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Beyond Breakfast: Los Guachos Taqueria | Columbus, OH

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If you’ve followed the blog at all, you know that I do indeed eat things other than breakfast. The joy of writing these Beyond Breakfast posts is getting to share more fun meals or favorite stops, and this one – Los Guachos Taqueria – fits the bill nicely. The Taqueria grew out of one of Columbus’ most popular and most decorated taco trucks, also called Los Guachos, which we first learned about through the work of Taco Trucks Columbus (link above goes to their post). The brick-and-mortar space signified a success for the taco truck world, as one truck had done well enough to establish itself permanently (with a second location in Gahanna coming soon!).

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Alongside the taco trucks scattered around the city, I’d put Los Guachos Taqueria as one of our best – and most authentic – Mexican restaurants. Maybe my years of food writing have led to some type of snobbery, but in many ways I’m happy to have moved past the rice/beans/cheese/margarita/Corona type of Mexican restaurant. Those restaurants have their place – and I’ve certainly never said no to a Chipotle burrito – but I think it’s time that some of us move past the “where’s my basket of chips and salsa?” phase and try something with better flavor, more dynamic ingredients, and that’s honestly less expensive but just as filling.

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The Los Guachos space is clean and welcoming, employing counter service with a large overhead menu that explains their dishes fully. If you’re at all intimidated, you can rest easy with choices like quesadillas, burritos, and tacos. Aside from the food, there’s an assortment of unique drinks like the rich and tart hibiscus water.

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Once you’ve placed your order and taken your seat at the counter or any of the massive wooden tables and chairs, you’ll notice a variety of condiments before you. If you’re a hothead who likes to sweat, then feel free to pile these on; although I pride myself on liking a decent amount of heat, some of these are even a little too much for me. One such is the bowl of hot peppers and onions.

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There’s also a hotter red pepper sauce, but my preference is for the green cilantro/avocado sauce. This is the type of stuff I would freebase if no one were looking.

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Los Guachos has a small kids menu, or they can tailor dishes to your needs. Our boys like simple tacos with chicken and cheese, served on a double layer of corn tortillas.

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Los Guachos has a range of winning dishes. Not pictured here are the tortas, a crispy sandwich served on thick bread with a cooling layer of mayo, lettuce, and avocado along with mozzarella, tomatoes, beans, onions, and your choice of meat. We love love love the tortas, but our choice almost always leans toward the tacos and the gringas, all served al pastor. Every dish is customizable in terms of meat; the choices include chicken (pollo), steak (asada), tripe (tripa), beef tongue (lengua – very tender), brisket (suadero), and pork (al pastor). Pictured above are a couple al pastor tacos and a gringas. The tacos are served on two corn tortillas and topped with onions and cilantro, while the gringas comes on a slightly larger flour tortilla with cheese, onions, and cilantro.

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Al pastor is a time-consuming preparation of pork that involves marinating thin slices, stacking them on a trompo, then searing and carving them to order with a slice of pineapple. It’s a similar preparation and origin to lamb gyro meat. This preparation lets the meat marinate in its own juices along with drippings from the pineapple.

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What I like best about this food is that there’s no filler: no mounds of generic rice and beans, no smothering with sticky cheese. A true Mexican taco is simple: corn tortillas, onions, cilantro, and a seasoned meat that carries a bulk of the flavor. It’s simple, filling, and rich.

This is why, the next time you have a hankering for good Mexican food, I encourage you skip your usual and try Los Guachos or any of our city’s taco trucks. Good nights to visit Los Guachos include Monday nights, when al pastor tacos are two-for-one, or Wednesday nights, when al pastor gringas are $2.

If you want to visit:

Los Guachos Taqueria
5221 Godown Rd. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43235
(614) 538-0211
losguachos.com
Find them on Facebook, too!

