Border Brunch and other reasons locals love Mandalay Bay

A shark swims in a 1.3 million gallon exhibit in Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Border Brunch has been something of a Vegas foodie phenomenon. Created in 2011 at the Mandalay Bay location of Border Grill—the stalwart Mexican restaurant from celebrity chef duo Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger—the weekend brunch offers unlimited small plates (now priced at $38.99) plus bottomless mimosas or Bloody Marys, a delicious cavalcade in a colorful, casual environment. It’s fancier than a buffet but still over-the-top indulgent, and it quickly became one of Las Vegas’ favorite brunch options.

Mike Minor runs Border Grill at Mandalay Bay.

The Border Brunch format was so popular and successful, Milliken and Feniger expanded it to Border Grill’s original downtown Los Angeles location, as well as the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace location when it opened three years ago.

The brunch menu was created by chef Mike Minor, who ran the Mandalay Bay restaurant as executive chef for a decade before striking out on his own with his Truck U Barbeque food truck. After opening this year’s Latin restaurant Chica at Venetian, Minor is back in the kitchen at Border Grill, feeling at home in the restaurant where regulars from Vegas and everywhere else know him best.

“I’m just happy to be back,” he said on Saturday, dishing up mouthwatering specialties like cinnamon roll pancakes, barbecue brisket tortas and Peruvian shrimp and grits. It’s only been a few weeks, but he’s already fired up about continuing the evolution of cuisine at Border Grill. “I’m just focused on making sure [everyone] knows this is the best Mexican food in the city.”

Peruvian shrimp and grits at Border Brunch.

It’s no easy feat for Strip restaurants to establish a relationship with Las Vegas locals, but Minor has been able to cultivate that with Border Brunch. Similarly, Mandalay Bay has been able to draw a consistent local audience through the years thanks to its size and range of amenities and attractions.

Opened in 1999 as part of a major Strip resort boom (right after Bellagio and right before Venetian and Paris), Mandalay Bay has been in the international media spotlight for all the wrong reasons since the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting on October 1. The southern-most hotel-casino on the Strip is also one of the most recognizable resorts in Las Vegas. In recent years it’s become most readily identified by its tremendous convention space expansion—now the second largest in Las Vegas and fifth largest in the country—and the four-year-old Cirque du Soleil production Michael Jackson One. But there are at least five other things that keep Mandalay Bay near the top of the list of locals’ favorite spots on the Strip:

The beach. When the original Wet ‘n Wild waterpark on the north Strip closed in the early aughts, Mandalay Bay’s swimming pool complex was right there to pick up the slack. With waterslides, a lazy river, a wave pool and a sandy beach, it’s no wonder Mandalay Bay quickly became a staycation fave for local families. Concerts and special events have helped it maintain relevancy in recent years.

Mandalay Bay Beach

The food. Border Grill isn’t the only Mandalay Bay restaurant that has reached Vegas institution status—there’s also Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood, Hubert Keller’s Fleur, Charlie Palmer’s Aureole, Akira Back’s Kumi, Wolfgang Puck’s Lupo and Michael Mina’s Stripsteak. Mandalay is better than most with more casual cuisine, too, thanks to Burger Bar, Rí Rá Irish Pub, Slice of Vegas and the new Libertine Social.

The sharks. Shark Reef Aquarium remains one of the must-see family attractions in Las Vegas, and with admission prices of $22 for local adults and $17 for kids ages 4-12, it’s considered a Strip deal. It’s also a regular field-trip destination for Clark County School District students.

The music. The House of Blues remains the essential Las Vegas concert hall, and despite the arrival of T-Mobile Arena just up the block, the Mandalay Bay Events Center continues to book big shows. Janet Jackson’s tour stops there this weekend and Arcade Fire plays the 12,000-seat venue on October 22.

The location. Since it has everything, Mandalay Bay is Strip headquarters for residents in the growing south and southwest parts of the Valley, and it will only become more convenient as the Las Vegas Monorail is planning to expand its reach to the resort. It’ll also be the major resort closest to the football stadium when the Raiders relocate to Las Vegas.

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Brock is an award-winning writer who has been documenting life in Las Vegas for 20 years. He currently leads entertainment ...

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