Sheba Lounge and Restaurant, CA

Sheba Lounge and Restaurant

Chef: Netsanet and Israel Alemayehu
Cuisine: Ethiopian
Neighborhood: Fillmore
Price: all dishes $15 or under
Phone: 415-440-7414
Address: 1419 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
Hours: Fri-Sat Dinner 5pm-11pm, Lounge 5pm-2am; Sun-Thurs Dinner 5pm-10pm, Lounge 5pm-1am; Happy Hour Sun-Thurs 11pm-1am

First of all, I love love love Ethiopian cuisine. To some, the statement is almost an oxymoron. Cuisine? In Africa? Yes, amazing cuisine, I say to the uneducated dolts. I think for how savory and satisfying it is, Ethiopian is pretty underrated in the food world. Sure it is heavy and might make you gassy, but so will a lot of other food. Ethiopian food is unique, delicious, and generally cheap, so always a win/win.

I first got acquainted with Ethiopian food when I was in college. My roommate’s dad was an archeology/anthropology professor and went to Ethiopia frequently to do field work. He introduced a bunch of our friends to Ethiopian food, culture and customs. We loved the concept of eating with your hand (the right one always, because the left is historically used to wipe your behind, so don’t mix ’em up!) Years later, I actually went to Ethiopia with a friend and we had a field day eating injera, doro wat (my favorite to this day!) and sipping on tej.

The main dishes in the cuisine are vegetable and meat stews, or wats. Besides wats, there are also dishes called tibs, which are vegetables or meat that are sautéed. Kitfo is typically raw or rare meat marinated in spices. Admittedly, I did not try any of it in Ethiopia because I was afraid of getting sick and did not want to bust open my container of Cipro. Although there are many meat dishes, Ethiopian is actually a very vegetarian-friendly cuisine, because most people are religious and fast frequently by avoiding meat. All the dishes are typically seasoned with berbere, which is a mixture of spices such as chili peppers, ginger, garlic, basil, etc. Everything is served with a spongy, yeasty bread called injera that is typically made of a grain called teff, which grows primarily in Ethiopia and Eritrea (but also a bit in India, Australia and the US). You typically tear off a piece of the injera and use it to scoop up the wats or the kitfo. And last but not least, Ethiopia is also known for its honey wine called tej, which is really sweet but I love the way it complements and soothes the spiciness of the food.

Sheba Lounge and Restaurant is located in the Fillmore district of San Francisco, in the hustle and bustle of the jazz club district. It serves Ethiopian food as well as fusion takes on American bar food favorites. There is live music everyday, and you can choose to sit at the bar, at a table, or on a comfy couch by the fireplace as you imbibe on a glass of tej and listen to the live band. Inside, the main wall is meant to mirror one of the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela (Ethiopia’s own version of Petra). Otherwise, the decor is very modern and comfortable. We sat at one of the tables by the bar, but one day I want to come back and veg out on the couch as I listen to some jazz.

TEJ – sweet honey wine

INJERA – rolls of yeasty spongy bread made of teff

VEGETARIAN PLATTER (clockwise from 12 o’clock position)
Atakilt Kilikil – Fresh cabbage, carrots, greens peppers and onions sautéed with garlic, ginger, and tomatoes
Mesir Wat – Lentils cooked with cooked onions, garlic, ginger, olive oil and mild Berbere sauce
Gomen – Fresh collard greens sautéed with onions, garlic, oregano, ginger, tomatoes and Ethiopian spices
Kik Alicha – Yellow split peas cooked and flavored with green pepper, turmeric, onion and Ethiopian herbs

The vegetable platter at any Ethiopian place I’d say is the best dish to order and share. It is a sample of all the main stews and shows just how much you can do with veggies. This is a lot coming from a devout carnivore. Every vegetable has its distinct flavor, but often I also like to mix and match them in my little injera piece and just devour it.

DORO WATTender chicken meat gently simmered in a spicy Berbere sauce, with garlic, ginger, cardamom, and onions served with a boiled egg
I don’t know what it is about this dish, but I adore the drumsticks smothered in the spicy stew. And you then smother the hard boiled egg into the stew and it’s magical. So simple, but amazing.

Yasa Tibs – Sautéed catfish marinated in white wine and cooked with Berbere, scallions and tomatoes
I actually had never tried any sort of seafood in any Ethiopian restaurant. I figured that Ethiopia is landlocked, so how can there be fish? I forgot about lakes and rivers. Oops. The catfish was so soft and juicy, I was very pleasantly surprised.


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