HOME > Chowhound > Los Angeles Area >


BORDER GRILL (Santa Monica): Yay or Nay??!

Hello, Fellow Chowhounds!

I'm really confused about BORDER GRILL. I hear wildly conflicting comments about it from "It's fun and delicious" to "It sucks, big time!"

So...what is the scoop??

My cousin is coming to town. She loves Mexican food. She does not mind a trendy, festive scene.

Are we better off with LA SERENATA DI GARIBALDI?

(She does not really like the more run-down-looking places. For example, GUELAGUETZA would not fit the bill.)

Thanks for your comments!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Good atmosphere, if you like a loud and raucous crowd. Happy hour is always a blast.

    Margaritas are very good.

    Food is only so-so. To me the food screams "upscale Mexican at a very expensive price".

    Stick to the traditional fare and you'll be ok; venture into the more daring, fusion stuff and you're on your own.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Okee-dokee. As long as the wait staff isn't totally obnoxious or something...

      1. re: Liquid Sky

        Service can vary. We went last weekend with a $20 discount from Whole Foods and the waiter was pretty inattentive. The prior visit (also with a coupon) the service was good. If you do decide to go, you might want to pick one of these up at Whole Foods, if you ever shop there.

      2. re: ipsedixit

        totally agree. the daring stuff with a cavalcade of ingredients can just hit ya in the face in the worst way if you're not careful. Traditional things were ok. I'd go just to experience it I guess.

        Waitstaff screams actor/waiter...everytime I've been, they've been horribly inept.

      3. i agree with the good happy hour... it can be hard to find a seat towards the end of happy hour, but their margaritas and sangrias are great! and really reasonable happy hour menu.

        2 Replies
        1. re: tuttifrutti

          Do you need to sit at the bar to order from the happy hour menu? What's good, foodwise, for happy hour?

          1. re: Nicole

            yes, at least the bar and communal table side of the restaurant.

            it's been a while since i've been, but they had a special price menu for happy hour customers. generally, i remember liking everything i tried. their food is good.

        2. Food is definitely good there though service is generally horrible. The SM Seranata is decent but the atmosphere is better at Border Grill.

          1 Reply
          1. I used to love BG, but after they took away their rock shrimp w/spinach dish, the rest of the menu dropped to mediocre territory. Definitely stick with happy hour as it has a fun atmosphere, but the food has been a 6-7 out of 10 as of late.

            1. I've never had good service at BG. Always ranges from inattentive to "too cool for you."

              Serenata is more authentic, and the service is generally better.

              2 Replies
              1. re: cplourde

                La Serenata in Santa Monica is certainly not more authentic than Border Grill (the original one in ELA is light years better). Border Grill carries many more items & preparations that you would actually find in Mexico than La Serenta. Believe me Serenata is a complete waste of money.

                What about Border Grill? Yeah the service is mediocre, the place is trendy & hip... you can have a pretty fabulous meal there if you follow a few guidelines:

                > Do not order Entrees... they are bland & uninspiring.
                > The Appetizers are generally excellent as are the drinks & desserts. Its very easy to have a fun small plates meal there.

                I particularly like Friday nights at the Bar... when they have a good Latin Jazz Trio keeping it alive.

                However, if your friend wants truly authentic, outstanding Mexican cuisine in an upscale environment then you have to make the drive out to Frida in Beverly Hills... light years better than Border Grill or La Serenta. If you go, I wholeheartedly recommend:

                > Seared Tuna with Arbol Salsa, Lettuce Taco
                > Acapulco Style Ceviche
                > Pozole or Vegetable Soup with Dried Chile Broth (this one is off the menu)
                > Filet Mignon with Huitlacoche Sauce & Poached Chayote
                > Crepes with Cajeta-Walnut Sauce is not to be missed.


                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  I totally forgot about Frida. Thanks for reminding me. They are better than border girls, location is better and it's not so loud. I haven't been there in a while, I hope it's still good.

              2. Yay on Border Grill. I've always had good service there, and the food has been consistently good for me over the past 6 years of attendance...When I bring clients there they like both the energy and the food. The fresh-tasting salsas and chips are so much better than most people have ever had so that's a good start. Fave dishes include the conchinita pobil (sp?) and the skirt steak.

                And for dessert, you MUST have the tres leches cake. Dense texture, moist and delicious with the prickly pear sauce -- it's a must-have. I took a foodie friend there who declared that we were having a threesome it was that good...me, him and the cake. :)

                I've had La Seranata, and while it's good, I don't really have any inclination to return.

                1. Wow, Guys...Thanks for all the great detail on what to order! I really appreciate it.

                  1. I've never had issues at Border Grill. The food is always good, especially the rock shrimp ceviche. I always end up with a good server. But I do make my reservations through opentable.com. Maybe that helps, since they know I'm a repeat customer. And if it's too loud for you, maybe you should take your food and eat it on the curb outside. It could possibly be quieter there. :P Joking aside, I have to admit food and service at Ciudad is horrible.

                    1. My wife and I have always enjoyed it there ! yay !

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mikester

                        The service at Border Grill has improved dramatically as of late, so if you have had a mediocre experience in the past, I suggest you give it another try. Everyone is so friendly and they always recommend delicious specials that they are offering. Very fun happy hour and also a great place to get lunches to go. I work in Santa Monica and at least once a week my office phones in a take-out order - YUM!

