Next Monday, The Original Ninfa's Uptown Houston will open its doors. And for the first time in years, the Ninfa's legacy will go beyond the walls of the buzzy, iconic building on Navigation Boulevard.
Located at 1700 Post Oak Blvd., the newest Ninfa's will have seating for about 280, including about 100 in three covered patio areas. Designed by Michael Hsu and Studio Red Architects, it's an updated, modernized take on Ninfa's that still has a few hallmarks: the tortilla station up front, and a wood-burning oven and grill in the kitchen.
Jonathan Horowitz, CEO of Legacy Restaurants, which has owned and operated the Ninfa's brand for the last 14 years, said with the Original Ninfa's on Navigation improving over the last decade or so, the time had come to take Ninfa's into a new part of town.
"We feel confident that we have the infrastructure in place, we got the right people, and we're ready to take the next step and add another location," said Horowitz. "We've been very slow to get to that point, but that's by design. We have the team in place, and we're finally at that comfort level."
This isn't the first expansion for Ninfa's, not by any stretch. After the original's early success in the 1970s, the brand extended its reach across the city. Houstonians may remember Ninfa's expansion across Texas and the Gulf in the 1980s and '90s. But those restaurants are part of history now; partnerships got messy and locations closed. After the dust settled, the only thing that remained was Mama Ninfa's first spot for homemade tacos, enchiladas, and those famous fajitas.
Horowitz said he knows putting another Ninfa's out there is a big responsibility, but he feels good about people like Alex Padilla, long the executive chef at Navigation who will be stepping up as Legacy Restaurants' corporate executive chef. He'll help oversee the day-to-day operations at the Uptown location with new Uptown executive chef Jason Gould and general manager Ashley Clark. Beverage consultant and bartending whiz Linda Salinas helped launch the bar program Uptown, bringing in some new cocktails that will later be introduced at Navigation, as well.
"We took this as an opportunity to bring someone like Linda along, who has great experience in the industry and has opened a ton of restaurants," said Horowitz. "We're not looking for a wholesale change or a revamp—just subtle tweaks and additions that allow us to evolve."
Uptown will also have breakfast service, with an emphasis on speed, a Monday-Friday happy hour (perfect for those for Uptown office workers), and a larger catering footprint. Essentially, Ninfa's wants to provide for the neighborhood just as it will undoubtedly be welcoming in plenty of tourists and Houston foodies.
As for the menu? Nothing changes from Navigation, though Gould will incorporate some personal touches in specials down the line. What is different is that modernized space, with glass windows, a sparkling white and rustic wood interior, with tile columns and patterned floors. It's a new day for Ninfa's, though diners will be happy if the food has that same comforting taste they've grown to love over the past many decades.
"There are literally thousands of Houstonians who grew up taking their families to the Original Ninfa's on Navigation," said Horowitz. "We want to make sure that the next generation has the same experience. We want to make sure we preserve these things for subsequent generations of guests."