El Tiempo on Navigation a First Look and Taste

Heads Los Angeles, tails Houston…  Houston has won the toss and will receive!

In 1949, Domenic Tommy (DT) and Ninfa Laurenzoflipped a coin. They were unable to make a decision between moving to Los Angeles or Houston. Heads, Los Angeles and tails Houston. Luckily for Houston, it was tails and they packed up and moved to Houston where they opened a tortilla factory making tortillas, taco shells and pizzas. Side-by-side, they worked long hours, seven days most weeks.

Domenic (DT) passed away in 1969, and Ninfa continued the operation.  In 1973, she opened Ninfa’s Tacos al Carbon, in a tiny café with ten tables in the taco factory. She is generally credited with being the first restaurant in the U.S to serve skirt steaks.  They were served in tortillas as Tacos al Carbon, as well as fajitas.

Roland and Domenic Laurenzo

After stewarding the expansion of the Ninfa’s brand from a single restaurant to over 40, the growth was too rapid to be managed and the Ninfa’s went into bankruptcy. Roland was forced out and he and is immediate family formed El Tiempo Cantina In April of 1998, Roland Laurenzo, with the help of wife Blanca, who oversees all recipes and is in charge of quality control, and his sons, Domenic (now, corporate executive chef), Dante, Rocco, and Joey; his brothers and sister, vendors and many other family members, opened El Tiempo Cantina on Richmond Avenue, between River Oaks and Greenway Plaza.

Now, there are five El Tiempo Cantinas and this newest one brings the family full circle to within one block east of the original taco factory where the family’s Houston roots sprouted.

“It’s fitting that this restaurant is located between the two original tortilla factories that my parents, Domenic Tommy (DT) and Ninfa Laurenzo built when they moved to Houston in 1949,” stated Roland Laurenzo. “Because those years, when daddy and mama were toiling in the tortilla factory making tortillas, taco shells and pizzas, day in and day out, side by side, were the best days of our lives, because of their amazing work ethic, and love they had for all us kids, and for each other.  That’s why the East End is truly where our heart resides.”

The El Tiempo Cantina concept and success reflect years of Roland’s growth and work in the family business. Many of the recipes are reflective of his “take” on family tradition, yet all are improved by him, a well as Dominec’s work over the past few years as executive chef. Not all improvements are merely recipe “tweaks”. Many are due to methods of preparation and presentation. An example of this is the unique presentation of fajitas at El Tiempo Cantina on hibachis with mesquite coals to keep the meat sizzling and hot. These hibachis wer envisioned by Roland.

The bar is fun and inviting
Signature Margaritas make the evening and the meal
Rustic Mexican furniture and Laurenzo family photos
in the main dining room
So, that was the past… and we, along with other members of Houston’s food media, were invited to have a “first look” at the new restaurant, which will open Monday, February 11th, as well as sample the food.
The restaurant stands as a virtual palace on Navigation amidst aging familiar Mexican restaurants along this Mexican food corridor, yet the interior and décor has captured the charm of the roots of the barrio. Colorful and comfortable, the décor and the lavish landscaping was managed (and accomplished hands-on) by co-owner and corporate chef, Domenic Laurenzo, Ninfa Laurenzo’s grandson.
The menu at this location is much the same as the other four locations, but some of my favorite items are:
A simple taco with beef fajitas started the nationwide craze
when the Laurenzo family was the first restaurant to serve
 them in the U.S in 1973
Mixed Grill… my personal favorite
Flautas… I could order these on every visit!
Roland and Domenic have raised the bar for Mexican restaurants in Houston… and I am glad to have this new haunt for my Mexican food fix!
El Tiempo Cantina – Navigation

2814 Navigation Boulevard

Houston, Texas 77003



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