Mama Ninfa’s culinary empire

Laurenzo’s iconic restaurant credited with introducing fajitas to the restaurant world

By Monica Rhor

As Domenic Laurenzo sits in the shadowy morning light, his eyes scan the portraits and oversized photos lining the walls of his restaurant on Navigation Boulevard. Each contains a nugget of a family story that has become part of Houston lore.

It’s the tale of a woman who carved a culinary empire out of a failed tortilla factory and single-handedly changed the lexicon of Tex-Mex fare, who rose from widowhood and bankruptcy to become a city icon known simply as “Mama Ninfa.”

Ninfa Laurenzo. Founder of the original “Ninfa’s on Navigation.” Credited with introducing fajitas to the restaurant world. Domenic’s grandmother.

He can picture her standing outside the landmark restaurant, which still sits just across the street from his El Tiempo Cantina in the East End. He remembers the line of customers snaking out the door and around the block, Mama Ninfa greeting each one with a broad smile and outstretched arms. “Mi casa es su casa,” she would say. The phrase is a cliché now, but from Laurenzo’s grandmother, it was a heartfelt wish.

“She had an aura about her that was almost magical,” Laurenzo says. “Some people just have a way about them and boy, did she have it.”

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