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The Fabuloso

 

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 Fabuloso lives up to its name – it is fabulous! In a short time, this unit has become the most popular J&R rotisserie. It can be manufactured in a flat top design and is also available in an arched top version.


The Fabuloso can have a stainless steel accented front with scalloped front side pillars, or a red or black epoxy-coated front exterior. Some customers add a brilliant tile to the front to accent or match their decor. It can have a single opening or it can be ordered with two openings so the rotisserie can be loaded and unloaded from the kitchen, leaving a clear view from the restaurant of the succulent meats turning slowly over the aromatic and dramatic fire.


Infrared gas generators beam down on the delicious meats from above, enhancing the rosy glow from the flickering fire. A planetary gear system keeps the spits turning constantly, ensuring an evenly cooked, moist product. The Fabuloso will be the focal point of any restaurant!


For more product specifications and information on customizing this unit for a specific restaurant setting, click here.

Unmatched flavor and texture- the wood fire not only creates the warm ambience that diners love but adds incredible flavor to the rotisserie foods. Standard units have no doors to hinder customer view. This open design creates meats that are unbelievably moist inside with the highly prized crisp outside texture.

Heavy duty construction- built to last!

Efficient! High temperature refractory-lined fire chamber-insulated throughout-this unit is not only fuel efficient, but safe. Infrared gas burners for fast cooking while retaining moisture.

High capacity. Easy to load and unload.

Huge selection of exterior finishes to match your decor or to create a stunning focal point in your restaurant.

Easy to clean- includes a built-in drip pan featuring a sloped bottom, strainer-equipped drain valve, directed water spray nozzles, and stainless steel interior.

 

Log lighter burner below wood fuel for fast and easy fire starting.

Planetary gear design. This innovative chain drive design makes each spit turn independently while the entire rotisserie array revolves as well. This cooks the meat evenly while allowing the natural juices to baste the outside of the meat.

SPECIFICATIONS

MODEL

SIZE

SPITS

ELECTRIC

GAS

WATER INLET

Standard Fabuloso48” W X 54” D X 78” HChoice of Angle or Hex
(two sets included)
120V/1.6A200,000 BTU’s1/2 inch NPT
 

*Custom Units are available