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Where the Chefs Eat: Alex Padilla, Jose Vela, Mario Valdez

Max's Wine Dive Fried Chicken -- a go-to spot for chef Alex Padilla of Ninfa's on Nav
Max's Wine Dive Fried Chicken -- a go-to spot for chef Alex Padilla of Ninfa's on Nav
Photo by Mai Pham

This week, we continue our Where the Chefs Eat series with three Latin American chefs: Alex Padilla of Ninfa's on Nav, Jose Vela of Mockingbird Bistro, and Mario Valdez of Rainbow Lodge.

Padilla won the 28th Annual Caesar Salad competition this year with a tasty BLT caesar salad. Vela is the driving force in the kitchen at Mockingbird Bistro, who mentored Valdez when he graduated from culinary school. And Valdez, who has just barely turned 25, is shaking things up at Rainbow Lodge. Let's see where they like to eat when they aren't in their own kitchens.

Alex Padilla Executive Chef, Original Ninfa's on Navigation

Standard go-to: Ibiza. I really enjoy their house-made Sangria along with a few of Charles' appetizers for a relaxing dinner. 

Cheap Eats: El Rey on Shepherd at Washington for a late night taco; Pho way out on Memorial by the Beltway [don't know the name, just where it is].

Late night: I really only get to go out at night and I enjoy eating from the left side of the menu, ordering several appetizers or small plates. Hugo's is always a great place to stop for some quesadillas and his lobster tacos. I also enjoy a nice glass of Pinot at Max's Wine Dive and a plate of chef's buttermilk-marinated fried chicken.


Jose Luis Vela Chef de Cuisine, Mockingbird Bistro

Chef Jose Vela
Chef Jose Vela

Standard go-to: My standard to go for lunch is Hillstone. I always get either the smoked salmon, French dip or prime rib (lunch portion). Always delicious, perfect every time.  For dinner I like Mark's -- always so good.  For a place close to my house I like Le Mistral.

Cheap eats: Cheap and good - Cafe TH!  Chef Minh's dishes are always consistent and always delicious.  I also like a sandwich place on Dairy Ashford called Mexico's Deli -- really good tortas and al pastor, and cochinita pibil tacos.  You'll spend probably no more than $10 per person for a delicious meal.


Other faves: Kata Robata for sure. I love the nine-course tasting, mmmm so good.  Uptown Sushi is my old favorite, and I recently went to Provisions -- it was really good. 
Mario Valdez Chef de Cuisine, Rainbow Lodge

Chef Mario Valdez
Chef Mario Valdez
Photo by Mai Pham

Standard go-to: My wife and I love to go to Oishii Sushi on Richmond. We went on our first date there and have gone back at least once or twice a month since.  We usually order their "Special B" which has a tasting of sashimi, and rolls. We tend to add on to that order to try everything. I think we've pretty much tried the entire menu. I love the monkfish liver sashimi; I get it every time. The best tip I can offer is either to get there early (before 6 p,m.) or to call ahead and make a reservation (reservations after 7 p.m.).  That will get you ahead of the line, which can be almost an hour wait on most nights.

Cheap eats: For cheap food, there is a taco truck, "Tacos la Jicara" parked right down from the Rainbow Lodge on Ella Boulevard (on the other side of 610) right next to a carwash. For cheap and good, I go there. Three lengua tacos, with pico de gallo, grilled jalapeños, salsa and a Mexican Coke, all for about $5.  I have looked for better around the area and I am convinced that they are the best.  I would say as well Brothers Tacos are excellent and a great deal, but unfortunately the drive for me is just a little too far away.

Other fave: I have to mention Mockingbird Bistro as one of my favorite restaurants.  I could spend all night at that bar and not get bored. Go for either the curry mussels (delicious) or the Kobe beef burger (plus it's a great deal at only $10 at the bar). 

If you missed our previous posts, click below to see more of Where the Chefs Eat:

  • John Sikhattana, Ji Kang, Junnajet Hurapan
  • Grant Gordon, Matt Marcus, Kevin Naderi
  • Chris Shepherd, Ryan Pera, Antoine Ware
  • David Cordua, Jonathan Jones, Randy Rucker
  • Bryan Caswell, Randy Evans, Danny Trace
  • Brandi Key, Monica Pope, Jamie Zelko
  • David Denis, Jean-Philippe Guy, Philippe Schmit
  • Rebecca Masson, Philip Speer, Chris Leung
  • Seth Siegel-Gardner, Terrence Gallivan, Justin Yu
  • Amalia Pferd, Sean Carroll, John Peterson


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    Use Current Location

    Related Locations

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    The Original Ninfa's On Navigation

    2704 Navigation
    Houston, TX 77003

    713-228-1175

    www.ninfas.com

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    Ibiza
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    Rainbow Lodge

    2011 Ella Blvd.
    Houston, TX 77008

    713-861-8666

    www.rainbow-lodge.com

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    Mockingbird Bistro Wine Bar
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    El Rey Taqueria
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    Max's Wine Dive

    4720 Washington Ave.
    Houston, TX 77007

    713-880-8737

    www.maxswinedive.com

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    Hugo's

    1600 Westheimer Road
    Houston, TX 77006

    713-524-7744

    www.hugosrestaurant.net

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    Mark's American Cuisine

    1658 Westheimer Road
    Houston, TX 77006

    713-523-3800

    www.marks1658.com

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    Hillstone
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    Le Mistral

    1400 Eldridge Parkway
    Houston, TX 77077

    832-379-8322

    www.lemistralhouston.com

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    Cafe TH

    2108 Pease St.
    Houston, TX 77003

    713-225-4766

    www.cafeth.com

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    Mexico's Deli Tortas & Tacos

    2374 Dairy Ashford Road
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    281-679-7790

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    Brothers Taco House

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    713-223-0091


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