Tuesday, August 23, 2016

DGA Dining: Border Grill

Exterior of Border Grill Downtown

           On a recent trip to California, we had the chance to eat at Border Grill in downtown Los Angeles. Due to its proximity to Mexico, it’s not surprising that Los Angeles has some of the best and most authentic Mexican cuisine in the United States. And the food we had at the Border Grill revealed the depth and wonder of Mexican regional cuisine that is so rarely found in the United States where chain restaurants declare tortillas smothered in cheddar cheese “authentic.” 

The Border Grill Downtown Dining Room
              Border Grill is the brain child of chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken. They stumbled upon their idea to open up a Mexican restaurant while working in Chicago at a French restaurant. While they were preparing traditional French fine dining classics, Milliken and Feniger ate the authentic cuisine of Oaxaca and the Yucatan, prepared by their fellow cooks for their staff meal. Feniger and Milliken realized that the dishes they were eating had the same complexity and depth of flavor as the refined French fare they were serving to their diners out front. So in 1985, the two chefs loaded up a Volkswagen buggy and went off to Mexico. They learned recipes and ingredients from the locals and when they returned to Los Angeles where they opened the first Border Grill. The flagship location has been in Santa Monica since 1990. Since then, they have opened two new outposts at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in 1999 and The Forum Shops at Caesars in 2014. In Los Angeles, they opened the downtown location in 2010 and two spots at Los Angeles International Airport, one in the Tom Bradley International Terminal in 2013 and the other in Terminal 4 in 2015. Additionally, they have two Border Grill Food Trucks that rotate around Los Angeles. 

Border Grill Peruvian Ceviche
            Okay, enough history, time to talk about the food. The complementary chips and salsa came with three different delicious homemade salsas ranging from mild to hot. We started with an order of guacamole and ceviche.  A lot of commercial guacamole is rather heavy, weighed down by additional ingredients like bacon. This guacamole was bright and compromised of five simple ingredients: avocado, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime. It ate so light that we quickly demolished the entire order. The ceviche was flavorful with a nice balance of acid and heat. The real star of the meal, however, was the carnitas. Carnitas are pork that has been braised for a long time until tender. These Border Grill carnitas were served atop roasted corn grits that were soft with a rich corn flavor. The dish also came with a Serrano chile salsa that added heat and acid, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeno bacon. The jalapeno bacon combined the heat from the peppers with the saltiness and crunch of the bacon. It was a masterful combination.

            So if you’re ever stuck in Los Angeles and are looking for an authentic exploration of Mexican regional cuisine, check out Border Grill.

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