The Border Grill, Santa Monica

Summer has definitely presented new challenges in the work-play balance I meticulously micromanage during the school year. Though I don’t have summer school, a landed a dream internship at an incredible museum in Los Angeles which commands a formidable 40 hours a week. And then there’s my normal part-time job that I’ve continued to shoulder that helps pay for nice things like food and books. Needless to say, my spare time consists of being unconscious in my bed, commuting, and eating anything from frozen dumplings to Denny’s.

When have had time (and I haven’t already attached myself to a couch), say a lone evening at the end of the week, my boyfriend and I make special plans. For this particular casual date, we headed to the Border Grill in Santa Monica to try some Mexicali fare from Top Chef Masters runner-up Mary Sue Milliken.

Stephen is from Houston, Texas, so he has very high expectations for south of the border cuisine. Though I grew up in Southern California, I was more consistently exposed to various kinds of Asian food. The Border Grill exemplifies a SoCal interpretation of Mexican fare, going beyond the more kitschy, sombrero sporting establishments and elevating a cuisine that is often relegated to trucks and lunch specials. Located in the heart of downtown Santa Monica, the restaurant is perfectly convenient for  Westsiders and worthwhile for those farther because a breezy walk on the beach and some retail therapy on Third Street Promenade are mere steps away. The ambience is funky and energetic and the waiters are efficient and upbeat.

You can tell from all the crazy lighting reflecting off of the stainless steel that this place is serious about fun. Greens, purples, and reds bounced around everywhere, admittedly making the salsa consuming experience more fun. The different kinds of salsa were each uniquely delicious. The darker brown one was smoky and smooth. The red salsa was sweeter and creamier. The green salsa (my favorite that night) was tart and salty, with plenty of fresh cilantro flavor. Naturally, these salsas were paired with crunchy, toasted chips.


When it came time to order, we started with the guacamole. Having heard highly complimentary things about the guacamole, Stephen and I ultimately disagreed as to whether or not the Border Grill’s guacamole was deserving of its price tag or its reputation. I liked its creaminess as well as its lack of acidity. Stephen, typically the maker of the guacamole, did not find it too inspiring.

Considering how little guacamole came out for $9, I think I will eat guacamole at home, even though they do have a solid recipe.

For my entree, I ordered the pollo ciudad. The portion size was perfect and the flavors (lots of tomatoes, spiciness from the chicken and the rice) were nicely balanced. Though the chicken was well-cooked, the highlight was definitely the rice, which was loose, smooth, and tasted divine.


Stephen ordered the chicken poblano enchiladas and was surprised that it came with a green-colored sauce. Though apprehensive at first, he said that the enchiladas were very well-executed and definitely worth ordering again. The supple texture of the tortillas maintained well in the cream sauce. Not typically a mushroom or a corn fan, Stephen agreed they worked with the enchiladas. From my little sample, I thought the chicken was moist and seasoned just right.

Though the selection of desserts looked nothing short of enticing (Aztec chocolate cake, tres leches with prickly pear sauce, hello?), we left without a sweet finish because we were very full. I imagine that Stephen and I will be back soon because the service was impeccable, the food was interesting and tasty, and the restaurant itself was fun and warm.

For locals and tourists alike, I think the Border Grill will definitely live up to expectations. Since doing anything in Santa Monica requires a twisted confrontation with the city’s unpleasant parking situation, I’m glad to say that at the very least, the Border Grill is worth it!

Border Grill Santa Monica
1445 4th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401
310 451 1655

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About kraftedbykelly
I'm a California girl living in Durham, North Carolina. I like to focus on baking from scratch, student-friendly cooking, and both high and low dining.

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