Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant (Toronto)

Lalibela Ethiopian franenscence

For the last class of a food writing course, we celebrated with a group dinner at Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant – an ideal place to meet vegan, gluten free and carnivore dining demands. Prior to the experience, I’ve never had Ethiopian food and knew little about the cuisine. Lalibela’s menu is rather extensive with a surprisingly large amount of meat options.

Although the tibs, a dish of sautéed meat with vegetables, sounds delicious, the meat is dry, hard and chewy.  Served on a sizzling platter, the zilzil tibs ($16) was aromatic when presented, but eating the beef was reminiscent of chewing on leather.  The rib tibs ($14.50) were better with the lamb pieces containing some fat which helped provide some much needed moisture. Additionally, the garlic onion and jalapeno tossed with the lamb was more pronounced and flavourful.

Lalibela Ethiopian zilzil tibsLalibela Ethiopian rib tibs

Personally, I’d suggest sticking with the stewed and braised meat dishes instead. The lamb stew’s ($12.50) liquid looked rather pale but was packed with flavour being made from a mixture of ginger, garlic, aromatic butter and light sprinkling of curry. If only the liquid was thicker it’d be even better as it was rather difficult to scoop the liquid with the injera.

Lalibela Ethiopian lamb stew

The special Ethiopian chicken ($16) were pieces of leg meat slow-cooked with caramelized onions, berbere (chili powder), garlic and ginger then served with hard boiled eggs. Although it was decent, it could use more berbere as the spiciness was so sedated. I’ve heard Ethiopian cuisine is known for spicy meats and rich flavourful sauces and hoped a dish with “special” in its name would be more impressive.

I noticed their menu was out-of-date and items such as the lamb stew, rib tibs and zilzil tibs are anywhere from $0.50 - $2 higher when the bill was presented. One discrepancy I can understand, but three out of five dishes is excessive.

The best dish of the night was the vegetarian platter sampler ($20) an impressive spread of eight thick stews on a piece of injera accompanied with salads. Injera is a risen sourdough made with teff flour with air pockets giving it a light spongy consistency. All the little crevices are perfect for scooping up the chickpea, lentil, beet, spinach and other stews. Traditionally, Ethiopians break off pieces of injera and with their right hand use it to pick up food.

Lalibela Ethiopian injera

Although a full platter of injera comes with the meal, the most flavourful piece would be the one the vegetarian platter is served on, soaking up the different sauces. The jalapeno laced salad in the middle was delicious and the crunchy cool lettuce a great contrast against the soft stews.

Lalibela offers traditional Ethiopian coffee ($10 and is sufficient for 4 people). If you’re interested, order it at the beginning as it takes time to prepare. First, the beans are brought out in a hot pan to showcase the intense coffee aroma while they’re roasting. They’re then brought back into the kitchen to finish roasting then grounded.

Lalibela Ethiopian coffee

After the meal, the coffee is brought back in a beautiful clay vessel along with lit frankincense billowing out a licorice smelling smoke, which is said to go well with the coffee. The coffee is poured into quaint little cups and can be taken with sugar or salt but with no milk. It’s rich and has a strong coffee flavour but not as intense as espresso. On the side is a large platter of popcorn; our waitress explained that in Ethiopia individuals tend to have snack foods while enjoying coffee.

Finishing our writing course with a meal was a great idea! I love the light injera where you feel you can have piece after piece without feeling stuffed. The vegetarian platter is a good choice for trying a variety of stews and ideal for the summer as it’s light. Eating at Lalibela was a unique experience, opening my taste buds to a world of new flavours.

Overall mark - 6.5 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1202 Danforth Avenue

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!