African culture. Tables are covered with white cloths and topped with a sheet of glass. For more authentic dining, a few traditional dining tables, or mesobs, woven baskets with stools for seating. The mesob is round so that diners can sit around it and eat from the communal platter.
I’m so glad that Nile has lasted and thrived. It’s a restaurant I recommend often to visitors confined to the International Drive area. It’s an exotic and welcome respite from the garish and soulless chains. I’m also happy to recommend it to locals. Nile is a great example of the diversity of Central Florida’s dining scene. If you haven’t been, you really must go. Even if it’s just for coffee.
Nile is at 7048 International Drive, Orlando. It is open for dinner daily. Here is a link to nile07.com. The phone number is 407-354-0026.