                        My favorite dishes are the pescado veracruzano, the skirt steak, the lamb tacos and all of the appetizers (panuchos, sweet corn tamales, quesadillas...). The drinks are out of this world - made from fresh fruit purees and infusions.

                        They do it all: lunch, dinner, happy hour, weekend brunch, to-go orders, catering, banquets, etc. And if you are unsue about what they provide, just ask and someone is always there to take care of you.


                      2. Historically disastrous food.

                        1. I'd stick with appetizers-the tamales are really good, the cheese/green chili tamales. I would stay away from the specials. The service has been mixed-nice but not always knowledgeable. Here's the deal I don't go there anymore, it's too much of a hassle, it's loud I don't know what is with the acoustics, it's dark, the other customers seem really lame (it's santa monica), you wait forever for your food. It's not a dinner place, it's more of a lunch place. Regardless I'd go to Frida in B.H. or my fav which is the little old lady that won a James Beard award for her tacos in Los Feliz, she has a little stand....does anyone know is she still there...her stuff is good!!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: hazelnutty

                            Green corn tomales are excellent at BG-I always get an appetizer and a salad. Margaritas are good but very expensive and they go down fast. I find the service is okay-especially the bussers. I prefer lunch to dinner also-perhaps because I worked in the hood for 7 yrs and went there at least 1/wk. They have a great chocolate/strawberry/pastry cream/profiterole cake thing-so good we ordered a special one for our wedding.

                            Lares on Pico is more traditional-not a dive at all but not upscale either-really great margaritas if you tell them to use patron and cointreau. i enjoy the Fajitas. If you go for dinner, sit upstairs, they have live music. Very festive.

                            I agree whole heartedly re: Cuidad-just awful and Le Seranata on Westside is always rather disappointing.

                            I've been to Frida three times in last two years-once with a crowd, it was fun but I thought the food was inventive but not particularly tasty. Another time with my husband and Mexican mother-in-law. She did not like the food. I haven't been back since.

                            There used to be another place on La Brea and 2nd or 3rd-the name escapes me..upscale for sure and great drinks. Not sure if it is still there though.

                            1. re: Densible

                              Wasn't that the Sonora Cafe? Ironically, it took over the space from the great, lamented City Restaurant, which was owned/run by...yes, Fenniger and Miliken. (Ciudad is a reference to that, BTW). My wife and I still miss City...we were engaged there and they cooked at our wedding.

                              1. re: ruddy

                                Yes! Thank you. And I loved City! Many lovely meals and dates there back in the day! Fenniger and Miliken did an amazing job ...the restaurant scene back then was gestational to say the least.
                                Is Sonora still in that space?

                          2. Sheesh. I question some of the criticisms coming out here. I like both Border Grill and Ciudad very much. I like the entrees on the regular menu and I find the daily specials menu to be consistently good and innovative. Whereas Border Grill could be considered thematically Mexican and Ciudad Spanish, both restaurants are about exploring and inventing new interpretations. If you're going there with narrow expectations of eating food within the realm of a certain kind of familiar traditional cuisine, you may be disappointed. Milliken and Feniger are innovators, they're still very active in the direction of their restaurants and they seek out chefs that share their inquisitiveness. The atmosphere at Ciudad is always very inviting, unfortunately it's no secret that the Border Grill can be overwhelming. The noise when it's busy is hard to handle and it's not just a din. It often is coming from young clueless clientele that I think may alienate customers to such an extent that their compromised experiences unfavorably interfere with their assessment of the thing of most importance -the food. For me, I have to say noise is a big factor in determining where I'll go for a meal. At the Border Grill I'm careful about when I go and where I'll sit. There are plenty of restaurants out there with a noise problem. Rustic Canyon is worse. I've been there right when they open for the evening and it's heaven but I'm done trying to deal with that place during the dinner hour.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Dyspepsia

                              There is nothing innovative about Border Grill...don't make it out to be more than it is...some of the offerings are good, but not great and like I said it's just to much of a hassle and not worth it. Also it's rather expensive for what you're getting.

                              I'm not saying I wouldn't eat there ever again, but it is not a place to go for dinner. It's a place to get some to go food and eat at the beach...

                              It's always loud in there b/c their acoustics are messed up!! Even if there are two people in there it's loud, you can hear the kitchen, you can hear everything...

                            2. I enjoy border grill. I think the skirt steak is nice and the carnitas. Happy hour is fun and I'm not sure how there could be complaints since the prices are so cheap. House margaritas are something like $3. I recently had lamb tacos and ribs for something like $5 each (maybe less).

                              I personally like the noise. I wouldn't go there for an anniversary dinner but it's nice for a fun night out. Ciudad on the other hand, I found very underwhelming. Poor service even though the restaurant wasn't even close to full and my paella was not cooked properly (the rice was raw).

                              1. i can't even believe we're comparing BG & SDG. they're so different in almost every way. they both great in what they're known to do well. the service, after having patronized BG for over 20 years, is terrific. the best is the birthday song they sing. desserts are killer. the skirt is unbelieveable. love the veggie plate too. both good, but why compare? SDG is much more like the food sold closer to the ocean like PV. BG embraces the food from many latino cultures.