Restaurant Review #59: Border Grill, Santa Monica

Mmm, dipping sauces. A nice change from the usual plain ol' red. I loved the green salsa and ate a lot of it straight. It reminded me a bit of green chutney, but with a hint of. . .banana? I know, I'm crazy, and that doesn't sound appetizing, but trust me, it was good. I also liked the chips--they had a great crunch, and weren't greasy.

I really like Border Grill's margaritas. They are pricey, at $12 for the cheapest, but they are very tasty and damn strong--plenty of lime, tequila, sugar, and Cointreau. Just one kept me drunk for two hours. I like my food and drink on the intense side.

Plantains and rice are hard to mess up. Brazilian and Cuban restaurants do them better, but still. Yum.

I like it when a place has some kind of sampler so I can try multiple items. Ordering the Border Classics will give you a taste of three dishes. The chicken panuchos (center) used the same chicken as the quesadilla (below). I liked them, especially the guacamole on top and the colorful presentation. Though the chicken was on the salty side, the sweetness of the onions and guacamole balanced it out. The plantain and black bean empanadas (left) were delicious, very filling, and kept well as leftovers. The green corn tamales (right) really didn't taste like anything more than plain old corn.

They brought me a chicken quesadilla instead of the poblano one I had ordered, but it took so long that I didn't feel like sending it back. The chicken was very moist and had been marinated or cooked in "sweet adobo sauce," but it was too salty. The watercress salad it came with was really more of a garnish than a salad, I thought, and looked a little wilted. And why did they put a limp scallion on top of my quesadilla, I wonder? No garnish at all is better than a lame one.

Ceviche without shrimp made my day, since I'm allergic--until I tried it. I ordered the seabass amarillo ceviche (there are three kinds, another with rock shrimp and a third with halibut). The biggest problem I had with this dish though was how fishy it smelled and tasted. Fresh fish doesn't smell fishy, and I was afraid I'd get food poisoning from eating it, so I just nibbled at it. Maybe the fishy smell had something to do with the way ceviche is prepared--I'm not sure, but I wasn't taking any chances. I didn't get sick though, and I'm sensitive enough that I probably would have even from a few bites if it had been bad. Still, it was unappetizing.

The restaurant is very noisy, even before it gets full--the acoustics are just terrible. The service was sometimes fast, sometimes slow, and overall indifferent. I really like the colorful decor, particularly the style of graphics they use, which seems to be inspired by the Chicano group Los Four that did a lot of mural work in Los Angeles in the seventies and eighties (each artist also had a body of individual work). I don't know many people besides me who love their strange, colorful work.

Border Grill
1445 4th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401


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