Review: Nile Ethiopian in Orlando

exterior nile restaurantAs I’ve mentioned many times on my blog, if there’s one type of ethnic cuisine that I wish I had easy access to, it would be Ethiopian.  I was completely spoiled for amazing Ethiopian fare when I lived within driving distance of Rahel Ethiopian in Los Angeles.  I’ve made my own at home many times (using recipes from Vegan Lunch Box and Vegan Eats World).  However, nothing beats having it at a restaurant, especially when you consider the convenience of not having to make your own spice mix, infused oil, several types of stews, and injera for scooping all of them up.

So when my husband and I were in Orlando recently, I was only too happy when he suggested that we hit up Nile Ethiopian Restaurant for dinner.  Located on busy International Drive (known as I-Drive), it’s situated in a strip mall and surrounded by theme parks, restaurants, and hotels.  While the area doesn’t seem like the likeliest of places to find mouthwatering and authentic Ethiopian cuisine, looks can be deceiving.  Nile isn’t a vegetarian restaurant, but the plant-based stews on the menu are all made with infused oil (not dairy butter) and are vegan-friendly.

interior nile restaurantThe interior of the restaurant is a large room with standard tables and chairs (and oddly a television playing, which felt more like a sports bar than a sit-down restaurant).  Then there are several small rooms made with dividers for eating in a somewhat private setting on small stools and sharing a meal on a basket dining table called a mesob.

David and I tucked into one of the rooms and ordered the Taste of Nile Vegetarian platter to share for $29.95.  It included portions of several of their vegan items and was a chance to try multiple things.  They were very busy that night, and so the service was on the slow side.  I wondered if dining in one of the rooms was a bad idea on such a night, and at one point thought we’d been forgotten altogether.  However, after waiting for a while, the man who seated us came in to see if we’d been served, and before too much longer we were brought our drinks and then dinner.

ethiopian wotsAs is typical, the wots were served on injera, a sour, spongy bread, in addition to a basket full of more bread to use in place of utensils.  Their injera was light in color and texture, almost crepe-like in its consistency.  The sourness of the bread didn’t overwhelm and allowed the wots to take center stage.

Tikel Gomen, made with cabbage and carrots, was slow cooked with garlic and ginger.  The soft, moist cabbage was mild but hearty.  Gomen, made with collard greens, is always one of my favorites.  Cooked with onions, garlic, and oil, the rich collards melt in your mouth with a vaguely metallic quality.

The Kik Alecha and Shiro, both made with split peas, and the Misir Wat, made with red lentils, were smooth and creamy.  They were cooked with onions and garlic, and the red lentils had the addition of a red pepper sauce.

ethiopian wots - nile restaurantI usually opt out of Tomato Fitfit, which is made with ripped pieces of injera, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, oil, and lemon dressing.  It sometimes feels like it’s just a way to use up yesterday’s old injera, and I’ve never been much of a soggy bread fan.  However, the dish at Nile is different.  It has a strong citrus flavor.  (It tasted like lime to me, but it says lemon on the menu.)  The fresh, bright fruitiness was a wonderful compliment to the spicier and more melded flavors of the other wots.

Azifa is a cold lentil dish made with onions, green peppers, lemon juice, and Ethiopian mustard.  The mustard must have a fair amount of horseradish in it, because it was the kind of dish that clears your sinuses.  Although I am a horseradish fan, I definitely couldn’t eat a whole platter of it.  However, it was a strong, pungent kick to have as an occasional bite.

The plate was finished off with a romaine lettuce salad for fresh, neutral bites to clean the palate from spicier flavors.

nile ethiopian orlandoBecause Ethiopian food often uses the same spices (berbere) and the same infused oil (niter kibbeh) for all of the dishes, the stews can sometimes taste a little same-y.  While the vegetables are different in each dish, the overall tone can start to feel pretty similar.  Luckily that wasn’t the case at Nile.  All of the stews were markedly different from one another.  Each one had its own layers of flavor that balanced and complimented each other well.  Plus, the wots were not too oily or heavy as can be the case at some restaurants.

After polishing off our wots, we leaned back very comforted by the authentic and satisfying flavors.  In an area of Orlando known for spills and thrills more than gomen and wots, Nile is a jewel!

Nile Ethiopian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

20 thoughts on “Review: Nile Ethiopian in Orlando

  1. Oh man, do I love Ethiopian food! There are a few places around here that have it, but my husband can’t eat it, so when I get to have some it’s a treat. The meal you had looks amazing!!

    • Aw, that’s too bad your husband can’t eat it! It’s the kind of food that’s tricky to eat alone! Hopefully you have friends who are eager to join you for it.

