What are the odds? In the Triangle, restaurants specializing in African cuisines are as rare as white rhinoceros sightings. And now, we've got two of them opening in the space of a week.
Mawa's Taste of Africa (130 Morrisville Square Way, Morrisville; 342-0117) is scheduled to open today in Morrisville Square Shopping Center. "Taste of Africa" is a modest understatement for the extensive menu, which offers a sweeping sampling of dishes from all over the continent, from Moroccan tagine to Kenyan goat curry to Mozambique's piri piri spiced mixed grill of shrimp, mussels and scallops. Owner Mame Hughes' native Senegal is well-represented by several dishes, including pastelles (herb-seasoned tuna in a flaky pastry), daheen (a medley of rice, lamb and black-eyed peas in a peanut sauce) and vegan spring rolls with a sweet-spicy dipping sauce.
Hughes, who previously owned a smaller eatery called MAWA ("My Authentic West African") in North Raleigh, has given her new restaurant an African safari look, with animal fabric upholstery, a wall-spanning mural of the African plains, and a thatched-roof "hut" where up to eight people can sit on mats on the floor and dine in traditional African style. Mawa's Taste of Africa is open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closing at 7 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and at 9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
The paint on Mawa's mural will barely be dry when Queen of Sheba (1129-O Weaver Dairy Road; 932-4986; www.queenofshebachapelhill.com) celebrates its grand opening Saturday in Chapel Hill's Timberlyne Shopping Center. Actually, you might say it's a grand reopening for the Ethiopian restaurant. Owner Frieshgenet Dabei operated the original Queen of Sheba on Graham Street in downtown Chapel Hill for five years and before that owned Blue Nile in Durham. She has been searching for a new location since last year, when the building that housed the restaurant was razed to make way for a condo development.
Dabei's cooking and warmly hospitable personality have won her many fans over the years, and they'll be happy to know that both are as inviting as ever. The menu covers the spectrum of traditional Ethiopian fare, from kik alich'a (yellow split peas gently redolent of ginger and Ethiopian herbs) to yedoro watt (chicken and hard-boiled egg in a fiery berbere sauce) to fish tibbs (fresh fish of the day, marinated in rosemary and lemon, then pan-fried with onions and white pepper) to kitfo (Ethiopia's answer to steak tartare, featuring freshly minced lean beef, mixed with purified butter and exotic spices, served raw).
If you have trouble choosing among the nearly three dozen options, then one of the meat, seafood or vegetarian combinations ought to solve your quandary. Whatever you order, it will be served on a spongy, crêpelike bread called injera. To dine in authentic Ethiopian style, tear off a piece of the injera and use it to scoop up a bit of food and pop it into your mouth. And when you're done, by all means treat yourself to Dabei's famous Ethiopian coffee.
Queen of Sheba will serve a lunch buffet Monday-Friday and à la carte dinner Monday-Saturday. Call the restaurant for reservations for the grand opening buffet, which is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Saturday.