In this episode of Cooking in America, host Sheldon Simeon does some mescal shots, rolls tortillas, and lights stuff on fine with charismatic chef Alex Padilla, who runs the show at Houston institution Ninfa’s. “For all the restaurants in Houston, this is the mothership,” Padilla says, noting that the 44-year-old restaurant is credited with inventing the fajita — utilizing skirt steak and house-made tortillas — in the U.S. The restaurant goes through 135,000 pounds of steak every year.
Padilla immigrated to the U.S. from Honduras in the ’80s, and at eighteen, found himself working alongside influential Northern California chef Nancy Oakes. His fine-dining experience emerges in some of Ninfa’s dishes, like in a duck confit with quince paste and raspberry sauce, and in sous-vide tacos de pulpo (octopus). “We went from the OG fajitas and then we’re doing duck confit tacos,” Simeon says of Padilla’s Latin-infused, European-trained approach to Tex-Mex. “I love it.”