Los Guachos Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Founders Brewing Company | Grand Rapids, MI

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I’m proud of my hometown Grand Rapids. It was always a great city, but since we moved away over ten years ago it’s gotten better and better in almost every regard. The downtown is bustling with new markets, there’s have an amazing arts scene, historic districts are being redeveloped, the food scene is fun and creative and diverse, and the city was voted Beer City USA 2013. Every time we go home to Grand Rapids to visit family, there’s a new brewery or beer bar opening up: the excellent HopCat, Brewery Vivant, Hideout, Grand Rapids Brewing Co., the list goes on. But one of the first – one of the founders, if you will – of the Grand Rapids beer scene is Founders Brewing Co.

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Founders is a bright point on the map for any beer geek. Whether you love or hate their beers, you know of them and can appreciate what they do. Founders’ tap room is my model for a good brewpub. It’s an old warehouse space that’s wide open with rows and rows of tables. The bar stretches along one entire wall, with rows of taps. The shelves behind the bar hold the glassware for the annual Mug Club members. To become a member, you pay an annual fee and have a numbered mug that stays at the bar. Then you get special discounts on beer and events throughout the year.

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Founders serves only their own beer. They split the beers into three classes, usually designating them by availability and strength. Class 1 includes their pale ale, their Dirty Bastard Scotch ale, Centennial IPA, All Day IPA, and the like. Class 2 is for beers that show up seasonally but aren’t incredibly rare. When we last visited, their Breakfast Stout was the only listed Class 2. Class 3 is for the more rare or specialized releases, like their Bolt Cutter Barleywine and Kentucky Breakfast Stout. They had the Backwoods Bastard, a barrel-aged Scotch ale, on top in this category. The important thing is that the menu is written in chalk. Some people bemoan chalkboard menus as a trendy thing for cafes, breweries, and coffee shops, but to me the signify a changing menu, which means that things are fresh and that specials can be easily rotated. The fun thing about going to the Founders tap room (as opposed to just buying bottles) is to catch those pub-only specials and experimental brews.

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One recent visit coincided with a brothers-day-out over Christmas break. We all ordered the Bolt Cutter barleywine, a special release part of the Backstage Series, which consists of (usually) one-time brews. Bolt Cutter is a 15% ABV wollop of a beer, rich and sweet and boozy.

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Founders also utilizes the appropriate glassware for their brews.

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On this visit we also had the Frangelic Stout, a rich and creamy stout that’s not too heavy, with a light hazelnut tone.

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Very good lacing. Lacing is the residue left on the side of the glass, and depending on who you ask, it indicates either the quality of the ingredients or the cleanliness of the glass, or both. I just think it’s pretty.

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I’m barely scratching the surface of all the beers that are available, and the huge – and highly recommended – menu of sandwiches. In recent years Founders has been in a constant state of expansion, repeatedly upping their production capacity, and now enlarging the tap room, store, and more. Most of these pictures were taken on earlier visits, so expect it to look a little different if you visit.

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ADDITION: And is there any connection to breakfast? Well, yes. Founders brews a couple versions of breakfast stouts, such as the stand Breakfast Stout (with coffee, oatmeal, and chocolate), the Kentucky Breakfast Stout (with vanilla, aged in bourbon barrels), and the ever-elusive Canadian Breakfast Stout (brewed with coffee and chocolate, then aged in bourbon barrels that most recently held maple syrup – you read that right). To celebrate the annual release of Breakfast Stout, Founders hosts the Breakfast Stout Breakfast, which we attended back in 2009.

I’ve obviously got the nostalgia factor going with Founders, since it’s a brewery from my hometown (not because I drank the beer growing up, obviously), but objectively I think they made really solid beers. Their standard pale ales, stouts, and IPAs are trustworthy, and I’m constantly on the prowl for their specialty beers. Their imperial stout is one of the best out there, and their Kentucky Breakfast Stout is my #1 beer. Fortunately for me, they distribute widely in the midwest and east coasts, so there are plenty of opportunities to try their stuff, even if you can’t make it to the tap room (which you should if you have the chance).

