If you are anything like me, you might think fondly of Frenando’s food truck after finding it one evening downtown, but did you know that Fernando’s has a brick-and-mortar storefront to accompany their food truck business?
Open since late March, Fernando’s restaurant is located on the University of Illinois campus, on Daniel Street near the Illini Union Bookstore. It is a small, clean space with counter service that offers some delicious, and affordable Mexican food favorites.
While my go-to favorite from the food truck is the steak quesadilla, a tasty option easy to eat and share, I decided to try some different offerings while visiting their new location. The menu remains simple and straightforward with prices that are hard to beat.
The first thing I ordered was the tacos. Some claim these are the best tacos in town, which says a lot given the amazing options for Mexican food in C-U. Try to think of all the things you spend $2 on...I promise you nothing is as good a taco from Fernando’s. Their high quality ingredients lead to a truly flavorful treat. The tacos are served on a pair of tasty corn tortillas. You have a number of options for your filling: steak, chicken, al pastor, chorizo, and ground beef. Enjoy your tacos either Mexican style (with cilantro and onion) or Ameircan style (with lettuce, tomato, and cheese). I decided to try the steak and al pastor Mexican style tacos, and both were out-of-this-world good! The cilantro was super fresh, and the raw onions offered a bold taste. The meat was hot and fresh off the grill. Best in C-U? Definitely a strong contender.
While the tacos are amazing as served, you can take it to the next level with one of their salsas. There is a super spicy green one that is almost tangy, and a more savory, smoky red one that is equally delicious. They have bottles of salsa on the tables so you can drench your dish. If you take your meal to go, they will provide you with tiny containers of salsa to sample at home.
Next up — chorizo nachos. I cannot begin to describe how tasty these are. They may be my new favorite dish from Fernando's. To start, you get a huge serving for a mere $8. The nachos are completely covered in lettuce, tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, white cheese sauce on the bottom, and unmelted queso fresco on the top. However, the true test to a good nacho is the base — the chip. Fernando’s has the best chips for nachos. Thick and crispy, they hold up to the mountain of toppings. Amazingly they even stayed crispy after a 20 minute drive home. If you normally get ground beef nachos, do me a favor and try the chorizo instead. The flavor is delightfully spicy and the texture from being fried at a high heat on a grill is hard to replicate at home. The dish was sprinkled with fresh chopped cilantro, giving it an overall refreshing flavor.
On my next visit, I arrived at the restaurant fairly early in the day, so I decided to try one of the breakfast burritos (perfect option for students on their way to class). I went for the chorizo and egg burrito ($7). Similar to the nachos, this burrito is massive and stuffed to the brim. Inside you'll find onions, tomatoes, cheese, and sour cream. The eggs are scrambled with chorizo, so everything melds together nicely. It was the perfect start to the day. Other options include ham or turkey, if those are your breakfast meats of choice.
The menu includes tortas, burritos, and elotes. This dish is roasted corn on the cob covered with mayo, cheese, and chili pepper. It is a real treat and since it's only $3, why not give it a try next time?
If you are thirsty and looking for something refreshing to accompany your meal, Fernando’s stocks classic Mexican coke with real cane sugar as well as a solid Jarritos selection.
Overall, Fernando’s campus location is a welcome addition to the food truck. If you are walking around campus, or a craving hits and you cannot find the truck, you will not find a better option for the quality and price point.
612 E Daniel St
M-Sa 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Photos by Madeline Trimble