After more than 26 years, chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken are closing their Santa Monica restaurant Border Grill. The pair will be opening a new restaurant, also in Santa Monica, hopefully by next year — and it won’t be a Border Grill. The lease was up on the 4th Street location, a festive Mexican restaurant and cantina near the Promenade, which the two chefs opened in 1990. This is where the pair not only served their signature Mexican dishes but filmed many episodes of their long-running Food Network cooking show, “Too Hot Tamales.”
“By our most recent calculation, we’ve handmade more than nine million tortillas on the comal in the window, mashed over 500 tons of avocados for guacamole and poured over 325,000 bottles of tequila – and counting,” the pair said in a statement.
Feniger and Milliken will officially close the doors in mid-October, but not before throwing a party — or a few of them. Look for throwback dishes and celebratory menus, as well as a final goodbye bash that, the chefs say, will likely resurrect the margarita-fueled conga line that marked the restaurant’s opening.
“We plan on having a nice big party,” said Milliken this morning, likely themed around Dia de los Muertos. “It’s just so fitting.”
But don’t think that Milliken and Feniger will be resting on their tequila-soaked laurels — or retiring. “I don’t think that’s ever in the cards,” said Milliken. “We just keep changing our roles.
“When we opened Border Grill, giant restaurants were all the rage,” said Milliken. “The whole city has changed so much. You don’t have to drive across town to find a great restaurant; you just look in your own neighborhood. We want to evolve the menu and the concept beyond what we started in 1990. It needs to have a new identity.”
Border Grill holds a particular place in the history of Los Angeles restaurants, as do the two chefs who opened it. The precursor to Border Grill was City Cafe, Feniger and Milliken’s first restaurant in Hollywood, where the classically trained chefs created a menu that crossed culinary cultures in a way that L.A. diners now take for granted. When City Cafe moved to larger quarters in 1985, the chefs opened the first incarnation of Border Grill in the City Cafe space, before eventually moving the new restaurant across town.
Feniger and Milliken have also opened other iterations of Border Grill, two in Las Vegas, one at LAX and one downtown (in the location of Ciudad, another of their earlier restaurants) and two Border Grill food trucks. When not cooking, both chefs have appeared on the Julia Child PBS series “Cooking With Master Chefs,” and on “Top Chef Masters”; they’ve also written a number of cookbooks and have been active in Share Our Strength, LGBT rights and other causes.
It’s quite a list of accomplishments, and probably a very good reason to raise a glass — and a green corn tamale.
Border Grill Santa Monica, 1445 4th St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1655, bordergrill.com