  2. Thanks for reviewing all these places in Orlando! I’m a vegan here and sometimes I wish I lived in a bigger, more forward-thinking city, because I feel like I eat at the same couple of restaurants over and over. But this series of posts is reminding me to be thankful of what we do have here!

    And Nile is my favorite! :)

    • That’s so nice to hear, Carla! It’s all degrees, isn’t it? It’s easy to look at all of the amazing options in a city like NYC and wish that more cities had those kinds of possibilities. But in comparison to the small town where I live now, Orlando is positively bursting at the seams with choices! Even better, the restaurants/stores there that I experienced were top notch. If your options are more limited than really big cities, at least they’re very good ones! :)

    • Yes, you need to get on it for sure! :) At many Ethiopian restaurants the injera is already gluten free or can be requested gluten free.

  3. I love Ethiopian food.. i need to start making more at home.. some of the good ones in town have such good food. i’ll keep this one in mind when i visit orlando:)

    • Yes, definitely keep it in mind! I should make more at home too. The last time I made Ethiopian at home, I made extra berbere and niter kibbeh, so that the next time I made it, it would be more seamless. Now it’s just waiting in the refrigerator and cupboard for me!

  4. I’m very much with you on the wish I had better access to Ethiopian foods – there’s no Ethiopian places for miles near me. Mind you, I think the main reason that I crave Ethiopian food is because I keep seeing it on your blog! Any meal where you essentially get to eat the plate has got to be good!

    • Ha! I’ve unwittingly created another person who longs for Ethiopian with no restaurants in sight! :) I totally agree with your last sentiment. If only I had an Ethiopian restaurant of my own, my tagline would be – “Food so delicious, you’ve got to eat the dishes!”

  5. Probably just as well I’ve never had Ethiopian food – cravings for it would be difficult to satisfy here in WY! Someday I hope to have an opportunity to sample some, though. A lot of it sounds right up my alley (though at home we never use oil or other added fats. But that can be extremely difficult when dining out – and since we eat out so rarely, we figure it’s a treat. Since infused oil seems to loom large in Ethiopian cuisine, would you describe the food as very oily or do is the oil used in small amounts?)

    The food and the baskets that hold the plates are sure pretty and colorful!

    • The oil factor really depends on the restaurant. Since a lot of the spices are in the oil, I think finding oil-free Ethiopian fare would be tricky. However, some places are noticeably more oily than others. Rahel in Los Angeles and Nile in Orlando weren’t terribly oily. Blue Nile in Kansas City (especially the collard green dish) was very oily.

      You could make it at home, though, and tweak to your liking! You could add the spices that are in the infused oil into the dish and play with it until it suits your preferences.

      Aren’t the baskets pretty? Kittee has a big collection of the platters used for the wots that I’ve admired on her blog. In addition, it would be really neat to have one of those baskets (mesob) as an occasional dinner table!

  6. We live about 20 minutes outside of Orlando, and Nile is pretty much the only reason I’ll even consider going down to I-Drive. We tried the Ethiopian place in Tampa recently, and it was decent but didn’t hold a candle to Nile. The last time we were there, the cook was out talking with the hostess and we complimented him.. he said to come by any time and he’d teach me how to cook it all!

    • What?! That is awesome! You should take him up on it! I tried to convince the chef at my favorite restaurant, Rahel Ethiopian, in Los Angeles to have cooking classes, but I never managed to do it. You’re so lucky to have Nile just 20 minutes away. I can see why it would be worth it to you to brave I-Drive for it. We don’t have any Ethopian restaurants in the entire state, let alone one as wonderful as Nile.

  7. It’s March 2014 and I figured I would add my two cents to help keep things current. The first night we were in Orlando we ate at Nile. I had read your blog beforehand and had it in my head a couple of places I would like to try out. I am so glad my family is adventurous. While the Ethiopian food and way of eating is different everyone dug right in and enjoyed every bite. I love the tangy injera. We ordered the Chef’s Special Combination and The Vegetarian Combination. Because of the butter in the Chicken Doro Wat, the waitress came back and asked if we would like another Chicken Alicha. I was glad that she was aware enough to ask and catch this. We normally eat High Raw Vegan, but since we’re on vacation we decided to make a few exceptions. The food was very good…we love trying new things. I highly recommend Nile and hope to get back one more time before we leave. Here is their website which has a menu http://nile07.com/ Thank you Cadry for recommending Nile. FYI: Whole Foods in Orlando and Winter Park have raw juice bars. I can’t wait. I need to get some raw juices into me. I can tell when I don’t have it. I will be writing another comment under Ethos on Cadry’s blog for anyone who’s interested.

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