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Salsa fea saves the day

The “ugly sauce” brings burritos back to life at Ferny’s

The vaunted salsa fea. Also, a burrito.
The vaunted salsa fea. Also, a burrito.
Place

Ferny’s Mexican Grill

10320 Mission Gorge Road, Santee

When you’re hungry and in an unfamiliar part of San Diego, finding a local taco shop is usually an easy bet. Which isn’t to say you always win that bet. For all the great, jewel-in-the-rough taco and burrito stands we have in San Diego, there are certainly a number to be avoided.

Ferny’s Mexican Grill is not one of them. I was in Santee visiting nearby breweries Butcher’s Brewing and Twisted Manzanita and needed something in my belly to soak up some suds.

Ferny’s Mexican Grill. We’re not sure if the scorch marks are an affectation or if there was an actual fire.

I almost drove right past Ferny’s and never looked back because, frankly, it looks a little run down. But there’s not a lot in that area that isn’t a chain restaurant, and neither Chili’s nor Chick-fil-A hold more appeal than a hole-in-the-wall taco shop.

In addition to some non-standard Mexican items (think buffalo chicken fries), I found an interesting assortment of “gourmet burritos” on the menu. The Nacho Burrito includes almost everything you can think of: grilled steak, beans, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, jalapeños, and tortilla chips wrapped inside a flour tortilla. The Sultan goes a step further with grilled steak, nacho cheese, sour cream, and two rolled beef tacos inside.

My choice was the relatively pedestrian Diablo: grilled steak, grilled onions, beans, rice, potatoes, and Diablo sauce — a version of every spicy salsa you’ve ever tried. By itself, the burrito wasn’t special, and calling it “gourmet” might be a stretch. But the steak wasn’t tough, and the Diablo sauce had enough enough flavor to stand up to the triple-starch of rice, beans, and potato.

What made the meal great was the salsa bar. Specifically, Ferny’s salsa fea, or ugly sauce. It’s basically a tomatillo-based salsa verde, but it includes smoked chiles, giving it a pastier texture and reddish-brown hue that, I suppose, makes it uglier than most salsas.

But like the roadside stand itself, you can’t judge this book by its cover. The salsa had spice, it had acidity, it had umami richness, and as I poured a little on each bite the burrito came to life.

Without the salsa fea, I’d call Ferny’s a good option. With that salsa, I’ll say that if you are in Santee and love burritos, don’t forget the ugly sauce.

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The vaunted salsa fea. Also, a burrito.
The vaunted salsa fea. Also, a burrito.
Place

Ferny’s Mexican Grill

10320 Mission Gorge Road, Santee

When you’re hungry and in an unfamiliar part of San Diego, finding a local taco shop is usually an easy bet. Which isn’t to say you always win that bet. For all the great, jewel-in-the-rough taco and burrito stands we have in San Diego, there are certainly a number to be avoided.

Ferny’s Mexican Grill is not one of them. I was in Santee visiting nearby breweries Butcher’s Brewing and Twisted Manzanita and needed something in my belly to soak up some suds.

Ferny’s Mexican Grill. We’re not sure if the scorch marks are an affectation or if there was an actual fire.

I almost drove right past Ferny’s and never looked back because, frankly, it looks a little run down. But there’s not a lot in that area that isn’t a chain restaurant, and neither Chili’s nor Chick-fil-A hold more appeal than a hole-in-the-wall taco shop.

In addition to some non-standard Mexican items (think buffalo chicken fries), I found an interesting assortment of “gourmet burritos” on the menu. The Nacho Burrito includes almost everything you can think of: grilled steak, beans, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, jalapeños, and tortilla chips wrapped inside a flour tortilla. The Sultan goes a step further with grilled steak, nacho cheese, sour cream, and two rolled beef tacos inside.

My choice was the relatively pedestrian Diablo: grilled steak, grilled onions, beans, rice, potatoes, and Diablo sauce — a version of every spicy salsa you’ve ever tried. By itself, the burrito wasn’t special, and calling it “gourmet” might be a stretch. But the steak wasn’t tough, and the Diablo sauce had enough enough flavor to stand up to the triple-starch of rice, beans, and potato.

What made the meal great was the salsa bar. Specifically, Ferny’s salsa fea, or ugly sauce. It’s basically a tomatillo-based salsa verde, but it includes smoked chiles, giving it a pastier texture and reddish-brown hue that, I suppose, makes it uglier than most salsas.

But like the roadside stand itself, you can’t judge this book by its cover. The salsa had spice, it had acidity, it had umami richness, and as I poured a little on each bite the burrito came to life.

Without the salsa fea, I’d call Ferny’s a good option. With that salsa, I’ll say that if you are in Santee and love burritos, don’t forget the ugly sauce.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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