Border Grill is owned by chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, known on the Food Network as the "Two Hot Tamales." They also have a restaurant in downtown LA called Ciudad, which has more of a South American influence. I think they are credited for bringing Mexican and South American street food into the mainstream. I've been to Cuidad a couple times in the past, but never been to Border Grill before. There's too many good, cheap and authentic Mexican food places in LA, so I've never would have thought to try it out, but since Border Grill is really close to our cake decorating place and they had a happy hour special, I figured why not?
My friend J and I arrived first and there were a few groups at the bar side of the restaurant, where the happy hour was taking place. I didn't see too many diners in the main restaurant. The annoying thing is that you had to sit in the bar area if you wanted to take advantage of the special, even though the place was clearly empty. I thought they could have been more accommodating considering J is preggers. J was a trooper though and sat up on the stool the whole time. We didn't drink of course, so I can't comment on the drink specials. He tried to tempt us with margaritas and mojitos, but we'll save those for after congratulatory drinks for when J's baby makes her grand entrance into this world.
The waiter came by and gave us some chips with three types of salsa. Tomatillo, poblano and regular salsa. I was expecting varying levels of heat, but they all were pretty mild. We asked to see if they had anything spicier and the waiter said he's bring out their hottest hot sauce. I think he said it had habaneros in it, because it definitely had the kick we were looking for.
I have to confess that I was too busy eating and chatting that I completely forgot to take pictures of all the food until we were almost done with everything. Not to mention, it was really dark in there, so the pics didn't come out very well. So please pardon the lack of visuals this time around. =)
We started with a sampling of their border tacos, which are made from handmade corn tortillas hot off the griddle. We ordered 2 taco platters of 3 tacos each, for $8. Here's a pic of the the fish taco.
J and K each tried a fish taco. J said she never had a fish taco so she didn't have anything to compare it too but she liked it. We might have to take her to senor fish in Eagle Rock one of these days. =) We don't know what kind of fish it was, but it was grilled fish with cucumber grapefruit citrus slaw and lime crema. I had a carne asada taco with cilantro cumin marinated top sirloin with salsa fresca. It was pretty good but then again, it's pretty hard to mess up a carne asada taco, don't you think? I think my favorite that night was the Potato Rajas taco. I was going to get a Barbacoa taco until the waiter told me it was goat, not pork. I have too many memories of feeding goats at petting zoos that I can't eat them (unless you don't tell me in advance what it is). But this time, the cat was out of the bag, so I asked for another recommendation and he told me about the Potato Rajas.
It was made of creamy roasted potato and chiles with mexican cheeses and pickled onion sprinkled on top. I was a bit weary of a potato replacing the meat in a taco, but I was willing to try it. I am usually not a big fan of mashed potatoes, but these were creamy and delicious. I could eat this by the spoonful. The pickled onions provided a nice textural contrast and acidity to the creamy mound of goodness as well.
We also ordered a chile popper. It was kind of a let down. There were four types of poppers with varying degrees of heat. We got the jalapeno popper and it was literally a jalapeno cut in half, with some breaded filling inside with some sour cream on top. I was expecting something more substantial. How expensive can a stuffed jalapeno be? Apparently the going rate at Border Grill is $3. Definitely not worth it.
We got an order of crispy calamari with chipotle honey, garlic and pickled jalapeno remoulade. The calamari was pretty good. It don't know what they used to coat the calamari (maybe corn meal?), but it was definitely crispy. It was a bit too sweet for my taste, which could have been offset with a spicy dipping sauce, but the remoulade wasn't spicy enough. I just ended up using the hot sauce instead. That was $5. They gave us more calamari than what is shown below. We finished most of it before this pic was taken.
I think our bill came out to about $51, including tip. I was a bit confused because we didn't get any drinks and we got items from the happy hour menu, so I thought it would be cheaper. I didn't really think about it at the time, but when I was looking back at the menu to write this entry, I saw that the quesadilla that we ordered wasn't part of their happy hour special. We said we wanted a quesadilla and the waiter asked, do you want the cheese or the chicken? I just said chicken, thinking it would be the same price, but turns out, it was $10.50 more. Hello waiter! Thanks for the heads up! Granted the portions were definitely bigger than our other happy hour items, but still, he should have told us. Here's a pic of the full priced quesadilla.
It had grilled chicken, serrano chile, caramelized onion, manchego, panela and cotija cheese. It came with a side of mizuna salad with orange segments and a side of guacamole. It was tasty, but I'm sure the happy hour cheese quesadilla would have been perfectly fine.
Overall, the food was decent, but it was a bit pricey for what it was. When we left though, I noticed that there were quite a few people in the bar area, so for whatever reason, the happy hour special seems to be working. I think we'll try something new next time though.
Happy Hour: Monday through Friday, 4 to 7 pm; Friday and Saturday, after 10 pm