The Original Ninfa's on Navigation sold 87,000 Ninfaritas in 2010. But with the spirit of Mama Ninfa in mind, chef Alex Padilla isn't just resting on the classics — he's taking the Ninfa's experience in a whole new direction.
Don't worry, the famous tacos al carbon and shrimp diablo aren't going anywhere. Ninfa's has opened a new 40-seat patio bar and debuted a new bar menu and a quartet of cocktails by wunderkind Bobby Heugel of Anvil.
The new bar dishes fall somewhere between Mexican, Tex-Mex and classic American, with deliciously surprising results. The standout is the fajita burger, which has shaken all my beliefs of what a burger could be.
Made of ground fajita skirt steak on a torta-style bun from Slow Dough, the beef has the intense flavor of the Tex-Mex classic but with a soft consistency that seems to evaporate in your mouth. Add melted Swiss cheese, avocado, and grilled onion and peppers, and what you have should a contender on any Houston best burgers list.
Sound crazy? It is — the fajita burger must be tried to be believed.
Also good were the empanadas de pibil, with dense slow-roasted pork inside flaky pastries and topped with salsa verde and queso fresco. The Navigation ribs were crispy bites of seasoned meat, topped with jalepeño and served with Ninfa's succulent tamarind barbecue sauce. The only disappointment were the taquitos — a trio of small tacos filled with pulled brisket meat, queso cojita and sour cream. The brisket was delicious, but something in the taco — maybe the shell — put off a weird, stale taste. Hopefully it was an isolated incident.
Heugel, who says tequila is his favorite spirit, also brought some high-end updates to the cocktail menu. In addition to the classic Ninfarita, Heugel created the Navigation margarita with fresh-squeezed lime juice, Cointreau and agave nectar in addition to Espolon Blanco tequila.
He's also integrating seasonal margaritas, including the current winter spiced margarita, a citrus-y version balanced with warm notes of cinnamon, maple syrup and ginger — yum.
For something fruitier, the Retablo punch leads with passion fruit alongside rum, and fresh orange, lemon and lime juice for a more tropical quaff. And nowhere is the fresh lime juice more front and center than in the Aztec Affection, which blends it with vodka, agave nectar and sparkling wine.
The cocktails have that Anvil stamp — that is, they require a little time — but there's really no comparison when it comes to the fresh ingredients. Heugel says he's working on bringing in some Mexican craft beers as well.
On the first night, the patio was packed and everyone seemed to be enjoying the expanded space and the balmy winter evening.
With EaDo making the transition to a more gentrified destination, the bar at Ninfa's is the perfect update to make the most of the burgeoning cool factor.