>> Lalibela | Eat the World Los Angeles

Tuesday 14 June 2022


Fairfax Avenue facade

COVID-19 UPDATE: The restaurant is fully open for indoor dining and has a couple tables in front as well. As always, tables are well-spaced and staff are still masked.

Surprisingly only six years old now, Lalibela seemed to slip into the categories of "Classic Los Angeles" and "Must Eat" immediately after it opened in Fairfax Avenue's Little Ethiopia in 2016. Its chef was of course well-known in the East African circles of the city and cooked at multiple restaurants on the street before striking a path for her family to be independent.

For anyone that is from Ethiopia or traveled to the country, Lalibela is one of the most recognized places because of the subterranean churches carved out of rock and still a pilgrimage site for Coptic Christians to this day. Images from this area are on the walls with different fabrics, about the only things that sparsely decorate the space. Music on any given night might range from traditional to Ethiopian living legends like Aster Aweke.

Ethiopian iced tea and beer

With these amharic voices filling the interior, when you walk in you have the option between standard tables and chairs or lower upholstered Ethiopian furniture. The latter works a bit better for eating with your hands as a large group as would be customary. Spaces between tables have always been wide even before the pandemic, so families and friends can make the room they need together.

Make sure to cover the table with drinks ranging from spiced Ethiopian teas available both hot and cold, beers from back home if they are available (and Stella if not), and of course honey wine. A meal can begin with a shareable pastry known in East Africa as sambusa ($4.50, below), filled with lentils, onions, and spices.


Whether you enjoy the sambusa or not, the spicy cilantro sauce that comes alongside the pastry makes the rest of the meal better. You can ask for some even without the appetizer, but do approach it with caution as it does bring the heat.

Many of the tables here will be enjoying meals made completely with vegetables and injera to pick it all up. Indeed, Ethiopian food is a good excuse for meat eaters to take a break. Many people in that country love their beef, but dishes full of lentils and other hearty options are so well cooked and spiced that eating a meal without red meat is just as satisfying.

Veggie combo with fish

In addition to meat and vegetable combos available on their own, a slight compromise can be made with the veggie combo with fish ($31.95, above), an assortment that includes a fried whole white trout. On a sheet of injera, seven different vegetable dishes are laid out including yellow split peas, green and red lentils, collards, cabbage, and potatoes with carrots. The little salad is nice and crisp compared to the stewed vegetables and the entire spread is completely vegan.

Depending on your tastes, the fish could be slightly disappointing as it is completely untouched by spice or even salt before or after frying. The good news is that the rest of your meal is so thoroughly spiced that a little spritz of lemon and bites of the fish with some of the items from the combo plate make for good eating. And do not forget the cilantro sauce.

Fried fish given with combo platter

While less than 100 kilometers from the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and not much more than that from the broader Indian Ocean, Ethiopia is cut off from these bodies of water by Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia, leaving the fishing industry to be entirely freshwater. For these reasons, demand is not as great and takes place in certain lake regions and seasonally during lent.

If the meat cravings are too much to resist, Lalibela does lamb and chicken well, and a wide variety of beef dishes are probably the spotlight of many carnivorous meals. On a street with so many options, Lalibela is constantly standing out and always consistent, like dining in the home of the family that is cooking for you.


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