Original Ninfa's recruits culinary dream team, including Houston's first Beard Award-winning chef
An iconic Houston restaurant has significantly boosted its culinary talent. The Original Ninfa’s has added three veteran chefs and two front of house specialists to its roster.They are:
- Chef David Luna, director of culinary operations
- Chef Patti Delgado, executive chef of The Original Ninfa’s at Uptown
- Angel Belman, beverage director
- Justin Solomon, director of operations
- Chef Robert Del Grande, mentor and advisor
Niel Morgan, managing partner for Ninfa’s owner Legacy Restaurant, explains that the new hires are being put in place to help corporate chef Alex Padilla manage operations at the restaurant, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. They’re also designed to help the company prepare for the future as Morgan, who is in his 80s, contemplates stepping back from day-to-day operations.
“I’m not getting any younger, and want Ninfa’s to endure indefinitely—at least another 50 years,” Morgan said in a statement provided by a representative. “We want Ninfa’s to be, and be recognized as, a great restaurant; the best that it can be. Financial success aside, I want it to be an institution that all of us and the city itself can be proud of.”
Taken together, the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation and its Uptown sibling have over 600 seats. Adding new faces is designed to preserve the restaurant’s legacy and prepare it for the next 50 years — including the possibility of further growth — Morgan added.
“Our new team is deeper and more experienced with more varied and complementary skills. There are always opportunities to expand with a brand like The Original Ninfa’s, but it only makes sense if you have the right team. Now we do. That means we are in a better position to create personal, financial, and professional growth for everyone involved,” he said.
Each of the new hires brings extensive experience to their role. Luna comes to Ninfa’s from Goode Co. Restaurants, where he led the company’s research and development program during a time in which it created two new brands — Tex-Mex restaurant Goode Co. Kitchen & Cantina and seafood restaurant Goode Co. Fish Camp. His resume also includes stints at Shade, Line & Lariat at the Hotel Icon, and Flora & Muse.
Delgado worked as Vibrant’s executive chef. Her resume also includes stints at Benjy’s and as Mark Holley’s sous chef at Holley’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar. Solomon worked at San Antonio’s historic Esquire Tavern before joining the management team at Eunice. Belman worked as a bartender at Hugo’s before coming to Ninfa’s to oversee the cocktail programs at both locations.
Del Grande needs no introduction, but we’ll give him one anyway. As the executive chef and co-founder of Houston’s legendary Cafe Annie, Del Grande pioneered Southwestern cuisine and won Houston’s first James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. In 2022, Del Grande stepped down from his role as executive chef and partner at The Annie Café to take on a more advisory role as Chef Emeritus. Described in press materials as a longtime friend of Morgan’s, the chef will help all the new hires settle in to their roles.
“Robert’s involvement is just what we need to help us blend all the new players together,” Solomon added. “It’s great working with creative chefs who embrace the Ninfa’s tradition but also see the opportunities to build on it. Patti and Angel both hit the ground running and are already providing important support to chef Alex. David has the perfect skills and experience to make sure we are organized and equipped to meet the new goals and standards we have set for The Original Ninfa’s.”
Ninfa’s remains a Houston institution. Known for popularizing beef fajitas, serving potent margaritas, and generally offering first-rate Tex-Mex, it earned James Beard Award semifinalist nominations for Outstanding Restaurant in 2019 and 2020. The Navigation location posted its highest-ever sales in 2022, according to a release.