Your home in Davis isn’t the only place where it’s acceptable to eat with your hands.
Another is Queen of Sheba, a charming and tasty Ethiopian restaurant where the idea of communal dining is taken to an entirely new level. Though Queen Sheba is a fixture in Sacramento, a second location opened in July in downtown Davis where the Pita Pit used to be, at 213 E Street.
I ventured in to Queen Sheba for my first Ethiopian meal ever on Saturday at noon with three companions. We were the only ones in the small, colorfully decorated restaurant, so a friendly waitress seated us and brought us menus and water immediately. By the end of the meal, however, the place was filled with diners of all ages, some of whom we noticed were also trying Ethiopian food for the first time.
The menu was divided into poultry, beef, lamb, fish and vegetarian or vegan dishes, which can be served on individual plates or family-style. Diners could also choose a combination platter comprised of several different dishes. Each dish comes with a small, American-style salad and bread called enjeera.
A word on enjeera. This sour, spongy flatbread serves as a side dish, fork, spoon and plate. In fact, there is no silverware on the tables at all. Luckily, there is a hand sanitizer dispenser outside the door for any diner who forgot to wash his or her hands.
My group and I decided to order a dish called “chicken tibbs” and a beef dish called “key wot.” The food arrived quickly, though that may have been because there were still hardly any other diners there.
Since we ordered our dishes family style, the chicken tibbs, key wot and side salad were served on one huge round tray. The meat and salad rested on a layer of enjeera, which quickly soaked up all the juices and sauces of the meat. The waitress also brought out a small basket of rolled-up pieces of enjeera along with napkins and forks (probably sensing that we were not experienced enjeera-users).
The chicken tibbs consisted of small cubes of chicken in a mild yellow sauce. The menu described the sauce as onion, garlic, homemade spices and mixed vegetables. My companions and I found that it tasted extremely fresh and flavorful without being overpowering. It reminded me a bit of the type of mild curry sauces you find at the Indian chain Tandoori Oven.
The reddish-brown sauce that accompanied small pieces of beef in the key wot was considerably spicier than the chicken tibbs. Despite the spiciness, the dish had a pleasant peppery taste that even the least adventurous eater of the group declared to be delicious.
The best part of the meal was, of course, the process of eating the meal. We tore small pieces of enjeera from the larger, rolled-up pieces and used them to scoop up the chicken and beef and mop up the sauces. We all found ourselves going through the napkins quickly, so make sure you have enough on hand or be prepared to use enjeera as napkins, too. The method was just plain fun and made me feel like I was really sharing a meal with friends.
Even though there were four of us, the two family-style dishes were plenty big enough to feed us all. We even took home leftovers. A card on the table advertised a yummy-looking sweet potato pie, so we decided to give it a try. Simply put, it was exactly like the pumpkin pie you make out of a can. I happen to love that type of pumpkin pie, so I enjoyed it; however, those looking for a more authentic pie with a stronger sweet potato flavor may be disappointed.
The total bill came to only $23 total for four people. Queen of Sheba also offers a vegetarian and vegan lunch buffet for $8.99, as well as a selection of Ethiopian coffee, tea and wine.
Though the food was quite tasty, what will keep me coming back to Queen of Sheba was the friendly, relaxed and welcoming vibe. Even though my companions and I had no idea what we were ordering or what the proper way to eat the food was, the attentive staff and diverse group of diners that (eventually) came to the small restaurant made us feel completely at ease.
I left Queen of Sheba with a box of delicious leftovers and a newfound desire to throw my silverware away and learn how to make enjeera -what could be better?
ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at email@example.com.