Name of restaurant: Lalibela, named after the town in Ethiopia known for its churches carved from stone.
Owner Tenagne Belachew is from a nearby town called Wole. She had put in her time at other Ethiopian kitchens around town — most notably at Rahel and Marathon — but Lalibela is her first independent restaurant. Her proprietary kitchen is filled with the aroma of recipes that were handed down from her grandmother to her mother, to her and now to her six daughters. Any number of these daughters may be waiting tables at the restaurant or helping prepare dishes in the back kitchen. Her son also helps with the family business.
Where you are: The newest kid on the Little Ethiopia block, Lalibela is on Fairfax Avenue, south of Olympic Boulevard and north of Pico Boulevard.
What you’re eating: Start with the veggie combo, a generous assembly of vegetarian dishes laid out on the omnipresent injera — the spongy thin crepe made from teff, the seeds of an African grass. The platter is served with misir wot (red lentils), gomen (collard greens), dinich wot (potato), keke alicha (split pea) and tikile gomen (cabbage). The Romaine salad that comes with the combo might seem incongruous, but it’s a nice balance to all the stewed dishes.
What else you’re eating: The doro wot (chicken stew) is sometimes called the national dish of Ethiopia. Lalibela’s is a spicy combination of chicken cooked for hours in a blend of spices, served with a boiled egg. Also try the the neck tibs, a mild beef stew cooked with onions, peppers, tomatoes and garlic. The sauce is on the buttery side, because, well, it’s made with clarified butter.
What you’re looking at: The main dining room is a welcoming, bright white, and the back patio, with its large paintings and faux ivy climbing lattice, feels like you’ve been invited to the Belachew home. The middle room holds the implements for the coffee ceremony.
What you’re drinking: The Ethiopian iced tea may look like plain iced tea, but it’s a refreshingly spicy blend of black tea, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. It’s served with a bowl of sugar and some honey.
If you have the time and the inclination, ask for the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The entire preparation takes about 30 minutes and includes the long process of roasting the green coffee beans, burning incense, grinding the beans and straining the coffee several times. In Ethiopia, the ceremony is usually done three times a day, and the coffee is taken with lots of sugar, but no milk. Be sure to compliment how skillfully the coffee has been prepared and how delicious it is. That’s part of tradition too.
Info: 1025 S. Fairfax Ave., Little Ethiopia, (323) 965-1025