If you want to visit:
Founders Brewing Company
235 Grandville Ave. SW (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 495
(616) 776-1195
foundersbrewing.com
Also on Facebook (both the brewery and the taproom) and @FoundersBrewing

Founders Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Gringos Tacos | Hatteras, NC

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It’s not surprising, with the proliferation of food trucks and pop-up stands nationwide, to see mobile food and small-scale restaurants crop up on the Outer Banks barrier islands, too. Even on Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry, there’s a taco truck, hot dog stand, BBQ truck, and a handful of ice cream, snow cone, and coffee carts. This type of business model makes perfect sense for the hard-to-access islands whose economy is based on a seasonal clientele. So it’s no surprise to find a small wooden shack in the middle of the Hatteras Landing shops acting as a taco stand.

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At first glance Gringos Tacos might seem like your standard Americanized Mexican restaurant, and while there are elements of that, they offer a few surprises and most importantly, an inexpensive and very flavorful way to enjoy some local seafood.

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Case in point: the daily menu above, with crab nachos and mahi mahi tacos.

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We sought out Gringos for a quick lunch while stuck in line for the Ocracoke Island ferry. We ate a few tacos while watching fishing boats come and go and enjoyed the fruits of their labor. First up: the surf and turf taco with shrimp and shredded beef. Very tender and well-seasoned beef, plump little shrimp perfectly cooked, plus lettuce, cheese, and a very flavorful pico de gallo, all served in a flour tortilla.

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Second was the blackened mahi mahi taco, with a generous portion of fish, lettuce, cheese, and pico. Again, a real winner. Filling, freshly made, with balanced flavors.

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I’m hoping to make a return trip to Gringos again before we leave the islands. Even if I can’t, I hope this crew stays busy so we can see them again next season!

If you want to visit:
Gringos Tacos
58848 Marina Way (map it!)
Hatteras, NC 27943
(252) 986-1088
Follow them on Facebook

Open daily 11a-8p

Gringos Tacos on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Yerba Buena Latin Grill | Columbus, OH

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[UPDATE August 2014: the truck doesn't seem to be active at the moment.]

In case I haven’t said it before, El Arepazo downtown is one of my favorite restaurants in town. It’s one of those restaurants that I crave all. the. time. and could visit any. day. of. the. week. The challenge is that the restaurant’s hours and location best suit everyone who works downtown. For those of us who don’t live or work there, or in Gahanna by their second restaurant Arepazo Tapas & Wine, it was a blessing when they launched the Yerba Buena food truck a couple years ago in Clintonville. Unfortunately, a very vocal minority objected to the truck’s presence along High Street, so they moved operations to Indianola just south of Morse Road, and while they did well they didn’t last long. So when we first glimpsed the beautifully decorated truck taking up its spot in the dentist’s office parking lot a couple weeks ago, we were elated. Since that opening, we’ve returned a couple times; the location is dangerously poised in between our home and Mrs. Bfast w/Nick’s work, so it’s very easy to justify stopping here for dinner. As if the food alone wasn’t justification enough…

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Like the two brick-and-mortar restaurants, Yerba Buena focuses on Latin American cuisine, with dishes like the Peruvian specialty patacon or Venezuelan arepas. If you’ve somehow mistaken El Arepazo or Yerba Buena for a run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant, then think again. These restaurants focus on colorful, fresh ingredients in immensely flavorful combinations.

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Here’s what we ordered on our most recent visit to the truck: first, a simple taco with chicken and cheese for our youngest.

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One of their signatures is the patacon: a bed of fried plantains are covered with lettuce, cheese, avocado, banana peppers, pico de gallo, and your choice of meat or veggies. My preference is for the shredded chicken.

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Another signature is the arepa, a Venezualan specialty that’s a small fried corn cake split in half and filled with lettuce, cheese, avocado, pico, and meat or veggies. It’s a perfect little hand-held meal.

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Here’s another patacon. The size of this meal makes it a solid bang-for-your-buck.

