Two years ago, New Orleans had no Ethiopian restaurants. Now there are two located less than a mile from each other.
Cafe Abyssinia (3511 Magazine St., 894-6238) came first, opening in late 2010 in a spot tucked behind a sno-ball stand. Tessaye Mendessa opened Nile Ethiopian Restaurant (2130 Magazine St., 281-0859) this month.
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 delivery system for many Ethiopian recipes, serving as both the plate upon which it's served and, when torn up into smaller strips, your utensils. Nile's menu includes nine beef dishes, several 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 this is a family-run restaurant. The family hails from Ethiopia and this is their first restaurant.
Nile Ethiopian Restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily. There are soft drinks, a strong, herbal Ethiopian tea and a BYOB policy for alcohol. Remember that eating Ethiopian food is a hands-on prospect, and diners are typically not given utensils for most dishes.