On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," chefs Alex Padilla and Jason Gould join the CultureMap food editor to discuss The Original Ninfa's on Navigation and its soon-to-open sibling, The Original Ninfa's Uptown Houston. Opened by legendary Texas restaurateur Ninfa Laurenzo in 1973, Ninfa's remains one of Houston's most iconic restaurants, and it's up to the chefs to preserve and enhance that legacy.
Most Tex-Mex restaurants operate with kitchen managers, skilled cooks who ensure the restaurant's recipes are followed correctly, both Padilla and Gould bring fine dining pedigrees to Ninfa's. Padilla's comes from a decade working in California for chef Nancy Oakes, a James Beard Award winner. Gould's resume includes working for legendary British chef Marco Pierre White as well as at pioneering Houston restaurant Gravitas.
As Padilla explains in the interview, his background and training mean that the restaurant is more focused on proper ingredients and techniques than some of its peers might be. Since coming on board over 10 years ago, Padilla has swapped lard for olive oil and replaced gas with wood in the restaurant's grills. Now they're truly "tacos al carbon." The improvements helped earn the restaurant a very prestigious James Beard Award semifinalist nomination for Outstanding Restaurant. Padilla shared the story of telling his mother, a former Ninfa's cook who worked for Laurenzo, about the nomination.
"I know that it's mostly high end restaurants that get picked," the chef says. "When I was telling my mom about this, I said, 'after 45 years, Ninfa's is nominated.' She was crying. She was so happy. It's that nostalgia people have. Those great mementos that will never leave your mind."
The duo also provided an update on the status of the new Uptown location and what people can expect from Mama Ninfa's Tacos y Tortas, a fast casual concept that will open at downtown's Understory food hall.
Prior to the chefs joining the show, blogger Felice Sloan joins Sandler to discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: Messina Hof's announcement that it will open a new winery in Richmond; master sommelier June Rodil joining Goodnight Hospitality; the Rice Box's plans to open a new location in River Oaks; and whether they're excited about Hando, a sushi hand roll restaurant that's coming to the Heights. In the restaurants of the week segment, the hosts dive deep into their visits to Corky's BBQ, a Memphis-based restaurant that just opened its first Houston-area location in Katy. They also discuss a meal at Pepper Twins' new location in CityCentre and share a few favorite bites from Chef Fest.