South Orange, NJ 07079
- Cost: $$
- Alcohol: BYO
- Parking: Street
- Take Out: Yes
April 4, 2016
The more I learn about Lalibela, the more I appreciate this unassuming community-focused restaurant serving delicious Ethiopian food.
Owner and chef Meklit Brookens, born in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, is devoted to serving traditional dishes with the exact flavors of her birthplace. When she visits her family twice a year, she goes to the market in Addis to purchase a local berbere spice mix. The 100 pounds she prints back with her each trip gives the distinctive Ethiopian chili flavor to Lalibela’s dishes. To make Lalibela’s spongy injera flatbread, Meklit has found a U.S. source of tef flour that meets her standards, a farm in Idaho, and has nurtured her sourdough starter for seven years. To achieve the strong dark coffee that plays a daily role in Ethiopian culture, Lalibela grinds and roasts its own coffee on site. The result: a meal like you’d find in the bustling Ethiopian capital.
On my most recent visit, the yequanta fir fir, spicy beef jerky served with deep red berbere sauce and strips of injera, was the star of our meal. All the beef, lamb, chicken and veggie preparations I’ve tried here are excellent.
Lalibela’s food is a fixture at local festivals in Essex County. Meklit periodically offers cooking classes at the restaurant. You don’t have to know how to cook Ethiopian food, however, to enjoy one of New Jersey’s best and least common cuisines.
Review – October 2010
Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant is easily overlooked (I’d driven past many times without noticing it), just a few blocks from Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ, but you should find it if you’re looking for excellent East African fare at reasonable prices.
Our kids love eating with their hands, and Ethiopian food is the perfect opportunity to scoop up everything with Injera – the spongy, tangy Ethiopian flat bread. Lalibela’s version is one of the best we’ve tried. A fresh salad of lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, green pepper and onion (Lalibela Salad) served on a platter of Injera is an excellent first course. Also very good, the Sambusa appetizer – a flaky Ethiopian “empanada.” The entrees and sides (each entree comes with two “veggie” sides) are served family-style on a huge Injera platter. We sampled two meat entrees – Lalibela Tibs (beef marinated in spicy sauce) and Yebeg Tibs (sauteed lamb cubes). Each was intensely flavored and made for perfect bites wrapped in the bread. Add the delicious collard greens (Goma) or the spicy lentils (Misir Wot) and it’s a feast.
This tiny South Orange storefront has about eight tables, with eclectic Ethiopian decorations on the walls and brightly colored fabric covering the windows. Service is friendly and fast, and Lalibela seems to do a brisk local take out business. There weren’t any take out menus available when we visited, but our server happily offered to print one out from the website for us. Eat in or take out, more people should try Lalibela’s food.
261 Irvington Avenue
South Orange, NJ 07079