Hughes came to the United States more than 20 years ago. At first, she began bottling ethnic sauces and refreshing juice drinks, many of which she now serves in the restaurant. While she still maintains ties to Mawa’s Ethnic African Food Market in Raleigh, her passion for cooking ultimately led her to open the 40-seat full-service eatery.
As somewhat expected, the restaurant’s inviting dining area showcases an African safari motif. One full wall is awash with a mural depicting natural plains and a smattering of indigenous animals. Situated near the front window, a cozy, thatched-style area contains two low-slung tables and floor mats so diners can sit and enjoy their meals in the traditional African sense—sans utensils, of course.
From day one, Hughes has constantly strived to provide a warm, hospitable dining experience, and her endearing charm makes diners feel welcomed and at ease. She often comes out of the kitchen and talks with customers.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee
There’s certainly much to like at Mawa’s, beginning with the house specialty fataya beef patties, which originate from Gambia. Essentially a meat pie, seasoned ground beef and onions are stuffed in a flaky crust.
An ample variety of “snacks and starters” will pique your interest, including pastelles (seasoned tuna in deep-fried flaky crust) and Ghanaian-inspired accaras (black-eyed pea fritters served with a spicy onion sauce).
Lunch entrees are served with a choice of one appetizer (friend plantains, beef patty or shrimp-beef roll), and a popular habanero hot sauce is available upon request.
Mawa’s also offers a wonderful assortment of unique beverages, including tropical lemonade, ginger and mango. An orange-tinged mint tea and café touba (Senegalese coffee) are offered with free refills.
Dinner entrees span the gamut from lamb, beef and goat to seafood and vegan selections. Fish-centric Poisson a la braise features whole chargrilled tilapia (the menu indicates “yes, head is on”) marinated with fresh herbs. More adventurous diners may enjoy Tanjine, a North African goat dish, or maffe boulettes (stewed fish balls served in a creamy nut sauce with rice and vegetables).
Be sure to save room for dessert, as any of the four or five delectable creations are sure to hit the mark. Far and away the most beloved by regulars is the Mbourou fass, an irresistible fried brioche pudding served warm with banana and caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.
Reservations at Mawa’s are recommended, particularly on the weekends at dinnertime.