TOP

The Oyler Pit

 

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.

 

 

 

The Oyler Pit revolutionized the art and science of barbecue when it was first introduced in 1968. J&R has been refining this extraordinary pit for decades and chefs consider it the finest barbecue pit in the world.


What’s the secret to the longevity and popularity of the amazing oven? Many theories abound. Some feel the natural purity of the fuel, the “ferris wheel” rotisserie action, the constant basting, or the unique air, smoke, and humidity control features account for the mouth-watering result. Other culinary experts contend that the miraculous meat results from it being “massaged” as it passes through alternate temperature zones while it revolves. This debate may rage for many more decades, but the diners who love their barbeque don’t really care. They just want more!


With the Oyler E Models, the company adds safe and clean electrical energy to assist the wood fire, using electrical resistance elements. There is no flavor tainting or explosion hazard with these electrical elements. It simply and dramatically reduces wood usage while preserving the character of what barbecue purists everywhere credit as being the best pit in the world.

Authentic wood cooked barbecue

If you are going to be in the business of barbecue, please do it right! The Oyler defines authenticity. We use wood to cook the meat, we do not use gas. In fact,we hate the idea of using gas in a barbecue pit. Your customers will notice the difference.

Thermostatic control

The Oyler maintains precise temperature control, unattended for up to 14 hours, by using a unique air control system.

Economical

So well designed and insulated, you will be amazed to experience how little wood is required to cook big loads of barbecue.

Safe

The Oyler was the first (and remains the only) wood fired barbecue pit to receive the Underwriter’s Laboratories Listing for safety. We have gone to great lengths to make the Oyler safe. It even earned the coveted “zero clearance to combustibles” installation specification.

Capacity

Speaking of big loads, the Oyler can handle your high volume demands. The Model 700 can cook 1000 pounds per load and the Model 1300 can cook 1800 pounds!

Evacuation System

Large dampers operate automatically when the front doors are opened to direct the smoke rearward and out the stack rather than into your face.

Ease of Use

The Oyler is the most “forgiving” piece of cooking equipment you will ever use. You will not need an experienced “pit man” to turn out great barbecue. The front doors are huge, allowing easy loading, unloading, and removal of racks for cleaning. The fire is easy to start, and due to our design, the live coals in the firebox last 72 hours! That means for most customers the fire only has to be started once! As long as you cook once every three days, fire starting is simply a matter of scooping out a few ashes and adding fresh wood.

SPECIFICATIONS

MODEL

SIZE

RACKS

ELECTRIC

700*56"W X 104"D X 79"H18-17" X 42"120V/8A
1300*67"W X 120"D X 88"H18-18" X 54"120V/8A
 

CAPACITIES

MODEL

ROASTS

BACKRIBS

SPARERIBS

CHICKEN

700*1000 LBS216 SLABS144 SLABS324 HALVES
1300*1800 LBS360 SLABS288 SLABS432 HALVES

*E Models Same size and rack configuration 240V/70A