This past weekend, with my cousin was in town from the Chicago area and a trip to Ninfa’s high on his itinerary, I dined there for the first time in a few years. It was enjoyable, but the signature tacos al carbon (or tacos al Ninfa) were disappointing. They were all right, but not nearly as good as they were years in the past.
Disappointingly, there were four pieces of fajita among the two tacos that were too tough to chew and required stopping and pulling the meat of my mouth, always a little awkward when dining in a crowded restaurant. Margaritas helped ease any possible embarrassment. And, the pieces of fajita varied in terms of tastiness and flavor, some a pleasant hint of charcoal, some generally pleasant, while others were just bland. None of them had very beefy flavorful that you hope for with fajitas. Overall, they were not as flavorful as I have had there over the years, in addition to being less uniformly tender. My brother had the same issue with a plate of fajitas.
I checked by dining notes – requisite for a food writer – and I saw that I had a mediocre meal of tacos al carbon in 2013, my last trip to Ninfa’s on Navigation: “the meat was something you might expect from a crappy place out of state.” That lame meal must have been in the recesses of my mind as likely the reason for the nearly three year interval between visits.
I mentioned my recent thoughts to a friend who has dined at Ninfa’s countless times since the 1980s. His conjecture was the Ninfa’s is now using cheaper cuts of beef, probably not all skirt steak, and generally just cutting corners with the dish and the fajitas. From what I experienced this time – and my previous trip – that made a lot of sense. I really hope that these two meals were anomalies, though there were a few years apart.
Thankfully, there is an El Tiempo just across the street. I had a terrific breakfast there the previous weekend. And, not incidentally, one that was a few dollars cheaper than the cheapest one at Ninfa’s, but where there are still frozen margaritas...that are not really worth the $9 tariff, but do make you feel better.
The margaritas didn't seem quite as tasty, either, but still helpful on a hot day.