by Ian McNulty
Two years ago New Orleans had zero Ethiopian restaurants. Now, we have two located less than a mile from each other along Magazine Street.
Café Abyssinia (3511 Magazine St., 894-6238) came first, opening late in 2010 in a spot tucked behind a snoball stand. More recently, Nile Ethiopian Restaurant (2130 Magazine St., 281-0859) has joined the scene.
Nile serves a traditional menu of exuberantly spiced meat and vegetable dishes, including a family of dishes called tibs, which are like stir-fries, and another called wots (or wats), which are stews. The linchpin of this cuisine, however, is the injera bread. Flat, spongy, honeycombed with bubble pits and with the pliable consistency of a thick crepe, it is the essential delivery system for many Ethiopian dishes, serving as both the plate upon which it’s served and, when torn up into smaller wads, your utensils. But injera is more than that. Its distinctive sour flavor is an indispensable part of the meal, as important to the overall experience as pita on the Middle Eastern table.
Injera is served in copious quantities at Nile, lining the large metal trays on which individual orders are served. Nile’s menu includes nine different beef dishes, a number of lamb and chicken dishes, a catfish dish and various vegetable combinations.
The dining room is open, neat and bright and there’s a courtyard in the back. Groovy Afro-pop plays on the sound system, while the sound of kids giggling in the kitchen provides an unmistakable signal that this is a family-run restaurant. That would be the family of Tessaye Mendessa, who opened Nile Ethiopian Restaurant earlier this month. The family hails from Ethiopia and this is their first restaurant.
Shear cotton drapes shield all the windows, making it hard to peek inside, but don’t be shy about going in. The service is very friendly and the Mendessa family seems eager to show newcomers the ropes. For example, after I casually inquired about a particular seasoning, the waitress returned to the table with mason jars of star anise and other hard spices for me to examine.
Just remember that eating Ethiopian food is a hands-on prospect, and you’re typically not given utensils for most dishes.
Nile Ethiopian Restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily. There are soft drinks, a strong, herbal Ethiopian tea and a BYOB policy for anything harder.
Nile Ethiopian Restaurant
2130 Magazine St., 281-0859