Out with Mama Ninfa’s, in with Maggie Rita’s

OUT WITH MAMA NINFA’S, IN WITH MAGGIE RITA’S What’s behind the rebranding of the 3 non-Navigation Ninfa’s Mexican Food restaurants — on Kirby at Richmond, Post Oak north of San Felipe, and the Gulf Fwy. feeder Rd. at Winkler — into Maggie Rita’s Grill & Bar locations, and the attendant replacement of the well-known Houston restaurant’s Tex-Mex classics with . . . tapas? Besides freeing himself and co-owner Carlos Mencia from licensing payments for using the Ninfa’s name, Suave Restaurants’ Santiago Moreno explains, switching to the Maggie Rita’s chain means a lighter menu that customers might be able to eat from as often as 3 times a week. But by his calculation the food switch may not make much of a difference anyway: “We’ve found out consumer decisions are made by women,” Moreno tells Eric Sandler. “When we track what makes a woman decide where to eat Mexican food, it has to do with margaritas. It has nothing to do with food.” The changes won’t effect Ninfa’s on Navigation, which has been owned since 2007 by Legacy Restaurants. [Eater Houston] Photo of Ninfa’s at 1650 Post Oak Blvd.: AmREIT

36 Comment

  • Maggie Rita’s has a restaurant in the tunnels downtown. It’s pretty good. I think they are based out of New Orleans.

  • Prepare for bankruptcy, Mr. Mencia. The non-family-owned Ninfa’s may have been owned by a souless, corporate parent for a very long time, but at least the Ninfa’s name and veneer was there to fool most customers into thinking they were eating at an “actual” Ninfa’s. Now you have nothing.

  • Don’t know which women they surveyed, but all the women I know base it on the queso.

  • What a sad epilogue, maybe the family-owned corp can get their crap together and rebuild.

  • Nope, not based out of New Orleans. It’s owned by the family that owns the Serrano’s chain in Austin. They had a restaurant, Sucre, in New Orleans, that I think then became a Maggie Rita’s. It didn’t last very long. They tried one in Galveston, too, and it didn’t pan out. It’s hard out there for a TexMex chain. There are some good family businesses in that segment already (Pappasito’s, Goode & Co. taqueria, etc.) and the restaurant business is pretty competitive. And the line about “it has nothing to do with food” is a pretty troubling sign for the future.

  • He is right about the Margaritas, for sure…

  • Why they would put Mencia’s name on this thing is beyond me. He is famous for being a really unfunny comedian who stole jokes. Not exactly the kind of reputation you want to stick on a sign.

  • The change may not effect Ninfa’s but it might affect Ninfa’s.

    Believe me, I would not return to any tex mex restaurant if they did not have good food. I don’t care how good the ‘ritas are.

    And sometimes I just want a good cold beer…

  • Mmm hmmm. Market research, check. Remarkably clumsy, sexist quote in media by owner, check. Deliberate jettisoning of well-known and locally popular brand name, check. De-emphasis on food, check. Re-development of restaurant sites into something else – watch this space. I’m guessing it’s before Christmas.

  • I ate at the Maggie Rita’s in Galveston and have to say it was probably the worst Mexican food that ever happened to get into my mouth. It took over where Fuddrucker’s on the Strand used to be they didn’t even change the decor. It was just weird to be eating crappy Mexican food next to some life sized Blues Brothers. And it was REALLY dirty.

  • I once saw a family putting butter on their tortillas before filling them with fajita meat and fixings at the Post Oak Ninfa’s.

  • Agreed about the food thing…as long as the food is “good”, the atmosphere will bring the folks in. Let the food slip beyond a point and the folks leave. The Ninfa’s on Richmond is just a shadow of it’s prior self…the food was marginal…and that’s coming from the women in the family! …no margarita talking here!
    …and the Pappasito’s across the street rocks day and night!

  • STAY AWAY! This location rips you off! Went last weekend, horrible food and service. Complaint Email was sent to corporate, and till this day no response. Figures, with an email address of AOL. Pappasitos is so much better! Maggie Ritas is caca!

  • There’s no place like the original Ninfa’s on Navigation. Unbeatable. And @Bernard: You nailed it. They got nothing.

  • When the concept of a restaurant ceases being about the food, bankruptcy is near. If they’re banking on this concept becoming the next hot place for single women, I have a bridge in Manhattan for sale.

    I don’t know who did their market research, but I’ve seen plenty of strawberry-margarita swilling women at places like Pappasitos, El Tiempo, Ninfas (on Navigation), Lupe Tortilla, etc.

  • Anyone remember Terlingua on Studemont? They had knock-you-on-your-ass margaritas but their food was run-to-the-toilet terrible. Guess that business model didn’t work out so well…

  • Ninfas went downhill fast when the family sold out. However, the original Ninfa’s on Navigation is still quite good and is owned by a different outfit. The Ninfa family (Lorenzos) own the El Tiempos on Washington and Montose. They are also very good. Always stick with the original and forget the chains.

    As far as the Maggie Ritas on Post Oak, it seemed to be a little better than the so called Ninfa’s that was there.

  • La Tapatia on Richmond, w/a top shelf margarita machine at happy hour.

  • Teotihuacan on Airline tops them all.

  • Houston’s hottest new club is….

