The Original Ninfa’s, named a James Beard award semifinalist in 2019, has remained a staple in Houston for 50 years. Mayor Turner recently declared Nov. 12 as Original Ninfa’s Day to honor the restaurant’s anniversary and rich history in Houston. So, how did this restaurant become a Houston favorite?
The Early Years
After Mama Ninfa Laurenz’s husband Domenic Thomas Laurenzo died in 1969, she decided to open a small ten-table restaurant in front of her family’s floundering tortilla factory in the East End. Laurenz could not secure a loan from the bank, so she mortgaged her home and borrowed money from a friend to open the restaurant in 1973. Mama Ninfa’s grilled skirt steak wrapped in handmade flour tortillas introduced the world to fajitas. This dish would become a Tex-Mex staple for many years to come.
Trials and Triumphs For Ninfa’s
Ninfa’s quickly became a popular restaurant among Houstonians. The family opened their second restaurant on Westheimer in 1976. Thirteen restaurants opened across Texas by 1980, including locations in San Antonio and Dallas. However, the restaurant took on more debt and the quality dropped because of the rapid growth. The family’s company, Riostar Corporation, filed for bankruptcy in 1996.
The Present Day
Serrano's Cafe, in Austin, took over ownership of Ninfa’s in 1998. Mama Ninfa passed away in 2001, leaving behind a rich legacy for Houstonians. A few years later, Legacy Restaurants took over ownership of the Original Ninfa’s in 2005. The company opened up the Uptown location in 2019. Mama Ninfa’s son, Roland Laurenzo, continues the family traditions through his restaurant El Tiempo, which began on Richmond and now has multiple locations.
Is Ninfa’s your go-to Tex-Mex place? Do you have a favorite memory to share? I want to hear.