7040 International Drive
Set deep in a plaza across the street from Universal’s Wet N’ Wild on Orlando’s tourist strip, International Drive, is a small Ethiopian restaurant called Nile Ethiopian. I must warn you when I say “deep” in the plaza, I mean deep in the plaza, and the law of addresses does not apply here, as the restaurant appears to be on the odd numbered side of the road. This is truly a hidden treasure, proven by the fact that even on a Friday night, there was no need for a reservation.
The décor had a warm African feeling, with a lot of authentic artwork, trinkets, and a television showing concerts and dancing from various African artists. The staff was no doubt from Ethiopia and very excited to teach us the tradition of the eating experience. You have the choice of sitting at a table, on the floor (tradition), or the happy medium which is a round of small ottoman-like chairs with a basket in the middle where all of the food ordered is served in one large dish, or “family style” as they called it. I had heard rumors of there being no eating utensils but I was not certain until the plate was placed in front of us and we were presented with one side plate of inerja (traditional Ethiopian bread). This crepe-like flat bread is your utensil, to be torn apart and used to scoop up a mouthful of food. It also serves as a “tablecloth” of sorts for the food, as all dishes are served on top of it, so that even when the meat is gone, there is still some inerja left to savor with all the juices soaked in. It was truly a different way of eating, what with American society teaching us not to eat with our hands. But I must say it was very liberating to scoop up the different meat/sauce combinations and shove it in my mouth with no qualms. However, not for the first date when you are in that impress him/her mode. This is one experience to be had with those you are completely comfortable around.
The food was very affordable (under $20 a person), and very good. The menu is an array of lamb, chicken, beef and steak dishes, as well as seafood and vegetarian entrees. They provide a choice of spicy or non, and sides of salad, cabbage, and collard greens. I ordered the yebeg tibs special (lamb with cabbage and salad) and was completely satisfied. My friend ordered the Nile Meat Combination (chicken, steak, beef, collard greens and salad). Both entrees were full of flavor, especially when we got down to the inerja underneath it all. I also tried the Ethiopian wine, which was a dry red served at room temperature, but I can say that as much wine as I drink, it didn’t seem too different from any vineyard in other regions.
I recommend this place to anyone who is in town. I don’t care for the location much, but I am a biased local who cannot stand the tourist traffic. However, on a weeknight, I suggest anyone in town come out and enjoy the music, atmosphere, and friendly staff while having an authentic Ethiopian experience. And the fact that it is low key is a plus, as it is unheard of to be in the heart of tourist land and be served with quality food in less than 20 minutes flat.
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