Susan Feniger and chef-partner Mary Sue Milliken may be best known nationally for their mid-1990s hit Food Network show Too Hot Tamales, and the Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Las Vegas outposts of their innovative Mexican restaurant Border Grill, but the pair has been a hit with Angelenos since the early 1980s. Feniger and Milliken, who met in 1978 while working at Chicago’s Le Perroquet, and trained in Paris kitchens, opened City Café, in Los Angeles, in 1981, and expanded the vest-pocket-size place into restaurant CITY (1985 to 1994). Celebrating sustainable practices and flavors from around the world at CITY, the chefs homed in on Latin tastes after a cooking-intensive trip to Mexico, where they learned from home cooks, market vendors, and taco stands what authentic Mexican food was about. The result: gourmet Mexican restaurants Ciudad (1998-2010) and Border Grill. As food-truck culture evolved, they even launched a Border Grill truck and the Border Grill Stop kiosk in 2010.
In 2009, Feniger launched Street, in Hollywood, an homage to street food from around the world (such as Indian pani puri and Egyptian-style baked fish). And in December 2013, she and executive chef-partner Kajsa Alger transformed the Street space into gastropub Mud Hen Tavern. “When I was a little kid in Toledo, Ohio,” says Feninger, “my dad would take me to a little tavern for fried bologna sandwiches. My favorite! The menu [at Mud Hen] is a little different, but I wanted to create that kind of neighborhood place that feels easygoing and warm, where you can meet pals, share a beer with friends or just hang out and have some great food!”
In addition to Too Hot Tamales, Feninger has appeared on Top Chef Masters, season two; The Talk, on CBS; and in the 2012 documentary film From Nothing to Something: A Documentary on the Creative Process.
With Milliken, Feniger has written cookbooks City Cuisine, Mesa Mexicana, Cantina, Cooking with Too Hot Tamales, and Mexican Cooking for Dummies, and 2012 saw the publication of her own cookbook, Susan Feniger’s Street Food: Irresistibly Crispy, Creamy, Crunchy, Spicy, Sticky, Sweet Recipes.
This year, Feniger and Milliken were inducted into the Nation’s Restaurant News MenuMasters Hall of Fame. In 2013, Feniger was awarded the Elizabeth Burns Lifetime Achievement Award by the California Restaurant Association. She is also a member of the board of directors for the Scleroderma Research Foundation and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.