At a Glance
What is it?
More expensive than typical Mexican food but worth it.
Where is it?
What kind of food is served?
With PBS’ “Two Hot Tamales” (Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger) at the helm of this Mexican restaurant, you can be assured that the food is going to be expertly researched and prepared, with bold flavors, huge portions, and exciting twists on traditional dishes (from enchiladas to terrific chile reinos). Everything I sampled was amazing as the various spices, sauces, and cheeses fought for attention without overwhelming each other.
What is the atmosphere like?
The Mandalay Bay restaurant is bright and sunny and maybe a little overwhelming in terms of décor and noise while the Forum Shops outlet is more intimate and quieter.
How is the service?
Uniformly excellent and highly professional at both locations.
What are the prices like?
A full dinner (entrée, appetizer, wine, etc.) will run you between $30-35 per person which puts it at the upper end of the “medium” price category, but if you want to go out for a nice Mexican meal, you can’t beat this place.
What else do I need to know?
Milliken and Feniger got many of their recipes from real South of the Border families – some of which gave up secrets that hadn’t been shared outside their clan in generations.
What’s the bottom line?
For a long time this was the only decent Mexican restaurant on The Strip. There are plenty now but this is still one of the best.
The brainchild of the “Too Hot Tamales” chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, the Border Grill brand is growing, with multiple locations (and a food truck!) in Los Angeles and now a second outlet at The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace joining their long-running room at Mandalay Bay.
The Forum Shops version takes over the space once occupied by PJ Clarke’s on the ground floor behind the big circular escalator. It’s a bit smaller than the Mandalay Bay location in a couple of ways. First the physical space at the new one has a more intimate vibe than its bigger sister. I miss the natural light and outdoor patio that the Mandalay Bay version has but I also appreciate that this one is less noisy. It is divided up in several dining spaces including a front bar area with TVs and a view of the Forum shoppers, all of which is done in a festive orange, yellow, and red color scheme setting off the natural wood tones of the walls, tables, and chairs.
Speaking of the chairs… I’m not sure why anyone thinks plain, hard wooden chairs with no padding at a restaurant is a good idea, but maybe they are trying to keep people from lounging too long so they can get more diners through the door. Just a theory.
The other way in which this outlet is smaller is by the size of their menu. The one at Mandalay Bay has about a dozen things that this one doesn’t, but unless you are intimately familiar with the offerings you won’t be missing anything and you’ll certainly find plenty to eat.
We started with the house guacamole, of which I’m not usually a fan, but this was really good; creamy and just a bit spicy. It went well with the fantastically salty tortilla chips that came out before the meal.
Next up were the beef brisket flautas, which the chef likes to think of his southern roots merging with southwestern cooking. Crispy, flaky shells surrounded the tangy BBQ and it was topped with cole slaw and salsa for a fascinating combo of flavors. A little yeehaw and a little ay caramba!
We moved on to the Tijuana kale Caesar salad, which was a basic Caesar only with a couple of twists. First, the dressing was more lemony than usual, which provided an unexpected bite, and the croutons were basically fried chunks of cheese. I should have loved that – who doesn’t love fried cheese? – but as a package it came off as a little bland.
For the main course we sampled the cumin grilled skirt steak, served with black beans, corn relish, and a flour tortilla, making it into a more plated version of beef fajitas. The flavor of the meat was perfect; very much tasting like it had come straight off the backyard grill. The only disappointment is that a few bites were a little tough, but that’s not unusual with skirt steak so I’m not going to ding them too hard on it. It was still really good.
Other options include everything from enchiladas to quesadillas to tacos to carnitas and beyond. There’s also a ceviche bar, allowing you to mix and match and create your own cocktails and “shots.” Oyster shooter and a tequila shooter together? Yep, you can do that.
Prices are in the moderate territory. Starters and salads run $10-$16; most of the entrees are in the $20-$30 range although a couple, the ribeye and the whole snapper, will push $40; taco and quesadilla plates are all just shy of $20; and sides are all under $10. Figure $50 per person unless you go crazy on the margaritas, and why wouldn’t you? They’re very good.
Which Border Grill you choose – the one at the Forum Shops or the one at Mandalay Bay – is really a matter of convenience. If one is closer than the other, pick that. If they are equidistant, I’d probably veer toward the Mandalay Bay location just because of the light and the patio. But no matter which one you choose, you’re going to have a great meal.