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The meals are flavorful enough as it is, but the whole experience is magnified by the cilantro sauce. You get little cups of it with your meal – and you can request more – while they sell larger bottles at the restaurants. The sauce has a rich, clean quality, made from cilantro, avocado, and a blend of spices. They have mild and spicy versions. Both are excellent, but I always go for the spicy. This sauce is so good that, after you pour it out on your food, you’ll find yourself licking out the cup to get every last drop.

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If you’re a fan of Yerba Buena’s food, rejoice! The truck is back in action. Let’s keep them busy. If you’ve never had their food, now is your time to go and become a regular!

If you want to visit:
Yerba Buena Latin Grill
1347 N. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 228-4830
Follow them on Facebook or @YerbaBuena2011

Open Wed-Sat, 3:30-8:30pm

Beyond Breakfast: Penn State Berkey Creamery

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What goes best with a little BBQ while you’re on the road in spring break? Ice cream! And if you happen to be on the road anywhere near central Pennsylvania, your best bet for ice cream has to be Penn State University’s Berkey Creamery.

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I know I know I know… I’m a blogger from Ohio, I teach at THE Ohio State University, Penn State is supposed to be a sworn enemy, blah blah blah. Columbus does ice cream well – we do it very well – but ice cream has been proven to transcend cultural, geographic, national, and yes, sometimes religious boundaries. So while we have lots of ice cream to be proud of in central Ohio, we’ve got to acknowledge the excellence of Penn State’s ice cream program. After all, our very own Jeni of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams attended Berkey Creamery.

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At the Berkey Creamery, it’s not just all ice cream. There’s sherbet, there’s cheese, and there are sticky buns from the local diner.

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In recent years the Creamery moved to a new space in the new Food Science Building. From what I barely remember of the old space (I only peaked in once), this is spot is bigger and more open. One corner of it is run like a good old fashioned convenience store, but a majority of the space is dedicated to the ice cream.

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Like any established ice cream shop, the Berkey Creamery has its share of famous flavors, like Peachy Paterno, Coconut Chip, and Mint Nittany. One of the more well known – and my personal favorite – is the Death By Chocolate.

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Death By Chocolate isn’t a really complex flavor, it’s just really, really great chocolate ice cream. It’s rich, it’s not over-the-top sweet, and it’s served in a generous heaping cup.

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We also “sampled” the cookies & cream and the peanut butter swirl.

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I’ve always had a soft spot for cookies and cream. It’s one of my go-tos at any ice cream parlor. The chunkier, the better.

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This would be a great way to go.

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Aside from eating ice cream on premises, we also visited with the purpose of loading up a cooler with half gallons. The creamery features an entire wall of freezers loaded top to bottom with ice cream, and they’ll pack it on dry ice for you.

For ice cream lovers or for casual travelers, the Berkery Creamery is a must-stop in central Pennsylvania. And don’t be intimidated by the campus location: it’s easy to access and a nearby parking garage has half hour spots dedicated to Creamery visitors.

If you want to visit:
Berkey Creamery
119 Food Science Building (map it!)
University Park, PA 16802
creamery.psu.edu
See also on Facebook and @PSUCreamery

Berkey Creamery on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Gio’s BBQ

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Spring break yielded some culinary adventures for us, as we trekked across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. What about a little bit of road food?

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The best road food shows up in the most unexpected places. In this case it was a barbecue joint… inside a gas station… a little ways outside State College, PA at the intersection of routes 970 and 322. If you’re traveling to or from Penn State on the western side, chances are you’ll pass by this gas station. And when you do, you can stop for lunch.

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The building itself is half gas station convenience store and half restaurant. Dead center is the counter with hand-written menus on bright orange cardstock. The moral here is not to let the simple exterior fool you: this food goes far beyond the typical gas station Slim Jims and overcooked hotdogs. The wafting smell of smoky barbecue and the small army of cooks in the kitchen tell you that locals and travelers alike keep this place busy, and for a reason.

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Case in point: the beef brisket sandwich. Smoky and flavorful, sliced thin and piled on a bun with cole slaw and a Carolina-style sauce.

