By: Kendall Louis
Next door to a 7-Eleven on Camp Bowie is the modest storefront for Samson’s Market Bistro, Fort Worth’s first East African deli, serving up traditional and unforgettable Ethiopian meals in Arlington Heights.
“Have you ever eaten Ethiopian food?” owner Samson Yosef asks, moving our water glasses aside to make room for an oversized platter.
A large, crepe-like flatbread (called an injera) covers the plate, which is topped with scoops of brightly colored meat and vegetarian stews (or wats), served family style. Along the outside edge of the plate are smaller rolled pieces of injera. Looking around and seeing no silverware, my dinner companion and I confess our ignorance.
Yosef demonstrates by putting on a fresh glove, tearing off a piece of injera and then uses the flatbread to pull a piece of chili-rubbed chicken off the bone, rolling the injera around it before popping it into my companion’s mouth. Yosef grins with approval as we repeat the process, handing us several napkins before leaving us to enjoy our meal.
Samson and wife Jenber first purchased the neighboring 7-Eleven more than five years ago and then opened the deli in 2014. It’s not the first time a local restaurateur has used a gas station as a springboard for a dining establishment. Chef Point Café in Watauga famously opened inside of a Conoco gas station before ending up on Guy Fieri’s show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
The dining space at Samson’s is small and seating is limited, with a simple and unfussy interior. Whatever the space itself lacks in warmth is more than made up for with its cozy décor. The first thing guests see when entering the restaurant is a traditional setting for an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. African music plays softly over the speakers, and tribal baskets and artwork decorate the space.
I’d heard a lot about Samson’s before my visit and still wasn’t prepared for how much I enjoyed the meal. We started with an order of lentil sambosas ($3), two fried, triangular pastries filled with a mix of lentils, spicy peppers and onions. We loved the slow-building heat in the spicy filling. The lentils were cooked through but still held their shape, giving the pastries a meaty texture.
For the main course, we decided on lamb tibs ($13.95), cubed pieces of tender, boneless lamb sautéed with garlic, rosemary, and tomatoes in an awaze sauce (Ethiopian chili sauce) and doro wat ($10.95), bone-in chicken pieces slow cooked for over 12 hours with garlic, ginger, wine, butter and berbere spices, and topped with a hard-boiled egg. We loved the rosemary-garlic flavoring on the lamb and the smoky chili flavor of the fall-off-the-bone chicken. The spongy injera flatbread has a slightly sourdough flavor that offsets the spiciness of the meat.
To accompany the meat, Yosef brought out samples of three other vegetarian stews—miser wat (made with split lentils), shiro wat (ground and seasoned chickpeas), and my personal favorite, gomen wat (collard greens with garlic, ginger and peppers). Each had layers of flavor, and the spicing was robust without being overly hot. The vegetarian wats were so delicious that I will definitely go meatless on my next visit.
To finish, Yosef suggested baklava or tiramisu ($3.95) for dessert. The tiramisu was light and sweet, and the perfect accompaniment to a cup of strong Ethiopian coffee ($1.95).
Yosef’s reputation for friendliness and hospitality is apparent after watching him mingle with guests that streamed in throughout dinner service. He sat down to chat with patrons at multiple tables, and diners were comfortable calling him by name when making requests.
A proprietor as welcoming as Yosef accounts for some of the loyal following Samson’s has cultivated since opening in Arlington Heights, but what keeps diners coming back is the uniquely delicious meal experience Samson’s offers its guests.
Location: Samson’s Market Bistro, 4307 Camp Bowie Blvd.
For Info Call: 214.966.4847
Hours: Tues.-Sat. 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Closed Mondays
What We Like: Traditional preparations and generous servings, plus plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, and we loved the chai spicing in the house iced tea.
What We Don’t: Although we enjoyed the authentic, hands-on aspect of the meal, we found the injera very filling. Bring friends to share a meal with and plan on taking home leftovers.
Our Recommendation: Ask for a sampler platter of wats to try for the most authentic experience.
By: Kendall Louis