My Top 5: restaurateur Phyllis Mandola of Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchen

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Photo courtesy of Ninfa's on Navigation

Our My Top 5 series showcases Houstonians who are creating the city’s culture and community and asks them to share their own local favorites. This week we’re delighted to feature Phyllis Mandola, restaurateur Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchen. Her inaugural Tacos Over Texas event in 2018 raised more than $100,000 for The Ninfa Laurenzo Scholarship Fund. Tickets are now on sale for the 2019 edition of the event, which will take place on Sunday, April 7, 2019.

My Top 5 Things to Do in Houston

by Phyllis Mandola

  1. Theater – I love the diverse and dynamic theater scene in my great hometown. I thoroughly enjoy the intimacy of Stages Repertory Theatre and the incredible talent I’ve seen in their productions. I am also a fan of musical theater and drama. We are fortunate to have world-class productions with TUTS and Broadway at the Hobby Center (I try not to sing along). This city has so many colorful venues with intriguing entertainment for every age and taste. Lately, I have connected with the wonderful Talento Bilingue de Houston, a theater and art venue on Navigation that showcases local talent.
  2. Astros I love the Astros. Baseball has been an integral part of my family life since the ‘50s (yes, I’m that old). I grew up watching my brothers play America’s pastime and supporting my dad coaching all the kids in Second Ward (EaDo). My dad played ball on the farm team for the New York Giants before World War II intervened. He continued to play during his stint in the Army. I have sweet memories of Buff Stadium, Colt 45 Stadium in the shadow of the Astrodome construction, the first and last night at the Astrodome, and the first game at Minute Maid Park. Thanks, Dad, for your service and imparting your love of the game.
  3. Concerts From my childhood, my parents exposed us to a variety of music from Mario Lanza to mariachis. As a child, we had family outings to see Louis Prima and Keely Smith at the music hall and even James Brown. Some of my favorite memories are going to La Bastille in Market Square to listen to jazz greats like Dave Brubeck and Les McCann. I’m proud to say I met the inimitable Ella Fitzgerald a few times. To this day, Tony and I enjoy the many concert venues in Houston. In the last year, we have seen Elton John, Steve Tyrell, Tony Bennett, and Marc Anthony.
  4. Volunteering – Giving back to the community is ingrained in my DNA. My parents and grandparents always helped their neighbors, schools, community, and city. My mother and father had generous hearts and couldn’t refuse help to anyone in need. I see the same attributes in my brothers. I have had the good fortune and ability to volunteer at our children’s schools from the library to the boardroom. I have been honored to serve on several boards from the Children’s Museum, St Joseph Hospital, Stehlin Foundation, Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, University of St. Thomas, and San Jose Clinic. Currently, I’m on the advisory boards of Dress for Success and San Jose Clinic. My main focus lately is The Ninfa Laurenzo Scholarship Fund and its fundraising event called Tacos Over Texas. It is a friendly taco challenge between chefs (many of them my friends) on Navigation Boulevard that benefits the scholarship foundation. It is a collaboration between Ninfa’s and El Tiempo Cantina. Our inaugural event last year raised over $100,000 for The Ninfa Laurenzo Scholarship Fund. Come hungry, we have 21 chefs participating this year. Tickets are currently on sale for the event, which will take place on Sunday, April 7th, 2019.
  5. Family Time around Houston – It is so rewarding to spend time with family and my family of friends. I also have the blessing to have my three grandchildren in this city. They are delightful and perfect, and luckily I get to spend their formative years with them. It doesn’t get better than that. We enjoy the amenities in Houston like Memorial Park, Donovan Park in the Heights, and the Discovery Green splash pad. The grandkids also love the Houston Zoo and the train at Hermann Park. Currently, our favorite museum is the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

About Phyllis Mandola

A lifelong Houstonian, Phyllis Laurenzo Mandola grew up in Houston’s Second Ward/East End next door to her parents’ tortilla and pizza factory. She has been in the restaurant business since her mother, “Mama Ninfa” Laurenzo, started Ninfa’s on Navigation. Phyllis was the restaurant’s first server, and her beau, future husband, and lifelong partner, Tony Mandola, was Ninfa’s first grill man. Phyllis and Tony started their own business in 1982 with the Blue Oyster Bar, which evolved into Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchen. Her inaugural Tacos Over Texas event in 2018 raised more than $100,000 for The Ninfa Laurenzo Scholarship Fund. Tickets are now on sale for the 2019 edition of the event, which will take place on Sunday, April 7, 2019.