Word of Mouth: Viable vegan options and Ethiopian flair, courtesy of Queen of Sheba

Following the trend of restaurant owners seeing a lack of culinary diversity in Anchorage and taking matters into their own hands, like Chiiwen Choo from Kami Ramen, Queen of Sheba is no different.

Located on Dawson Street, between Benson Boulevard and West Northern Lights Boulevard, Queen of Sheba boasts authentic, made-in-house Ethiopian dishes such as doro wot (stewed chicken) and shirro (ground, spiced chickpeas). The restaurant’s ambiance is homey, yet polished and intimate. The smell of spices, like turmeric and cumin, waft through the air and whet your appetite before owner Sawit Ogbamichael and his wife, Samrawit Haile, greet you with a warm smile.

Queen of Sheba offers a bounty of popular Ethiopian and Eritrean dishes, but I opted to switch things up and give their vegan dishes a try, as per Ogbamichael and Haile’s recommendation.

While their menu reads vegetarian for their six meatless dishes, they’re vegan as well.

Queen of Sheba’s mix vegan platter featuring (left to right): alicha, chirro, yellow lentils, red lentils and gomen. Photo by Joey Carreon.

I ordered the mix vegan platter ($20), a smorgasbord of six aforementioned vegan dishes served on a sheet of fresh injera, which is the main staple starch in Ethiopian cuisine and Ethiopia’s national dish.

“People love the mix vegan platter. They just sell like hotcakes,” Ogbamichael said.

Queen of Sheba’s injera, which is a spongy, sourdough flatbread that serves as the vehicle for all of their dishes, is made to order.

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Dawit cooks each batch of injera on straw mats imported from Hawaii and replaces them every couple of weeks to ensure that the injera doesn’t take on any of the burnt residues, he said.

The mix vegan platter features yatakilt alicha, which consists of potatoes, carrots and cabbage sauteed in spices, shirro (ground chickpeas), yellow lentils stewed in spices, yemisir keyi, red lentils stewed in berebere sauce and spices and gomen (spiced collard greens).

While each dish is made with a plethora of spices, the flavor of each ingredient shined through. The alicha was my absolute favorite dish I had during my visit. The taste of the cabbage and potatoes paired with turmeric, ginger, garlic and other spices was a taste to behold — it packed quite a kick too.

All of Queen of Sheba’s recipes are from Ethiopia, Ogbamichael said. The restaurant imports the majority of the ingredients to keep their dishes as close to the original recipes as possible.

Each dish boasted not only a variety of colors and flavors, but textures as well. The shirro was similar to hummus in texture, while the alicha featured rustically cut veggies.

There was also something oddly satisfying about tearing off a piece of injera and using it to grab a bite of alicha or lentils. The spongey, porous texture made for the perfect vehicle to soak up every bit of flavor, and the sourdough tang offered a nice compliment to the eccentric, sharp flavors of each dish.

Much like hot pot or tapas, the mix vegan platter is perfect for a group appetizer or a meal for two.

Fate is what brought Ogbamichael from Ethiopia to Anchorage, where he opened Queen of Sheba in December of 2018.

“[What brought me to Anchorage] is a long history, but I was going to the University of Minnesota, and they offered us work in Alaska for fishing. They had a list of summer jobs that I thought to be in Minnesota, but they were actually up in Alaska,” Ogbamichael said. “So I took [the job] and never went back to Minnesota.”

While working at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, people would frequently notice Ogbamichael’s Ethiopian heritage through his accent — which would lead them to ask Ogbamichael where they could find good Ethiopian food. Since there were no options in Anchorage at the time, Ogbamichael took matters into his own hands, leading to Queen of Sheba, he said.

“That’s how we came about — basically, through people’s desires,” Ogbamichael said.

Queen of Sheba is located at 2813 Dawson St., between Benson and Northern Lights Boulevards. The restaurant is open Wednesday-Friday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday-Sunday from 3-9 p.m. and is closed on Monday and Tuesday.