Downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro have so many restaurants but so little that's good to eat. The burger and fries and Tyler's, the cobbler at Elmo's, the bread at Weaver Street Market -- that's about it. It's not much to show for maybe four dozen restaurants, including a few with reputations.
I was excited, then, to try Queen of Shebas, a Ethiopian restaurant just off Franklin Street (go past India Palace toward Carrboro and take a quick right). I had never before tried Ethiopian food, so I didn't have much standard of comparison, but I thought the meal was interesting without being delectable or irrestistible. Chowhounds should try it, if only once.
The appetizers were fine: an onion marmalade in a raw jalapeno pepper and a fried potato fritter with a lemony chickpea sauce (much like a samosa). The delicate chickpea sauce was superb -- the higlight of the meal. The entrees were a lamb and beef stew, served, as is traditional, with an ample portion of brownish, thickish, slightly rubbery crepes (which were better than I've made them sound). The stews were spicy, but not, to my taste, especially interesting of subtle in flavor. The beef dish, dark and rich, reminded me of an oddly flavored mole. The restaurant apparently does not serve dessert, but I finished with a cup of Ethiopian coffee -- thick, sweet, flavored with clove and cinnamon -- which I liked very much.
I would say the cuisine is closest to Indian. The unusual bread, which is at the heart of the meal, makes for the biggest difference.
The bill came to $39 for two. This was slightly more than I would have liked to pay, but not unfair. An appetizer and entre per person is about the right amount of food.
Be forewarned: the place is a bit grungy. Not the kind of place to bring the wife on your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.