Aficionados of Ethiopian cuisine have favorably compared Lalibela to the best such restaurants this side of the Atlantic. Washington D.C., home to world-class Ethiopian food, doesn’t hold a candle, they say. Started by Yonas Asfaw in 1998, it is now guided by the sure hand of Asfaw’s sister-in-law, chef/owner Shilmat Tessema. These days, the restaurant’s food is even more authentic, spicier, and still great fun – you eat with your fingers.
Tessema, who came to Bridgeport from Ethiopia in 1997, grew up in a big family and her mother loved to cook. “Cooking is a gathering of family, talking about foods, the flavor, the spices,” Tessema says. “I love cooking.” Although she dreamed of owning a restaurant, she didn’t cook professionally until she bought Lalibela five years ago. While she attended accounting school in Bridgeport she helped out at Lalibela by cooking, waitressing, whatever was needed. As owner she updated the decor and expanded the menu, adding Ethiopian drinks such as beer and honey wine. Saturday-night diners clink glasses to Ethiopian music played by Charlie Sutton.
Lalibela, named for an Ethiopian holy city, specializes in vegetarian and vegan food. For the carnivores among us, however, the offerings are chicken, beef, lamb, and seafood. Tessema’s palette runs the gamut from mild to extra spicy.
Can’t get to the restaurant on Temple Street for lunch? Stop at her two food trucks: one in the Prospect Street parking lot at Ingalls Rink, the other on Cedar Street near Yale-New Haven Hospital. (The lamb and seafood dishes aren’t available from the trucks.)
No Ethiopian meal would be complete without the essential of Ethiopian cuisine – injera bread made of teff. Tessema says, “you use your hand to cut the bread, then you pinch the sauce so you use your hand to eat the food. Traditionally we want you to use your hands.” And, she smiles, “it’s fun for the kids.”
Restaurant Website: http://www.lalibelarestaurantct.com/
• The Detes: 176 Temple St., New Haven. Hours: Open seven days. Lunch buffet: Monday-Saturday, noon-2pm. Dinnner: Sunday through Thursday, 5pm -10pm; Friday & Saturday 5pm -11pm
• Lunch Truck: Yale-New Haven Hospital on Cedar Street, and Ingalls Rink parking lot, Prospect and Sachem Streets. Monday through Friday 11:30-2pm .
• Price Range: Appetizers $5, Entrees $11-15.
• Style of Food: Ethiopian
• Favorite dishes: Fosolia (green beans, carrots, spicy onions), Doro Wat (spicy chicken), diner’s choice combination dishes
• Vegetarian/Vegan? Most definitely
• Drinks: beer, wine, and especially Ethiopian honey wine
• Encouraged: Forget what your mother told you – eat with your fingers!
• Music: Charlie Sutton plays Ethiopian music every Saturday from 6:30-10:30pm.