Ninfa’s Review: Chef Alex Padilla Presents the Especiales Del Chef Menu

“The best Mexican food in Texas since Texas was in Mexico” – The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation

Did you know the nation’s love for fajitas started in Houston, TX?

In 1973, after her husband died, “Mama” Ninfa Laurenzo started grilling skirt steak and serving it in tortillas from her family’s struggling tortilla factory.

The resulting dish – “Tacos al Carbon” (which later became known as “Fajitas”) was Mama Ninfa’s contribution to the history of Tex-Mex cuisine and the dish to made Ninfa’s restaurant a national treasure.


After Mama Ninfa died, Legacy Restaurants purchased The Orginal Ninfa’s, and Executive Chef Alex Padilla took over the kitchen.

While remaining true to Mama Ninfa’s vision, Chef Padilla brought his creative ideas to the menu.

“My mother inspired my creativity in the kitchen,” said Chef Padilla. “Every day my mom told me what I was going to make for dinner. But she always wanted extra. ‘Don’t just follow the recipe Alex, do more.’ She took recipes and made them her own, so I learned how to be creative in the kitchen by following her example. My mom taught me that I had to love what I do, love what I cook, and always taste the food from my heart.”

Ninfa’s Especiales Del Chef Menu

ninfa's menu

Chef Padilla has recently re-envisioned Tex-Mex with a new menu, Especiales Del Chef.

I had a chance to attend a tasting of the new menu and here are some of my impressions.

ninfa's menu

Ninfa’s Poblano Michelada 

best michelada

I started my meal with a Michelada, a drink made with beer, lime juice, assorted sauces (often chile-based), spices, tomato juice, and chile peppers. It is served in a chilled, salt-rimmed glass.

Some people call it the poor man’s Bloody Mary.

While you can add any beer to a Michelada, I always choose Modelo Especial, a popular Mexican beer.

Ninfa’s Poblano Michelada is tangy and savory with the right amount of spice.

Ninfa’s Campechana 


Chef Padilla’s Campechada is a cold soup with octopus, gulf shrimp, scallops, classic Mexican coctel sauce, and toasted corn. The dish is served with lime slices and puffy, crunchy flour tortilla chips.

The Campechada is flavorful with a nice touch of sweetness. It complemented the savory flavor of my Michelada.


When you dip the chips into the Campechana you will treat yourself to a delightful bite. The chips give the dish the crunchiness it screams out for and the avocado slices add creaminess to the dish.

Depending on your appetite, it could be a meal on its own. 

I loved this dish. It was by far my favorite of the night.

Ninfa’s Wagyu New York Strip Steak 

wagyu steak

For my main dish, I selected the Wagyu New York Strip Steak.

Wagyu is a coveted Japanese beef cattle breed. The unique taste and tenderness of the highly marbled Wagyu beef make for an unrivaled eating experience and is usually reserved for fine-dining restaurants.

But Chef Padilla continues to delight and surprise. Bringing high-end ingredients to Tex-Mex is one of his many innovations.

The Wagyu New York Strip Steak is wood fire-grilled and served with two huge potato wedges, nopal salad, chipotle cream, and poblano cream.

The steak had a nice char and was cooked to perfection – tender and juicy. However, I must admit that I was not a fan of the sauces on the steak. 

Although it was a nice colorful presentation, the taste wasn’t quite right. I wanted the sauces to have a little more heat. Of the two sauces, I preferred the poblano cream and I wish he had only used that one on the plate.

I was curious about the nopal salad because I had never tried it before. Nopal, also known as the prickly pear cactus, is a common ingredient in foods in some regions of Mexico. 

While my palette was not accustomed to the flavor of the nopal, I appreciated the tangy interplay of the onions and dressing.

Ninfa’s Uptown Margarita 

best Margarita in Houston

No trip to Ninfa’s is complete without having a margarita.

Every time I go to Ninfa’s I have The Original Ninfarita, one of the most popular margaritas in Houston.

This time, I wanted to try something different so I ordered the new Uptown Margarita and I’m glad I did.

It is made with Reposado tequila, cognac, Grand Marnier, fresh lime juice, and agave. 

It is a smooth, refreshing drink and a great addition to their margarita line-up   

Ninfa’s Mexican Chocolate Cake 

mexican chocolate cake

 For dessert, I had the Mexican Chocolate Cake.

When the server placed it on the table, I was impressed by the presentation. I looked almost too good to eat.

But I did eat it and it was delicious. 

The warm cake with bold chocolate and cinnamon flavor went well with the chocolate-coated vanilla ice cream. 

Final Thoughts on Ninfa’s Especial Del Chef Menu

Overall, I enjoyed my selections from the Especiales Del Chef Menu and I’m looking forward to trying the rest of the dishes.

This tasting proved to me that the legacy of The Original Ninfa’s restaurant is safe and secure in the hands of Chef Alex Padilla.

While Mama Ninfa’s impact will always influence the food, Chef Padilla’s innovations and creativity have taken the restaurant and Tex-Mex cooking to the next level.

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