Where the Chefs Eat: Alex Padilla, Jose Vela, Mario Valdez

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Mai Pham
Max's Wine Dive Fried Chicken -- a go-to spot for chef Alex Padilla of Ninfa's on Nav

This week, we continue our Where the Chefs Eat series with three Latin American chefs: Alex Padilla of Ninfa's on Nav, Jose Vela of Mockingbird Bistro, and Mario Valdez of Rainbow Lodge.

Padilla won the 28th Annual Caesar Salad competition this year with a tasty BLT caesar salad. Vela is the driving force in the kitchen at Mockingbird Bistro, who mentored Valdez when he graduated from culinary school. And Valdez, who has just barely turned 25, is shaking things up at Rainbow Lodge. Let's see where they like to eat when they aren't in their own kitchens.

Alex Padilla
Executive Chef, Original Ninfa's on Navigation

Photo by Alex Gregg
Chef Alex Padilla

Standard go-to: Ibiza. I really enjoy their house-made Sangria along with a few of Charles' appetizers for a relaxing dinner. 

Cheap Eats: El Rey on Shepherd at Washington for a late night taco; Pho way out on Memorial by the Beltway [don't know the name, just where it is].

Late night: I really only get to go out at night and I enjoy eating from the left side of the menu, ordering several appetizers or small plates. Hugo's is always a great place to stop for some quesadillas and his lobster tacos. I also enjoy a nice glass of Pinot at Max's Wine Dive and a plate of chef's buttermilk-marinated fried chicken.

Jose Luis Vela
Chef de Cuisine, Mockingbird Bistro

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Chef Jose Vela

Standard go-to: My standard to go for lunch is Hillstone. I always get either the smoked salmon, French dip or prime rib (lunch portion). Always delicious, perfect every time.  For dinner I like Mark's -- always so good.  For a place close to my house I like Le Mistral.

Cheap eats: Cheap and good - Cafe TH!  Chef Minh's dishes are always consistent and always delicious.  I also like a sandwich place on Dairy Ashford called Mexico's Deli -- really good tortas and al pastor, and cochinita pibil tacos.  You'll spend probably no more than $10 per person for a delicious meal.

Other faves: Kata Robata for sure. I love the nine-course tasting, mmmm so good.  Uptown Sushi is my old favorite, and I recently went to Provisions -- it was really good. 

Mario Valdez
Chef de Cuisine, Rainbow Lodge

mvaldez hs.jpg
Photo by Mai Pham
Chef Mario Valdez

Standard go-to: My wife and I love to go to Oishii Sushi on Richmond. We went on our first date there and have gone back at least once or twice a month since.  We usually order their "Special B" which has a tasting of sashimi, and rolls. We tend to add on to that order to try everything. I think we've pretty much tried the entire menu. I love the monkfish liver sashimi; I get it every time. The best tip I can offer is either to get there early (before 6 p,m.) or to call ahead and make a reservation (reservations after 7 p.m.).  That will get you ahead of the line, which can be almost an hour wait on most nights.

Cheap eats: For cheap food, there is a taco truck, "Tacos la Jicara" parked right down from the Rainbow Lodge on Ella Boulevard (on the other side of 610) right next to a carwash. For cheap and good, I go there. Three lengua tacos, with pico de gallo, grilled jalapeños, salsa and a Mexican Coke, all for about $5.  I have looked for better around the area and I am convinced that they are the best.  I would say as well Brothers Tacos are excellent and a great deal, but unfortunately the drive for me is just a little too far away.

Other fave: I have to mention Mockingbird Bistro as one of my favorite restaurants.  I could spend all night at that bar and not get bored. Go for either the curry mussels (delicious) or the Kobe beef burger (plus it's a great deal at only $10 at the bar). 

If you missed our previous posts, click below to see more of Where the Chefs Eat:

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Location Info

The Original Ninfa's On Navigation

2704 Navigation, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


2450 Louisiana, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Rainbow Lodge

2011 Ella Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Mockingbird Bistro Wine Bar

1985 Welch St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

El Rey Taqueria

910 Shepherd, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Max's Wine Dive

4720 Washington Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


1600 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Mark's American Cuisine

1658 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


4848 Kirby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Le Mistral

1400 Eldridge Parkway, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Cafe TH

2108 Pease St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Mexico's Deli Tortas & Tacos

2374 Dairy Ashford Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Kata Robata Sushi & Grill

3600 Kirby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

The Pass

807 Taft St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Oishii Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar

3764 Richmond, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Brothers Taco House

1604 Dowling, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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