I’ve got to add Border Grill to my list of Top Chef Masters restaurants that disappoint. It joins a couple other spots I’ve had the misfortune of visiting: Zentan by Susur Lee in Washington DC and RIck Moonen’s RM Seafood Room here in Vegas. I’ve been to Border Grill three times now and either the quality has slipped or my expectations have risen because with each visit I leave less satisfied.

We decided to come here for a family night out — yup, we had the kid in tow and were looking for a family-friendly spot that would make him happy and have good enough food to make us happy. They get points for having a kids menu (and they also have a gluten-free menu for anyone looking for that). Unfortunately, the food didn’t thrill any of us.

The plantain empanadas ($9) are filled with a mixture of roasted plantains, black beans, poblano peppers and cotija cheese. The sweetness of the plantains dominated the flavor of the dish. I love plantains, so that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just an observation. The empanada dough was more mushy then flaky, which was a disappointment. There are four per order, so plan to share.

The Baja ceviche ($15) is a huge order of lime marinated halibut and shrimp sitting on a corn tortilla with slice avocado sitting on top. There was too much lime and the fish didn’t taste all that fresh. This also seemed like a dish that was mass produced and was probably sitting around in those lime juices for quite some time.

The first entree to make it’s way to the table was something off of their ‘Specials’ menu. It was shrimp stuffed with crab and wrapped in bacon with some sort of cilantro pesto sauce or something (I can’t remember exactly) ($26). It sounded awesome, but it turned out to be a hot mess. Too much bacon, no detectable crab in or near the shrimp, and a million ingredients that over-complicated the dish.

The Negro Modelo braised short ribs ($29) were much better. It came with two large chunks of boneless beef atop corn polenta and a cherry tomato salsa fresca with a molasses habanero BBQ sauce. The beef could have been more tender, but the flavors were pretty good with a slight bitterness from the Negro Modelo and sweetness from the sauce. It wasn’t overly spicy.

The kids cheese quesadilla ($4) was filled with cotija cheese (I think?). Fine for adults, but for a 3 yr old with developing taste buds… no. He wasn’t a fan. Too bad they didn’t just have a cheddar/monterey jack cheese blend.

Our little guy did get a scoop of chocolate ice cream ($3) accompanied with fresh berries. He loved the ice cream, but is still learning to like berries.

The wife and I split the flourless chocolate cake with prickly pear lychee sauce and raspberries ($10). It was heavier/denser than we expected but still rich and chocolatey. The crust and bottom of the cake were slightly overcooked and hard.

Along with mediocre food, we had spotty service. Our server was friendly but very busy and disappeared often. This isn’t fine dining but at the prices they charge they could step things up a bit. Little things like clearing empty dishes and replacing silverware would make a big difference. The whole atmosphere was more laid back then I remember (the last time we were here was probably 2+ years ago). It almost felt like a small step up from a Chevy’s Fresh Mex or one of those type of places. They also charge fifty cents for water per person. Although my son didn’t get water they charged him anyway.

Another thing that was annoying was how they decided to sit people right next to us when most of the dining room was completely empty. Why not space people out more?

It was a pricey meal for what we got, but at least we were armed with a http://restaurant.com gift certificate. We also tried to use the Border Grill VIP card, which normally gets us a 15% discount but management said they couldn’t take both the gift certificate and VIP card.

2.5 Stars

— Update below: 9/29/13 —

In lieu of a proper review I’m going to list the items I tried (along with some notes) during a return visit to Border Grill. Let’s face it, I’m too busy and when I do have free time, too lazy to come up with a literary masterpiece. Anyway, despite a less than stellar first experience at this restaurant, I came back with a fellow blogger to try their all you can eat weekend brunch ($34.99; an additional $8 for bottomless mimosas). Now, on to the list:

Fresh fruit platter

Fig and blue cheese quesadilla – caramelized black mission figs, maytag blue cheese, chipotle aioli, candied walnuts
– over-seasoned with a lot of heat, flavors were too overpowering

Bacon jalapeno PBJ – peanut butter, homemade grape jelly, crispy bacon, jalapeno, biscuit
– loved the subtle heat, great blend of flavors

Short rib hash and egg – negra modelo braised beef short ribs, boniato yams, caramelized onions
– short ribs were underseasoned

Plantain empanada – roasted plantain, black beans, poblano, cotija cheese
– crispy exterior; components worked well together

Waffle and pork belly with maple syrup – French waffle, crispy pork belly, maple syrup
– pork was almost all fat, but the flavors worked well

Peruvian shrimp and grits – aji panca chile marinated shrimp, roasted poblano chiles
– good depth of flavors

Lobster pancakes – savory corn lobster pancake, chipotle sauce, sunny side egg, crispy leeks
– no lobster today, replaced with tiny, tiny bits of crab

Bread pudding french toast – caramelized bananas, coconut syrup
– very good, loved the syrup, warm almost creamy bread

Sweet potato pancake – cinnamon whipped cream, toasted pecan maple syrup
– light airy pancakes, good flavors

Machaca chilaquiles – slow cooked beef brisket, crispy corn tortilla chips, Mexican cheeses, roasted chiles, egg over easy
– good flavors, fairly large serving, could have used more beef

Biscuit and sausage gravy – homemade buttermilk biscuit, chipotle sausage gravy
– not bad, decent biscuit, smothered in gravy with a subtle kick; savory

Crispy potato rajas taco – roasted potatoes and chiles, Mexican cheeses, guacamole, grilled corn relish, chipotle aoili
– good flavors, one taco, tender chunks of potatoes

Churro tots – dulce de leche infused churros, cinnamon sugar, whipped cream
– way undercooked, but liked the sauce

BBQ baked egg – housemade BBQ sauce, roasted potatoes, caramelized peppers, crispy serrano ham, baked egg
– didn’t try it, was way too full by the time this came out

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. Bold flavors were the name of the game here. There may have been a few missteps, but the meal overall was a successful display of modern Latin dishes and one of the better brunches on the Strip. The price may be too high for some, but if you’re hungry there’s enough variety for you to get your money’s worth. It’s a perfect spot for groups who want to share with a nice view of their pool.

4 Stars

Mandalay Bay
3950 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89119
(702) 632-7403

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