Some might say that if you haven't tried the fajitas at The Original Ninfa's, you haven't had fajitas. Countless critics have named the restaurant's iconic dish as one of their favorites in Houston. Thanks to the versatility of executive chef Alex Padilla, there are many other high commendable dishes at Ninfa's. I know, I know: You love the fajitas. But once in a while you should order one of the following:
5. Cochinita Pibil. I have to credit my friend Jo for introducing me to this terrific entrée. One night the gang was dining at Ninfa's and, once again, I ordered the fajitas. Feeling particularly ravenous, I started picking at my neighbors' plates, including Jo's cochinita pibil, a platter of tender slow-roasted shredded pork, tangy pickled red onions, sour cream and sweet plantains. Next visit, I eschewed traditional (and traditional Tex-Mex flavors) and ordered a whole cochinita pibil for myself.
4. Enchiladas Del Mar. Ninfa's doesn't have the most diverse collection of enchiladas (that honor goes to Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen); however, their seafood enchiladas, stuffed with oversize Gulf shrimp and lump crab meat, are the best of what they offer. The creamy chipotle pepper sauce that covers each stuffed tortilla should be sold by the jar (hint, hint, Chef Padilla).
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3. Shrimp Diablo. A nightmare for kosher Jews, a delicacy for the rest of us, bacon-wrapped shrimp is by itself an award-winning combination. Ninfa's improves upon this cocktail-party staple by infusing each prawn with cheddar cheese and jalapeño peppers. Every bite provides a burst of savory smoke from the pork, followed by a heated punch from the cheese, and ends with a juicy, briny tenderness from the shrimp.
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2. Queso Flameado. As any good Houstonian knows, queso flameado is a staple of Tex-Mex cuisine and can be found at just about any enchilada-taco-fajita joint. But I'm going on record to say that the ABSOLUTE BEST version can be found at Ninfa's, where your server will prepare tortilla packages of molten cheese and chorizo tableside. I always get the queso flameado as a starter, though someday I plan to order two servings for an entrée.
1. Beef Tacos Al Carbon. Although Mama Ninfa is best known for her fajitas, she also arguably made her mark on the Houston food scene by popularizing tacos al carbon, oversize grilled flour tortillas stuffed with marinated meat and vegetables and served with pico de gallo, guacamole, beans and queso. No offense to fowl fans; I just think the beef is superior.