I wasn't lying when I said I had become a total convert. Less than two weeks after our trip to Dukem, I found myself craving injera bread and Ethiopian spices, so I made a date with best friend and occasional blog contributor Calypso at Lalibela, on the corner of 14th and P. I chose Lalibela (which is the name of a holy city in northern Ethiopia) as it was recently featured in a Serious Eats post; specifically, dulet (a combination of lamb tripe and liver) was praised to high heavens, and I couldn't resist.
The interior reflects that the restaurant has been around awhile - the faded pictures on the walls and well-used furniture get only a slight boost from a few colorful throw blankets and newer flat screen tvs (all turned to sports channels). The restaurant was nearly empty when I walked in at 6:30, but began to fill up quickly as the clock inched toward 7. Clearly, despite its looks, I was in a good place. While waiting for Calypso, I had a glass of incredibly sweet tej, or honey wine, a traditional Ethiopian drink - not for everyone, but great when sipped along side spicy Ethiopian fare.
Wanting to try a broad range of dishes, Calypso and I decided to share the Lalibela special, a combination of:
- kik alicha (yellow split peas cooked with onions, garlic, red peppers, turmeric and vegetable oil);
- tekel gomen (cabbage and carrots cooked similarly);
- gomen wot (cale cooked with onions, garlic and vegetable oil);
- laga tibs (cubed lamb marinated in Ethiopian spices, and cooked with onions, tomatoes, jalapeño, and garlic);
- doro wot (chicken marinated with seasoned butter and stewed in red hot pepper sauce with ginger root, cardamom, garlic, Ethiopian spices and served with a hard boiled egg);
- yebere Lalibela tibs (beef sauteed with seasoned butter, onions, garlic, hot peppers, tomatoes and jalapeño); and
- keye wot (beef marinated in red wine, and cooked with onions, garlic, ginger root and red hot pepper sauce).
Everything was delicious, although the dishes did sort of run together in my mind (as they are all prepared similarly), and didn't carry the same degree of heat as my previous Ethiopian meal. However, I also ordered the dulet (the dish on the right side of the platter, below), lightly cooked, which was as glorious as the Serious Eats writer described - a gorgeous combination of textures (creamy, crunchy, chewy) and flavors. Then again, I love tripe and liver, so dulet is not going to be for all tastes - Calypso tried a little and didn't hate it, but didn't love it, either.
While I don't think that I liked Lalibela quite as much as Dukem, it's comparable and much closer to my house. And the friendly and laid-back atmosphere and service made it a wonderful place for a dinner date with one of my favorite people in the world, and another worthy contributor to D.C.'s Ethiopian culinary scene.