It may seem incongruous to some, but it’s pretty much a given that the two best Mexican restaurants In America are Topolobampo in Chicago (founded by chef/owner Rick Bayless — a guy from Oklahoma) and the Border Grill in Santa Monica (owned by a couple of gringo-white, California gals named Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken). Why more chefs/restaurateurs don’t try to duplicate the passion for authenticity found in these two places is a puzzlement to ELV, but we’re just glad someone in America has brought faithful renditions of this marvelous cuisine north of the border.
Added non-food-related bonus: Thanks to a groovy re-design by assemblageStudio, you can now enjoy all this organic, true-to-its-roots food amongst rammed earth subsoil paneling (whatever the hell that is.) ELV is no arch-i-teck, but assemblageStudio’s Eric Strain (an Official Friend of ELV) is, and if he tells us this textured decor method (?) dates to the days of the Anasazi, we believe him and assume this must be a good thing.
Vegas has its own Border Grill in the Mandalay Bay, and after at least a dozen meals there (and almost that many at the original in SoCal) we can find no significant differences between the two. The trio of ceviches (Baja-lime marinated halibut and shrimp with cilantro aoli; Hawaiian-fish-of-the-day with apricot salsa and spicy taro root; Aztec-fish-stuffed avocado with serrano-mint chimichurri) are still our favorite way to start a meal — along with the killer trio of fresh salsas. Just as good are the fish tacos (that’ll make you feel like you’re staring at an Ensenada sunset), green corn tamales that taste like Christmas in Monterrey, and Cochinita pibil — a huge portion of achiote marinated pork slow roasted in a banana leaf that puts most Vegas barbecue to shame.
About the only thing we don’t like about this place is its location. Unless you’re a conventioneer at Mandalay Bay, you’re gonna have a long walk from wherever you park. But Chef Mike Minor’s beef brisket taquitos or chicken chilaquiles make us forget that inconvenience, and by the time we’re on our third bite of his tres leches cake with passion fruit and prickly pear sauces, all is forgiven.
Click here to hear my earlier review of Border Grill for KNPR-Nevada Public Radio.
BORDER GRILL LAS VEGAS
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino
3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89919