  • Pound of fajitas at El tiempo $20-25. Cost of skirt steak $2-3 a pound, time it takes to prepare on the grill maybe 10 minutes. Over priced Mexican food blows; the original ninfas rules. And his jokes are rather sexist as we all know it’s all about the guacamole.. Haha.

  • @Golyadkin: I don’t think “Zach Galifianakis’ Maggie Ritas” had the same ring to it. Of course, “Ned Mencia’s Maggie Ritas” isn’t so great either.

  • I never go to a restaurant that has a stupid name.

  • #18 Chief:


  • Yet another restaurant whose reason for existence seems to be solely to serve as an investment vehicle for a few partners, w/o a realization that providing reliably good and interesting food correlates highly with ongoing success.

    Not that the “Ninfa’s” it replaced at the Post Oak location was so much better in its later years. The most positive thing I can say about it was that they comped my whole table after I found a roach in my tex-mex rice.

  • Went there last week. IT WAS HORRIBLE. I even wrote the group listed in the website. No response. They sat us under a dripping ac vent TWICE (hit one person and the place mat on the second). Waiter could not communicate. Had to have a Spanish speaking friend give our order. They screwed up the order and said that it was the way they cooked it on the Ninfa’s menu. BUT THEY GAVE US THE MAGGIE RITA MENU. Food sucked. Drinks were bland and THEY DIDN’T COME BACK TO SEE IF WE WANTED AY MORE. I hope they drift away and the investors loose all their money so they don’t open up another restaurant to dupe folks out of money. BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD

    Not worth even trying.

  • That is great news. The food was terrible at the Kirby location and the place was filthy and tired. Perhaps along with the rebranding they can freshen up the place.

  • Gave the one on Post Oak a shot and it was gross. Missing Ninfa’s, not bothering with this mess again. Adding Mencia’s name to the mess just makes it more shameful.

  • If it ain’t a NINFARITA, it ain’t a ‘rita.

  • #21, Corey,
    You are an idiot. Where are you buying your skirt steak, is it inside or outside skirt? When was the last time you walked into an el tiempo and immediately got a table? Were the lights and ac on? Did you sit on the floor? Did you just get that cheap skirt steak or did it come with anything? If you want suitable for human consumption food, stay in your car, which I’m sure you think you overpaid for too, and order from the speaker in the drive thru line. But stick with the dollar menu!
    If it is just the food you want to pay for we have those places here in Houston, they are called grocery stores.

  • This is much ado about nothing. The question is, when they close and sell the property, which will probably be pretty soon, will it be another restaurant or will it be torn down and replaced? That land would sell for a LOT, probably more than a restaurant could afford, which means it will be multi-story. Guesses?
    My guess is residential highrise like Randall Davis’s building on Post Oak at San Felipe, which is on a much smaller tract.

  • Corey, if you want to eat anywhere near Kirby and Richmond in a nice setting, you are going to pay a shit-ton more than the cost of the raw product. Even with relatively high prices, most restaurants are barely profitable. It’s a tough business and I’m glad there are people willing to be in it.

  • Went to the Maggie Ritas on Shepherd (Washington Area).

    They serve the worst guacamole I have ever eaten.

    How do you mess up guacamole?

    I will not go back.

    Hasta Lavista Baby!

  • I know there are people who “go out for Margaritas”…that is, they are looking for a good ‘Rita and don’t care that much about the food. However, I don’t think that means a place can succeed if that’s all they’ve got. No shortage in this town of good ‘Ritas or good Mexican food or places that can do both, like Hugo’s or Sylvia’s.

    On the other hand, I have a fond memory of the Ninfa’s on Kirby because they were open right after Ike when most of the city was still without power. Under those circumstances, I thought the food was awesome.

  • Thanks for the name calling, the real idiots are the ones paying those insane prices like you for one — and were I not right you wouldn’t be SO offended. Inside skirt steak is still cheap; or rather inexpensive, and fajitas are NOT rocket science, gee a little garlic powder, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lime and throw them on a very hot grill/fire. Funny how a small family run restaurant will run you $10-12 for fajitas where as el tiempo is grossly overpriced at >$20, I know taco stands that have better fajitas for a buck or two. We use them for catering 2-3x a week for business purposes, and their bills are exorbitant, and by no means in line with the quality of the food. If fact their food, is mediocre at best, ranging from crap to barely passable. Which is why I say, why bother with that and just do it yourself, have some friends over, make some fresh pico and guac, and cut out the greed mongers like yourself who pray on people for food that literally costs pennies on the dollar versus paying for your inflated overhead and a beer won’t run you $5-7. This is Texas and over priced lousy quality Tex-Mex is a travesty, educate yourself, and your wallet. And corporate ninfa’s/maggie whatever SUCKS.

  • corey: Rent (esp in higher end areas), employees, taxes, insurance, equipment, etc. are the reason that a taco is $5 when the stuff that goes in it is $1. I went to Melagro and spent way more than I would if I bought stuff at Kroger. But I wanted to relax on the patio with a nice marg and have a little 45 minute vacation.
    Everyone can make food at home for less than going out — yet people still go out. People like going out. And econ 101 means the restaurants have to charge more than their costs in order to stay in business (and cost isn’t just the raw food materials)