Restaurants / Openings

Houston Tex-Mex Legend is Expanding in a Major Way

Brace Yourself for a New Original Ninfa’s and Street Taco Casual Offshoot Restaurants Galore

BY // 08.22.18

The group behind Ninfa’s is adding to its Houston Tex-Mex legacy. Legacy Restaurants is going for a two-phase take-over, hallmark handmade tortillas definitely included. Hey, it’s been 45 years for the flagship Original Ninfa’s.

Time to shake things up  — but stick to the roots — with tacos galore. Legacy Restaurants is ushering in a new age of tradition, with a twist.

Step one: launch Mama Ninfa’s Tacos y Tortas, a brand new street taco style restaurant that’s fresh-meets-fast-casual. Step two: open up a new Original Ninfa’s Uptown Houston, spreading the Ninfa’s word across the city.

Both new restaurants are coming your way in 2019.

Areas affected by this storm of signature red and green salsas and sizzling fajitas? For Tacos y Tortas, that’d be upcoming Downtown food hall Understory, located at Skanska Capitol Tower — for starters. Legacy Restaurants plans to open three to four additional Tacos y Tortas in the next year to two years.

The Original Ninfa’s Uptown outpost will open  at 1700 Post Oak, in the space formerly housing Peska.

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It’s a new chapter for Ninfa’s, but it’s all the same book. The Original Ninfa’s will always stack up, Legacy Restaurants CEO Jonathan Horowitz says.

“Look at the overall iconic status of the tradition. In this area, literally generations have grown up going to The Original Ninfa’s. That familiarity really makes a huge difference,” Horowitz tells PaperCity.

Chef Alex Padilla thinks he’s put his finger on what sets The Original Ninfa’s apart in a sea of salsas.

“Most of the Mexican kitchens don’t have chefs behind (them). They’ve got kitchen managers. I want to think outside the box and offer something different,” Padilla says. “I’m sure it’s going to be delicious. It is delicious.”

Mama Ninfas Tacos y Tortas is The Original Ninfa’s answer to chili-con-queso-lovers’ clarion call for a quick, tasty and convenient restaurant option. It all started with a casual conversation. Padilla was chatting with Legacy Restaurants founder Niel Morgan.

“I’ve been in Houston a long time. I was wondering, how come we don’t have a place here where we can sell tortas and tacos?” Padilla says.

 In Texas, tacos speak for themselves. Some would say that’s in large part thanks to The Original Ninfa’s. Their take on tacos all started with Mama Ninfa Laurenzo in 1973, with her combo of grilled fajitas and handcrafted tortillas. The “taco al carbon” took off.

Tacos y Tortas will be done in the traditional street taco style — several per order, flavorful, bursting at the seams with meat and veggies.

Tortas, on the other hand, get a little less exposure. But Padilla takes them just as seriously.

“We’re giving people the choice to have a different sandwich. I’m really excited about this. We’ll have fresh ingredients and local baker Slow Dough,” he says.

The meats and steaks will be prepared every morning.

This isn’t uncharted territory for Padilla, who created The Original Ninfa’s Pastor Torta at the location that started it all. Think adobo pork roasted in a wood-burning oven, slathered with spicy green chow chow sauce and onions.

The Chicken Torta’s roster includes pepitas, cilantro pesto and Oaxacan cheese. Other ingredients taking center stage of future tortas: grilled pineapple, special slaw and pickled jalapenos.

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Tacos y Tortas will be open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night.

Tacos y Tortas will be open for four different time slots: breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night. The hours will vary from location to location. Breakfast means updated classics like huevos rancheros, breakfast tacos and dishes heavy in chorizo.

The Understory

Unlike the other restaurants, the Understory Tacos y Tortas won’t feature a full bar. The others plan to make the most of Ninfaritas with their late-night after hours. You can expect cocktails as late as midnight or 2 am, depending on the locale. Anyone say midnight Margs?

“We’re looking pretty hard in various locations — The Heights, Garden Oaks areas, the Rice Village area. Washington Avenue is a possibility as well,” Horowitz notes.

The initial Understory restaurant will come in at 622 square feet in a tunnel-level downtown space. For the restaurants that follow, expect fast-casual counter service spread across 2,000 to 2,500 square feet and patio seating whenever possible.

The Original Ninfa’s Uptown Houston will open a little later in spring. That space will boast 6,300 square feet with 50 seats at the bar area, 40 in a flexible dining room and 100 across three distinct patio areas.

Austin-based architect Michael Hsu is designing the new Original Ninfa’s and the Tacos y Tortas. All the decor details aren’t finalized yet, but we know one thing. The tortilla-making station is a must.

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