Food A steak burrito at Fernando's Mexican Grill.

A steak burrito at Fernando's Mexican Grill.

Fernando’s Mexican Grill feeds Drake area

Published on February 4th, 2014 | by Joe Stych

When Fernando’s Mexican Grill opened in September, they faced stiff competition from the Tasty Tacos and Abelardo’s-type restaurants of Des Moines. Long story short: Breaking into the Central Iowa Mexican food business is tough. But fresh ingredients, cheerful service and low prices are a good recipe for Fernando’s.

Planted between Mars Cafe and Hoshi Sushi on University Avenue, Fernando’s plays to one big audience: Drake students.

When my guest and I arrived around 12:15 p.m. on a Thursday, the place was packed with Drake athletes grabbing burritos — a welcome departure from dining hall fare — alongside businessmen and families on a snow-day adventure.

The student connection makes sense: Fernando’s is within walking distance of campus, nothing on the menu is more than $6.75, and the portions leave athlete-sized appetites satisfied. In all, it’s easy to see why this restaurant turned into a Dogtown hotspot. Fernando’s returns the love by adorning their walls with Drake memorabilia and promoting Drake events on their Facebook page.

A chicken quesadilla at Fernando's Mexican Grill.

A chicken quesadilla at Fernando’s Mexican Grill.

While the decor at Fernando’s doesn’t scream “Mexican restaurant,” the experience feels very authentic. Most of the time Fernando himself is manning the grill, where he presses tortillas, stuffs them with an array of ingredients, and chats up customers.

The open kitchen features an assembly-line-type offering, where diners choose from different salsas, veggies and proteins to fill their entree with. The menu features all of the classics: tacos ($4.75), quesadillas ($5.25) and burritos ($6.45), customized with chicken, steak, barbacoa, veggies or even seasoned tofu. Or, try some of Fernando’s favorites like dough-wrapped poblano peppers ($4.95) and tortas filled with chicken or steak ($6.25).

I was running on empty, so I chose the steak burrito with refried beans, rice, red-hot salsa, sour cream, cheese and peppers. All of that was wrapped neatly in a homemade tortilla — probably the tastiest piece — which was grilled shut before serving. For $6.45, it was a huge amount of food, and even though I wanted to, I couldn’t finish the last few bites.

My guest chose the chicken quesadilla, fried up in the same handmade tortilla and a generous helping of cheese that oozed out as she tore slices away.

Two delicious entrees, plus a side of chips with white queso dip (shared between us), came out to less than $15. Not bad for a hand-crafted meal.

The variety and quality at Fernando’s solidify what makes the restaurant lovable beyond the price point. And based on the flavorful fare, Fernando’s could stick as the next Drake-neighborhood cornerstone.


Steak Burrito: $6.45

Chicken Quesadilla: $5.25

Chips: $1

Queso: $1

Total with tax: $14.52

Fernando’s Mexican Grill

Find it: 2316 University Ave.

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Info: 515-255-3700

About the Author

Joe is a contributor to Juice Magazine.

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