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Rubio’s Coastal Grills’ San Diego roots

Plus, did the restaurant invent the fish taco?

Rubios in Mission Bay

40 years later, Rubio’s still stands in Mission Bay.

Photo via Michael Beausoleil + SDtoday

Life in San Diego wouldn’t be the same without seafood and tacos, and local restaurants like Rubio’s Coastal Grill helped popularize the combination of the two cuisines.

This locally-founded chain has given locals something to taco ‘bout for 40 years. The restaurant’s fish tacos have become a staple of many San Diegans’ diets, especially if they’re planning for a fish Friday.

🐟 The fishy history

The chain was founded by Ralph Rubio, who was actually born in New Jersey. He grew up in Los Angeles and attended San Diego State University, where he graduated in 1978. After SDSU, Rubio worked at local restaurants — from bussing tables at The Old Spaghetti Factory in the Gaslamp Quarter to managing the former Harbor House restaurant in Seaport Village.

In 1983, Rubio decided it was time to go into business for himself and opened the first Rubio’s location in Mission Bay — originally named Rubio’s Deli-Mex. The walk-up stand offered cuisine inspired by recipes Rubio discovered during spring break vacations in Baja California, but locals reely seemed to love the fish taco.

The second location opened in 1986 by SDSU, the same year the brand sold its millionth fish taco. However, it was the success of a San Marcos location, deemed more inland, that encouraged expansion beyond San Diego.

Currently, there are 150+ Rubio’s locations in California, Nevada, and Arizona, but the eatery maintains its San Diego roots. In fact — the city declared April 5 “Ralph Rubio Day.”

Rubios fish taco SDtoday

City Editor Mike getting ready to dig into an Original Fish Taco.

Photo via Michael Beausoleil + SDtoday

🌮 Did Rubio’s invent the fish taco?

Though the fish taco is Rubio’s signature item, Ralph Rubio acknowledges he didn’t invent it — he just fell in love with the recipe while in San Felipe. But with 270+ million tacos sold, there’s no doubt the brand helped popularize the dish.

Rubio’s Original Fish Taco, may not be the first fish taco, but it’s a staple for a reason. The restaurant has won many awards with the recipe:

  • Wild-caught, beer-battered Alaska Pollock
  • Cabbage
  • Mild salsa and white sauce
  • Served on a corn tortilla

Just because this is the original, doesn’t mean it’s the only option being served. In fact, you can submit your fish taco recipe to the chain through Monday, Feb. 27, for a chance to have it added to the menu.

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