Tasting the various dishes featuring the beef fajita in the warm, fun, and still often crowded setting on the east side of downtown, you can understand how this one, initially quite humble restaurant greatly helped to popularize Tex-Mex in the area, even nationally.
Original needs to be emphasized here, as everyone in town should know. The other restaurants in the Ninfa’s chain do not come close to measuring up to the original location. In local parlance, this restaurant is “Original Ninfa’s,” or “Ninfa’s on Navigation.” The old sign still hanging above this location features an image of a relatively youthful, though now deceased, matriarch, Mama Ninfa over the phrase, “Tacos a la Ninfa.” The restaurant is still fairly unreconstructed, and that is part of its charm. It shows signs of its former life as a small taco stand that grew into a restaurant, and then many restaurants. Also aiding in the appeal is the friendly and very solicitous service, fun atmosphere. And, not least, the excellent Tex-Mex, both food and drink.
From the 1970s Ninfa’s has helped to popularize the grilled skirt steak from its humble beginnings in the border areas into part of the national menu. “Fajitas” properly refer to the somewhat lowly skirt steak that has been grilled and cut in strips, and these do not come much tastier than at the Original Ninfa’s. Using marinated, high quality outside skirt steak, these are extremely flavorful and juicy, and are found in various guises here. The fajitas are the meat unadorned in sizes from a quarter-pound, half-pound and one pound accompanied with pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream on the side. For an additional charge, there is a choice of toppings, a la Mexicana (sautéed jalapetios, tomatoes and onions), Chihuahua (bacon, poblanos and Monterey Jack cheese), and Tratinada (sautéed mushrooms, onions and bell pepper). Then there are the Tacos a la Ninfa (called tacos al carbon elsewhere), where the meat is already placed inside a large flour tortilla. And, the Enchiladas al Carbon, stuffed with the tasty fajita, makes for very good enchiladas. Other enchilada dishes are good here, as are the pork ribs, which is something unusual for a Tex-Mex restaurant. Actually, most everything is very well prepared here on their fairly extensive menu, and the portions are the size of what most patrons in the area have come to expect.
It’s tough to go wrong at the Original Ninfa’s if you are in the mood for Tex- Mex, and it’s tough not to be in a good mood while you are here. Though it is easy to spend money here with the allure of chile con queso, a bountiful entree, and plenty of Ninfaritas (the margaritas), the prices here are really not much different than other popular Tex-Mex establishments. The food will generally be better, too, and you will have a very enjoyable and filling dining experience.
The Original Ninfa’s
2704 Navigation (between Jensen and Sampson), Houston, Texas 77003, (713) 228-1178
Copyright Mike Riccetti. Adapted from Houston Dining on the Cheap, and used with permission.
Image Credit: Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau