Hands are nature's silverware—evidenced by early man's serrated pointer finger and forked thumb. Get back to your ancestral roots in sophisticated, handfed fashion with today's deal: for $15, you get $30 worth of Ethiopian cuisine and drinks at Queen of Sheba in South Tampa. The authentic atmosphere and palate-diversifying nature of the restaurant's menu left the staff of Creative Loafing little choice but to name it Best New Restaurant in 2008.
For the uninitiated, Ethiopian cuisine is traditionally eaten utensil-free perched atop homemade injera, a large sourdough flatbread that acts as a tender, edible glove for your right hand to pick up and feed savory heaps of eats to your anticipatory taste buds. This spongy, pancake-like bread is delicious on its own and provides the perfect sidekick to complement the famous spicy main kick of Ethiopian dishes.
The menu at Queen of Sheba contains a variety of lunch or dinner seafood ($9.99–$13.99), meat ($7.99–$14.99), and vegetable ($5.99–$10.99) options waiting to be pleasantly plucked by your hands and injera. On the meatier side, doro alecha ($8.99 lunch, $10.99 dinner) is a tasty mound of chicken and hard-boiled-egg stew covered in sauces and seasonings. Shrimp dishes such as shrimp wot (shrimp sautéed in Ethiopian spices, $13.99) and vegetable plates such as the spicy ye misr wot (split lentils simmered in finely chopped onion, garlic, and ginger seasoned with berbere, $5.99 lunch, $7.99 dinner). Queen of Sheba also offers a variety of desserts and drinks (including some Ethiopian-branded beer and wine) to help simmer the aromatic zest tingling your tongue.
Accompanying the traditional cuisine is a décor adorned with earthen tones, natural light, and authentic pieces of flair that can't be contained within a button affixed to suspenders.
Queen of Sheba was a staff pick for Best New Restaurant and has been featured several times on Creative Loafing and in the St. Petersburg Times. It gets rave reviews on Chowhound, and 77% of more than 100 Urbanspooners like it:
- We’ve written about this humble Ethiopian joint in South Tampa several times this past year, and for good reason. Besides dishing up exceptional African home cooking served with grace and humor, owner Seble Gizaw also offers the Bay area a ray of hope, both for independent restaurants and for under-represented ethnic cuisine. – Creative Loafing
- The space is one of those Bermuda Triangle sites that has seen the demise of a number of restaurant ventures. Queen of Sheba will stick, though, on the basis of its huge family-style platters of spiced legume or meat stews called wats, chicken drumsticks and hard-boiled eggs. – Laura Reiley, St. Petersburg Times
- The vegetarian, chicken and beef dishes were all outstanding. The family opening the restaurant went out of their way to welcome us…This is a substantial contribution to our culinary landscape. – CFishman, Chowhound
Queen of Sheba
As a server lifts the lid off a diner's straw-woven mesob basket, waves of ginger, garlic, cardamom, nutmeg, and fiery pepper aromas waft across the table. Instead of using utensils, guests scoop simmered vegetables and stewed meats off the family-style platter with spongy pieces of homemade injera bread. While this ritual remains the same for all Ethiopian meals, diners can customize the experience by ordering mildly spiced servings or tongue-scorching entrees, which teach disobedient taste buds a lesson they won't soon forget. In addition to orders of free-range chicken, lamb, and beef, the chefs can whip up vegan- and vegetarian-friendly dishes by simmering lentils or root vegetables in the region's signature spice blends.
Sunlight streams through the dining room's gauzy white curtains and illuminates the orange, plaster-textured walls. Occasionally, the restaurant hosts live reggae performances, and its gift shop helps visitors replace their pantries' stock of expired powdered astronaut meals with Ethiopian spices and coffees.