After more than 40 years in business, iconic Tex-Mex restaurant Ninfa's on Navigation needs a little TLC in the form of some renovations to its kitchen. Rather than shut down for two or three weeks — a move that would certainly confuse customers and come at a steep financial cost — chef Alex Padilla has decided to operate with a limited menu that's inspired by what Ninfa Laurenzo served in 1973.
"The kitchen staff needs a more modern, up-to-date kitchen to cook in," Jonathan Horowitz, CEO of Ninfa's owner Legacy Restaurants, tells CultureMap. "At this point, we decided this is the time. We’ve got to make it happen."
That work will begin February 9 and last for two or three weeks. It includes physical upgrades to the floors and drainage system as well as the installation of new kitchen equipment. Ninfa's will close at 4 pm on Super Bowl Sunday and remain closed all day Monday to prepare for the temporary switchover.
The dishes on the temporary menu, which include tacos with a variety of fillings (beef fajitas, chicken, shrimp, pork and more), quesadillas, guacamole, chile con queso, and a fajitas burger, are all made on grills, which is good, because the restaurant won't have access to ovens or fryers during the renovations. That means Padilla and his staff won't have the ability to make staples like enchiladas or serve Ninfa's signature fajitas on a sizzling comal.
"The menu was driven by two factors," Horowitz explains. "One is trying to honor the original in terms of going back to basics and the roots of the restaurants. The second component is what can we execute properly? What can we do in this unusual circumstance for food production to give customers a good experience?"
Horowitz emphasizes that Padilla will be cooking with the exact same ingredients that he currently uses during the renovations. Tortillas will still be made by hand at the station near the restaurant's entrance. Perhaps most importantly, the bar will still be operating normally. After all, Ninfa's without fajitas on a comal is one thing, but no Ninfaritas is unthinkable.
"Chef Alex dealt with something like this during one of the hurricanes. I think it was Ike," Horowitz tells CultureMap. "They opened up with grills on the patio where they were able to serve customers. They’ve been through it before, and they are confident with the team they have they can execute the menu. Obviously, it’s going to be different, but we hope people will understand. We hope it will be fun."