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The pulled pork sandwich smothered in sauteed veggies.

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The half rack of ribs with a generous mound of pulled pork hidden below.

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The ribs were a tad on the dry side but smoked appropriately. They pulled apart easily and were sauced without being drowned. In other words, the meat was given a chance to shine, rather than having its flaws hidden by slopping on the condiments.

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A small beef brisket platter. All of the sides were done well, but the side of sauce with each dish really stood out to me. It was rich, tomatoey (that’s a word, right?), and surprisingly tangy. Made for excellent dipping of said sliced brisket.

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We caught the restaurant before a big lunch rush, but even so there were always 2-3 people at the counter, getting BBQ in-house or to-go.

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Gio’s sells their sauce, too. A big sign above the display boasts of the awards they’ve won. Side note: maybe I don’t know BBQ well enough, but sometimes awards for BBQ seem like Grammy’s. So many people are awarded so many different prizes that I don’t know if it really counts for something. Not that I’m holding this against Gio’s in particular. Just making an observation.

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Overall, a worthy stop if you’re trekking up and around the foothills of central Pennsylvania. Gio’s knows their audience well, with specific signage to address Penn State aficionados.

If you want to visit:
Gio’s BBQ
2829 Woodland Bigler Highway (map it!)
Woodland, PA 16881
(814) 857-714
giosbbq.com

Gio's BBQ on Urbanspoon

Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant | Columbus, OH

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Ethiopian cuisine has long been one of our favorites. You may have noticed this in my thinly-veiled idolatry of my hometown Ethiopian joint Little Africa. Once you have a favorite restaurant of a certain type, you constantly find yourself trying to recreate it anywhere else you live or travel. Sometimes that restaurant can live up to the original experience; sometimes it’s different enough that it’s equally good on it’s own footing. That’s how we’ve arrived at Lalibela being our favorite Ethiopian restaurant in Columbus.

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Lalibela is a simple and quiet restaurant in Whitehall on South Hamilton Road. The small parking lot out front is often crammed, but you can find parking next to the grocery one door down. The entryway lands you next to the bar, ringed with bright neon blue lights. You’ll typically find a few regulars – all Ethiopian – sitting around the bar. As a caucasian, I find this to be re-assuring when I’m seeking out ethnic food. When I’m in the minority, I’ve found the right place.

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Either a server or the owner will lead you further back to the dining room. Usually there is music playing, and often the TV in the corner is showing Ethiopian programming. We’ve seen the restaurant busy, but never crowded. The servers are soft-spoken and incredibly friendly. During every meal the owner comes by to check in on you with a big smile and a welcoming handshake.

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We usually visit Lalibela with a group of four to six people, so we order a shared platter of mostly vegetarian dishes. These include things with grape leaves, tomatoes, onions, root vegetables, various lentils, occasionally with a meat dish of stewed beef. We often add a side of shiro, which is yellow peas simmered in veggies and spices.

Ethiopian food is eaten by hand. You tear pieces of injera, a spongy and slightly sour bread made from teff flour, and scoop up individual bites of the food. The entire platter is served on a layer of injera, with extra rolls of the bread served on the side as well. The joy of this type of food is eating together. Rather than sitting hunched over our individual meals, we’re turned toward each other, reaching in and around our arms to scoop up bites from the same plate. This is something I think we can learn to do better in the U.S. We often forget that food is community.

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Lalibela has a full bar as well, and we’ve often ordered one of the Ethiopian beers available. The St. George Beer is a light lager with a honey finish. It’s a perfect complement to the rich and often spicy food.

Like I said, Lalibela is our go-to for Ethiopian food in Columbus. It’s a little bit of a drive, out to Whitehall, but we’ve found that the food and welcome is more than worth it.

If you want to visit:
Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant
1111 S. Hamilton Rd. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43227
(614) 235-5355
lalibelarestaurant.net
Also on Facebook
Open daily 9a-2:30a
Lalibela Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

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