One of my favorite restaurants in Charlottesville is not on the downtown mall or on the Corner. It's hidden away, in a mini strip mall by a McDonald's and a Subway: Shebeen.
The odd location translates to a ready table waiting for you, even on busy weekends. Not to mention the easy parking.
(If you are headed from U.Va. toward the downtown mall, on Main Street, you'll turn left onto Ridge-McIntire. The restaurant is on your left.)
This South African restaurant is no hole-in-the-wall. The decor of the spacious dining room evokes Africa. The atmosphere is comfortable, not too loud and not eerily silent. A couple of televisions perk up the bar area, tucked in the corner by the entryway.
So what is South African cuisine? Imagine lamb with mango chutney, spicy peri-peri chicken, savory pot pies, and polenta with lemongrass, for starters.
One of my favs (not pictured here) is the Sadza Cakes ($17). I'll let the menu do the talking: "Rich Parmesan polenta cakes topped with eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, sugar snaps, shiitake and portabella mushrooms with lemongrass beurre blanc." It's addictive.
We tried the Brigadier's Steak Pie ($16) this weekend, which was enveloped in a moist, buttery crust. (You pick two sides: pub veggies and mashed potatoes are pictured here.)
The best thing I've ever had at Shebeen, though, is definitely the Sosatie ($20):
"A delightful dish of cubed leg of lamb, skewered on sugar cane with dried apricots and marinated for at least twenty-four hours in mango chutney, tamarind & turmeric, grilled and served with samp and beans, yellow rice, mango chutney and a cucumber-mint yogurt."
The lamb really will be done as you request it — they recommend medium-rare — and even the savory samp and beans are much better than your average bean side. The spicy mango and the cooling of the yogurt provide whatever heat punch you need. It's simply delicious.
247 Ridge-McIntire Rd.