4422 Cass St, Omaha, NE, 68131
QISA (2.5, 3, 3.5, 3) $11-13, Vegetarian-Possible
About 30 years ago, my mother traveled to Omaha, Nebraska for a conference. “How was it?” I asked her. She made a face. “It was the dullest place I’ve ever visited. There is NOTHING to do there. I asked people what they do for fun. They said they go to the stockyards.”
Thankfully, Omaha has changed in 30 years.
According to the Omaha Tourism Board site, Omaha is one of the nation’s premiere hot spots for the indie music scene. I was only in town for a couple days, so I didn’t get to sample any of the local folk, jazz, blues, or pop, but I did get a feeling for the town while driving around. Omaha is a thoroughly pleasant metropolis that feels like a fully manageable Midwest town that is slowly in the process of filling itself up with people. In short, I like it.
Despite the glut of hamburger and steak joints, the burg does have its share of vegetarian-friendly restaurants. Granted none of them stood out as being to the level of Indianapolis (my home town and twice Omaha’s size), but for the stranded traveler, there is much more to find that the salad bar at Anthony’s Steak House.
For example, Lalibela is one of two Ethiopian restaurants in the center of Omaha. Lalibela rates itself as only vegetarian-possible because only one of the 12 entries is vegetarian, but if you are looking for a moderately-decent Ethiopian meal in Nebraska, you should consider this stop. Much of the meal is quite good. The injera (Ethiopian bread) has just the right tang and sponginess. The red lentils in the center of the plate have just the right level of spice and moistness. Unfortunately, much of the meal is simply mediocre. The split peas and cooked greens were a bit too dry and the green salad tasted just like your standard ‘Merican green salad. The Ethiopian spiced tea tasted exactly like Constant Comment with lots of sugar. Oh, and for the uninitiated, the pile of pale green chutney is not cole slaw. It’s a rather potent hot sauce. You have been warned.
The décor of the restaurant can only be described as quaintly trying. The restaurant is small but clean, and it is decorated with posters from Ethiopia. Granted the Price is Right on the overhead TV and the light jazz over the speakers certainly do not add an air of authenticity. Furthermore, although the owner and chef hiding in the back is Ethiopian, the waitress was clearly born and bred in Nebraska. However, she was polite, attentive, and willing to train any new patron on the ins and outs of Ethiopian food, particularly how you eat everything with your hands.
Lalibela is not nearly as good as my favorite Ethiopian restaurant in Indianapolis (to be profiled at a later date), but for a small exotic restaurant in the middle of steak country, you could certainly do worse. I know that 30 years ago, my mother would have loved it.