Ninfa’s Restaurant: A Culinary Landmark in Tex-Mex Cuisine

Tex-Mex cuisine, a fusion of Mexican and American flavors, has become a staple in the culinary world, and few establishments embody its essence like Ninfa’s, a restaurant that has etched its name in the annals of food history. At the heart of Ninfa’s success story is their iconic dish, the fajita. Article and Recipe explores the history of Ninfa’s, delves into the unique qualities of their fajita marinade, and traces the historical evolution of fajitas within Tex-Mex cuisine.

The Birth of a Culinary Icon: Ninfa’s Origins

The story of Ninfa’s begins in Houston, Texas, with its founder, ‘Mama’ Ninfa Laurenzo. In 1973, Mama Ninfa opened her restaurant in a small space in front of her family’s struggling tortilla factory. Her aim was simple yet ambitious: to bring the flavors of her native Mexico to the heart of Texas. What started as a 10-table restaurant quickly blossomed into a culinary sensation, drawing locals and visitors alike with its home-style Mexican cuisine.

Ninfa’s initially offered a traditional Mexican menu, but it was the introduction of fajitas that catapulted the restaurant to fame. The dish, which was relatively unknown outside the Rio Grande Valley, became synonymous with Ninfa’s. Fajitas at Ninfa’s weren’t just a meal; they were an experience. The sight of sizzling meat served on a hot skillet, accompanied by a platter of fresh tortillas, guacamole, pico de gallo, and cheese, turned dining into a sensory spectacle.

The Secret in the Marinade: Crafting the Perfect Fajita

The cornerstone of Ninfa’s fajita success lies in its marinade. The recipe, a closely guarded secret, is rumored to include a blend of citrus juices, herbs, and spices. This marinade not only tenderizes the meat but also imparts a unique flavor that distinguishes Ninfa’s fajitas from others.

The choice of meat is equally crucial. Traditionally, fajitas were made with skirt steak, a cut that was relatively inexpensive and considered a “leftover” piece of beef. Mama Ninfa, however, transformed this humble cut into a delicacy. The marinade plays a pivotal role in this transformation. The acidic components of the marinade break down the tough fibers of the skirt steak, making it tender and flavorful.

Fajitas: A Dish Evolves Alongside a Culture

The history of the fajita is a testament to the evolution of Tex-Mex cuisine. The term “fajita” originates from the Spanish word “faja,” meaning “strip” or “belt,” reflecting the cut of meat typically used. Initially, the dish was associated with Texan ranch life, where workers would be given less desirable cuts of meat as part of their pay. These workers cooked the meat over an open fire, serving it with whatever accompaniments were available.

Ninfa’s played a pivotal role in transforming this humble, practical dish into a sought-after menu item in restaurants across the United States. The fajita’s popularity soared in the 1980s, with Ninfa’s at the forefront of this culinary wave. What started as a simple way to utilize an underappreciated cut of meat turned into a dish that represented the fusion of two cultures, blending the rustic charm of Texas ranch cooking with the vibrant flavors of Mexican cuisine.

Ninfa’s Legacy: Beyond the Restaurant

The impact of Ninfa’s goes beyond their savory fajitas. It played a significant role in popularizing Tex-Mex cuisine and bringing it into the mainstream. The restaurant’s success inspired a wave of Tex-Mex establishments, each adding their own twist to the cuisine. However, Ninfa’s has remained a benchmark for authenticity and quality.

Moreover, the story of Ninfa’s is a story of perseverance and cultural exchange. Mama Ninfa’s entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to her heritage have inspired countless others in the culinary industry. Her legacy extends beyond the dishes she served; it lies in the way she welcomed every guest into her restaurant, making them feel like part of her family.

Ninfa’s, a name synonymous with Tex-Mex cuisine, has left an indelible mark on the culinary world. The restaurant’s fajitas, especially noted for their unique marinade, represent a perfect blend of Mexican tradition and Texan ingenuity. As the popularity of Tex-Mex cuisine continues to grow, the story of Ninfa’s serves as a reminder of the power of food to bridge cultures, create community, and leave a lasting legacy.

Ninfa's Original Fajitas

This recipe comes from Mama Ninfa. She would give this recipe out to the publications that would ask for it in the late 80s. It is an awesome recipe. It has been suggested that the fruit and fruit juices were an embellishment that was added. I don't know, try it both ways. This, however you look at it, is an awesome Fajita recipe. You can cook these on a grill but for best results, use apple and pecan wood.
Course Dinner, Lunch, Main Course
Cuisine Tex-Mex
Keyword Award Winning Beef Fajitas, beef fajitas, ninfas fajitas, ninfas original recipe, texas fajitas
Servings 6 people


  • 1 tbsp Orange Zest
  • ¼ tsp lime zest
  • 2 ea lime juice - You need about 1/4 cup
  • ¼ cup pineapple juice
  • ¼ cup Sherry or Zinfandel
  • ¼ cup Kikkoman soy sauce
  • 1 clove garlic - minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 ea chiles de arbol - crushed
  • 3 tbsp clarified butter
  • 2 ea large skirt steaks
  • 12 ea warm flour tortillas


  • Combine lime and orange zest with ¼ cup water. The lime juice, sherry, soy sauce, garlic, black pepper, chiles, and butter in a large baking dish.
  • Remove any membrane or silver skin from the meat.
  • Place the skirts in the marinade and make sure they are fully coated.
  • Cover the dish and let rest for two hours.
  • Grill the fajitas on the grill or charcoal grill. Preferably, use apple and pecan wood instead of charcoal. The wood gives the skirt steak an unbelievable flavor that Ninfa's is known for.
  • Grill for 5 to 7 minutes on each side until done to taste. All the time brushing marinade on the meat.