Border Grill, Las Vegas NV
It’s hot in Las Vegas this weekend! We are here for a short jaunt, and as we find restaurants in which to dine and beat the heat, we’ll share with you, as always, the spectacular food. The last time we were here was for Vegas Uncork’d, and among the many chefs we met during those few days, Chef Mike Minor made a warm impression on us. We saw him again, as well as Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, at Cooking For Solutions in Monterey, so we figured after running into them enough, it’s about time that we try the restaurant that belongs to all three: Border Grill. Chef Mike is the executive chef, and chefs Mary Sue and Susan are the founders and creative heads. It helps that we personally know one other member of the crew – Zach’s cousin Alex is a server’s assistant here but it was his night off, so the three of us went out to eat.
We couldn’t decide on a single appetizer, so Alex suggested that we try Border Classics, with three popular items on one plate. Apparently some people who come here don’t know how to eat the tamales because they’ve never seen them before; being native Californians, we grew up with a distinct awareness of Mexican food so we take these kinds of things for granted. Alex laughed about people not knowing to unwrap the tamales, freeing the naturally sweet filling from the corn husk. The three of us really liked the tender and creamy masa, and while it was creamy, it was not blended. There was still some corn texture in the mix. The tacos arrived with huge dollops of creamy guacamole with the slightest bit of acidity. The chicken in the tacos, made panucho style, was juicy and delightfully charred. It was layered inside the slightly crispy fried tortillas with flavorful black beans. The empanadas to the right contained plantains and black beans, with cotija cheese and a bit of chipotle salsa on top. They were an excellent blend of sweet and savory, with a sharp bite from the cheese and still-crisp edges keeping the ingredients folded together.
Part of the philosophy at Border Grill is “good for the planet, good for you.” Organic ingredients, hormone and antibiotic-free meats, and sustainable seafood are key elements of the menu. Some items are made with at least 80% plant-based ingredients, like this salad. The green mix of watercress, julienned jicama, avocado chunks, and green apple cubes was accented by toasted pine nuts and orange supremes with a toasted coriander vinaigrette. The stars of the show, though, were the bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed with chorizo and blue cheese. The sweet creamy center was balanced by the bite from the blue cheese, and the crisp, smoky, perfectly rendered bacon rounded it out. Overall, the best word to describe this salad is “sharp.”
A creamy but not heavy green sauce had a mild roasted chile flavor with a very slightly spicy bite, just enough to let you know it was there. The sauce covered and formed a pool for three enchiladas with an abundance of smoked chicken, grilled corn, wild mushrooms, and charred poblano chiles. Like everything here, the corn tortillas are scratch-made, further attesting to the glory of real, hand-made food. The corn brought an extra sweetness to the dish, working well together with the slight bite of the poblano chile sauce.
August got her own hand-made tortilla with her entree, perfect for wiping up the dregs. Black beans surrounded a heap of cheesy grits, piled with pork carnitas and bits of jalapeño bacon. The pork was moist and tender (no knife needed), and while it was tasty on its own, it was best in a mouthful with the grits, which were creamy and definitely cheesy. Mexican food is stereotypically thought of as spicy, but this plate was far from spicy. In fact, the perceived heat came from the thinly sliced red onion, which really added more of a zing than anything. This is a great choice for someone who doesn’t want Mexican spicy, but appreciates all the rich flavor. Alex made a burrito once with the dish’s three main parts, and he said it was one of the best burritos “evar.”
Akin to the appetizers, we couldn’t make up our minds between the three of us when it came to dessert. We were lucky, then, that we had the option to get two or even four half-sizes (and of course we went for four, the more the merrier).
August had never before tried a flan which didn’t have that weird rubbery skin as a result of caramelization. She was so surprised, then, when this flan was super creamy in texture throughout. The rich vanilla custard was made more awesome by the deep caramel. For a tres leches cake that wasn’t made by an abuelita in her own cocina, this was very, very close to authenticity. Moist, spongy, and creamy, it was a light cake with sweet milk and the ideal amount of whipped cream. The Mexican chocolate cream pie was basically a semisweet chocolate mousse made with Ibarra. Ibarra is not meant to be eaten like a chocolate bar, although it can be and August did so very often growing up (and admittedly even through college). You can imagine her delight in devouring this particular cream pie, then, with semisweet chocolate and cinnamon. For chocolate as we’re more familiar with it, we chose the flourless cake. It was like a slab of rich ganache on a drizzle of tart prickly pear lychee sauce, so in a word, “delicious.”
Para un sabor bastante leal a lo auténtico, no hay otro restaurante ubicado en The Strip que sirva. You would be hard pressed to find another Mexican restaurant on The Strip that offers food that tastes so close to authenticity.