More and more, I have to ask myself: Where can I get good, simple, straightforward food that will fill my stomach and please my palate? And Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar is always near the top of that mental list. There's no sugar-coating at Lalibela, which is part of its charm.
Artisanal-this, craft-that, handmade-those-on it goes. You're likely no stranger to these buzzwords that now saturate many contemporary American restaurant menus. Often they speak to a business's larger mission of sourcing local, small-batch ingredients. Unfortunately, these words can, in some cases, skew expectations. More than once, I've caught myself pretending a dish was better than it actually was, only because I was sold by the menu's savvy language.
More and more, I have to ask myself: Where can I get good, simple, straightforward food that will fill my stomach and please my palate? And Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar is always near the top of that mental list.
There's no sugar-coating at Lalibela, which is part of its charm. It's located in a strip mall-like so many of the area's best ethnic restaurants-on South Hamilton Road in Whitehall (next to Donatos). The billiards bar has a "Cheers" quality about it; everyone seems to know each other. During business hours, even the proprietor blends in with his friends in the dining room, hopping up to greet and seat you when you enter.
Most of Lalibela's entrees are served platter style; your fixings sit atop of a bed of injera, a light and spongy sourdough flatbread. Per Ethiopian tradition, food is scooped and eaten with bread, not cutlery. (You won't receive silverware unless you ask for it.) Typically, multiple orders are served on one pizza-size plate so that everyone at the table is sharing food and, hopefully, conversation. If you've never been, this communal experience alone is worth the trek. (As my last server put it, "The more, the merrier!")
The menu is clean and transparent with a designated vegetarian section. My favorite order for two (though it could probably fill three) is the Beyaynetu ($7.99) and the Shiro ($5.99). The former is an assortment of cabbage, lentils, yellow peas and collard greens, while the latter is a spicy stew of ground peas simmered with tomato and onion. The Vegetable Stew ($5.99) is also a best bet for the garlicky potatoes and carrots.
On paper, I know this can sound odd and even underwhelming-scooping carrots and collard greens with bread. But the flavors at play are outstanding. The secret is in the traditional spices. Veggies are slow cooked and flavored with berbere (a mix including chili pepper, garlic, ginger and basil) and aromatic niter kibbeh, essentially clarified butter spiked with fenugreek, cumin, turmeric, cardamom and even nutmeg.
For more on the growing African dining scene in Columbus, pick up the new issue of Crave magazine, now on newsstands, and jump to page 60.