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A First Visit to Ninfa's on Navigation

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Since moving to Houston last year I've enjoyed exploring the city's cuisine -- to the tune of about seven pounds -- but I haven't hit many of the restaurants that Houstonians consider "institutions." At the prompting of a friend I decided to start my journey at Ninfa's on Navigation. That decision was shored up when I discovered that Ninfa's beef fajitas were #2 on Robb Walsh's "Favorite Houston Dishes" list. I was in the car faster than you can say "tortilla."

My dining companion and I agreed we would share and share alike: Seafood Ceviche as an appetizer, and a medium order of Marinated & Grilled Beef Skirt Steak and a Delicioso plate (Chicken Flauta and a chicken Taco a la Ninfa) for entrees.

The consensus was that while everything was delicious, the ceviche was the surprise hit of the meal, delivering far more than the "Gulf Shrimp and Red Snapper with Jalapenos, Tomatoes and Avocado" that is promised on the menu. Served with weighty, fresh tortilla chips, this ceviche does not skimp on the seafood; the moist, firm snapper and creamy avocado are perfectly balanced by the crunch of the chips. The tangy citrus-and-cilantro dressing cuts through the richness of the seafood, and the total effect is heavenly. I could, and likely will, eat this as an entrée in the future.

Speaking of entrees, the beef fajitas were everything I expected them to be. Delightfully straightforward, the fajitas are served with a side of grilled peppers of varying degrees of heat. But the star of this dish is the richly caramelized onions, so flavorful that I skipped guacamole. (You don't know me, but skipping guacamole is a big deal.) The Delicioso is aptly named: a crispy flauta and a hot, soft chicken taco served alongside refried beans, rice, sour cream, and freshly made guacamole and salsa. I found the Delicioso to be a much more manageable amount of food than the half-pound ("medium"!) beef fajitas, and after one fajita I stuck to my chicken Delicioso.

Too full to eat more but determined to do it anyway, we asked our server Luis what he would recommend from the dessert menu. "Tres leches," he replied without hesitation, which made me happy because Tres Leches is my favorite. Made fresh daily and topped with toasted marshmallow, Ninfa's version of this cake is the best I've ever tried: moist but not gummy, with an addictive creamy sweetness. Had it not left me so uncomfortably full, the Tres Leches might have edged out the ceviche as the best dish of the meal. I could, and likely will, eat this as an entrée in the future, too.

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