Just outside of the hustle and bustle of Mill Ave, Cafe Lalibela has been a Tempe staple, providing some of the best Ethiopian food in AZ. Cafe Lalibela offers traditional Ethiopian vegetarian and meat dishes that range from a mixture of vegetable dishes (Diblik or Kilkil) to a selection of various wats (stews and curry dishes), all properly spiced and full of flavor. Berbere, a mixture of slightly spicy red peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, salt and onion seasons many of these dishes.
Eating at Cafe Lalibela is a hands on experience. Traditionally, Ethiopian food is eaten by tearing a piece of injera and either grabbing or pinching your food with the injera and putting all the food (including the injera) in your mouth or in the mouth of another, which is called gursha.
Ethiopian food is typically served communal style, on a platter known as a gebeta. Injera, a sourdough tasting, spongy, slightly chewy crepe made from a mixture of teff and wheat flour, is placed on the gebeta and the dishes ordered go on top of the injera. Additional injera is provided for tearing. Cafe Lalibela does offer a Gluten-Free option as well per request!
Tikil Gomen. When we have Ethiopian, tikil gomen is a staple in our family. It is lightly sauteed and mildly seasoned cabbage, potatoes & carrots that is then slightly stewed down.
Fosolia (or Fasolia) is lightly spiced of stewed string beans, carrots and onions is another one of our favorites. This along with the Tikil Gomen are the few vegetable dishes my kids will eat anywhere.
Gomen is probably the original collard greens (minus the ham hocks or any meat for that matter). Gomen here is cooked with fresh garlic and onion and has a cleaner more brighter flavor than its American (Southern) counterpart.
Doro Wat. This stewed chicken dish simmered in nitter kibbee (also spelled kibbeh or kibae) (spiced clarified butter) and berbere (a mixture of slightly spicy red peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, salt and onion) is one of their spicier dishes. On the heat scale, the doro wat probably falls in the medium range. The doro wat is traditionally served with chopped hard-boiled eggs, but is only served with egg upon request.
Yebeg Alicha Sega Wat is stewed lamb meat, which is simmered in nitter kibbee, onions, herbs, and turmeric. If you have not had lamb in the past, it is gamier flavor that some may not like.
KITFO is for the adventurous, open-minded eater. This is what I call the Ethiopian version of steak tartar. It’s finely chopped raw beef mixed with mitmita (African bird’s eye chili peppers (think of a combination of cayenne and paprika), cloves, and salt), cardamon and nitter kibbee (spiced clarified butter). Kitfo is served raw.
FYI. If you order the Kitfo or any dish for that matter, try sprinkling some Ayeb (homemade cheese). Ayeb is mild, crumbly cheese that helps add an additional layer of flavor (think feta, but milder).
Cafe Lalibela is a great place for dates and get togethers with friends and family because of the sharing and communal option of eating. On top of it, it’s vegan, vegetarian & meat eater friendly. For those eating alone, ordering to go, or who do not like to share their food, don’t worry! Cafe Lalibela also offers individual platters.
So if you are looking to try something new but somewhat familiar, try Cafe Lalibela in Tempe.