Ninfa's on 6th
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Feb. 9, 2001
Ninfa's on 6th612 W. Sixth, 476-0612
Sun-Mon, 11am-9pm; Tue-Thu, 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-1am
Although part of my job is reviewing restaurants, many times when I go out for the evening, I consider myself off the clock, just another restaurant patron looking to enjoy a good meal in the company of friends. I make this point because the following events transpired on just such an occasion. I never meant to review this party, but our experience was so miserable, I was moved to write something. Let's just call it a lament.
The birthday girl chose the restaurant and a group of about 12 friends gathered at Ninfa's on 6th to celebrate with her. The evening was warm and very muggy. Oddly enough, the busy restaurant had a roaring fire going and very little air circulation. We were seated in the low-ceilinged back dining room and proceeded to sweat and swelter along with the other patrons there. Our table was one of many which complained about the temperature, only to be told, "Our heating and cooling system has a thermostat that is locked into a certain temperature. We're under all new management and no one knows the codes necessary to override the lock on the thermostat. We've tried; we're sorry." I can understand that heating and cooling costs need to be controlled, but locking a thermostat so that it can't be adjusted to account for changes in the ambient weather conditions or customer comfort is a remarkably stupid way to operate what is supposed to be a service business. People were paying for the privilege of being uncomfortable. They did eventually douse the fire and open the front door, providing some small relief to patrons in the front dining room, though not to us.
Our next disappointment was with the menu. It seems that within the past year, the Laurenzo family of Houston, founders of the popular Ninfa's chain, has been bought out of this one last restaurant. The menu at the Sixth Street location is now the same as at other outlets in the Ninfa's chain, and while it contains some of the original menu items, the quality of the food and drinks is not the same as it once was. We found the margaritas to be bland and tasteless (and served without salt even though we requested otherwise), the famous signature green sauce unrecognizable, and our favorite pork fajitas to be rubbery, overcooked little bits of meat rather than the tender, juicy strips of bygone days. The portions were huge, but nothing we ordered was satisfactory and much of it went back to the kitchen uneaten.
The third and final insult came with the bill. The menu stated that a gratuity of 15% would be added for large parties, and while I'm not overly fond of that practice, as someone who waited tables in the ancient past, I do understand it. However, our cheerful but not particularly efficient waitperson helped herself to something extra, adding a 20% gratuity to our tab. Our hostess complained about the lamentable evening: the heat, the mediocre food, weak drinks, careless service, the extra tip. The management refused to make any adjustments in the bill, offering only a gift certificate for another visit, as though anyone would want to return after such a uniformly horrible experience.
I'm not exactly sure what corporate entity currently operates the Ninfa's restaurants or what kind of deal they made with the Laurenzo family. The restaurant was busy, and perhaps other customers weren't as disappointed as our group. However, I am sure of two things. I won't ever eat there again, and if I was legendary Houston restaurateur Ninfa Laurenzo, I'd do anything to get my name and picture off that menu immediately.