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Churrasco

 

Oct 19, 2020

The Original Ninfa's on Navigation's fajita burger is a creative take on the Tex-Mex institution's signature dish.


Category: BBQ News

On a recent trip to Houston, I told a friend that I’d never been to Ninfa’s, the Tex-Mex institution acclaimed for popularizing fajitas. My friend, a native of Mexico City who was raised in San Antonio but has made a career in food events and publishing in Houston, gasped. “How have you not been to Ninfa’s?” She promptly drove us straight to the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation. There, at her insistence, I ordered the fajita burger. As soon as I took the first bite, I immediately regretted not stopping by sooner. It’s one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted. 

How to describe the marvel that is the fajita burger? It’s a mixture of smoky, grilled, and chopped outside skirt fajita meat stuffed inside a ground fajita patty. These two mingling textures are seasoned simply with salt and pepper, then topped with imported quesillo (called queso Oaxaca in the U.S.) and Monterey Jack. The two cheeses melt into a delightfully gooey blend that envelops chopped poblanos. Avocado wedges and twisted rings of grilled red onions finish off the mighty $20 entree. The challah bun is dressed with a mild chipotle mayo, and it’s all served with ramekins of pickled carrots and black-pepper ketchup. I went back several months later to order the burger again, and I’ve since caught myself daydreaming about it more than once. So imagine my surprise when its creator, chef Alex Padilla, told me the idea for the fajita burger came to him in a dream! 

According to Padilla, who is executive chef at Legacy Restaurants, Ninfa’s parent company, he was flying home from Los Angeles to Houston one day in 2011. Rushing to catch a connecting flight in Phoenix, he skipped lunch. Then he nodded off on the plane. “In my short dream, I was eating a burger with fajitas.” Later that day, he began experimenting in Ninfa’s kitchen.

The fully formed and manifested dream has been a popular dish since it was placed on the menu later that year. The burger has been praised by Alison Cook of the Houston Chronicle, and it earned Padilla a prize at a competition in New York City. This is all great. It’s wonderful and professionally affirming for the chef. What’s more remarkable is that this inventive dish comes from a classic restaurant—the kind of old-school place that often operates on autopilot, coasting along on reputation alone. Ninfa’s doesn’t.

Nine years later, the burger remains stellar. It’s now joined by a rotating series of specials and new dishes that Padilla is forever tweaking. During our conversation, the sixteen-year vet of the Ninfa’s kitchen mentioned he was roasting lamb for tacos dorados de birria; he was also about to start making a pomegranate pico de gallo with pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and Mexican pecans. Salsa quemada and a bowl of consommé would be served with the tacos. Creative choices like these are a testament to the chef’s drive and creativity. It’s thrilling to see such exciting items at a place many Texans likely take for granted, and shouldn’t. Yes, the fajitas are great. The tacos al carbon—chewy flour tortillas, filled with flame-grilled skirt steak—are fantastic. They are the main draw at Ninfa’s. But the burger is something special.

It offers diners a novel approach to the signature dish at Ninfa’s and a peek into the wide variety of Mexican hamburgers. Some of those burgers, such as hamburguesas estilo Monterrey, are piled high with sliced trompo meat, ham, maybe even a sliced hot dog and all the fixings. Mexican hamburgers are widely available in Houston, and maybe you’ll want to try some after sampling the fajita burger. “It’s all history and culture,” Padilla says. His burger is a marriage of exactly those things. There are the Mexican elements: quesillo, poblanos, and chipotle mayo. Then there are the typical stateside components of American beef and locally made bread. And all this from a dream. Padilla says most of his dishes come from dreams. I hope the chef continues to dream, and dream big.

The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation
2704 Navigation Boulevard, Houston
Phone: 713-228-1175
Hours: Monday–Friday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

 

 

 

Meat lovers in South America have eagerly consumed the flavor and tender texture of every type of meat, fish and fowl cooked over a Churrasco rotisserie for many years. J & R has perfected this rotisserie to prepare meats in the authentic over-the-charcoal manner and has used state of the art American technology in its construction. Alternatively, for your consideration, we have perfected ultra-high BTU, all gas-fired Churrascos which feature the fastest cooking times of any Churrascos in the world.


The enormous popularity of the Brazilian steakhouses is based on their ability to delivery all kinds of meat – sliced sirloin, filets, turkey, pork, sausages, lamb and any other combination of meat that a hungry diner can imagine – directly to the table. It keeps coming until the diner can eat no more!


The meats are usually rubbed only with coarse sea salt. Although a wonderfully mild garlic sauce, called Chimichurri, is sometimes brushed on. Some of the meats are dusted with a flour made from a tuber called manioc. Dining in a churrascaria, where meat cooked in the simple Brazilian fashion, is made special by the Churrasco rotisserie.

All Churrascos:

  • Durable, low maintenance, "tank-like" construction.
  • Machined, worm-gear and sprocket mechanical design.

Solid Fuel Churrascos:

  • Fuel area is a heavy gauge, all welded, steel box lined with 2500 degree refractory, wrapped with high temperature insulation.
  • Exterior lower body is 14 gauge, epoxy-coated steel. Top cap and upper structure are heavy gauge stainless steel.

Gas Churrascos:

  • Front and rear, independently controlled infrared burner banks.
  • Deep water bath below spits to prevent flare-ups and to facilitate cleaning.
  • Convenient water fill valve accessible from front.
  • Batch flow the water bath or set for continuous flow.
  • High energy infrareds afford the operator ultra-efficient use of kitchen/hood space

SPECIFICATIONS

MODEL

SIZE

SPITS

ELECTRIC

GAS

WATER INLET

Churrasco48” W X 34” D X 70” H15-20”120V/1.8AN/AN/A
Gas Fired Churrasco54” W X 35.5” Deep X 72” H32-20”120V/1.8 A280,000 BTU’s1/2 inch NPT
 

*Custom Units are available