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Inside the Icon: Rubio's Original Fish Taco

The story behind San Diego’s unofficial mascot


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Original restaurant at 4504 East Mission Bay Drive, Mission Bay; 189 other locations

Love at First Bite

On a 1974 spring break trip to San Felipe, co-founder Ralph Rubio tried his first fish taco. Inspired to bring the humble dish to San Diego, during a second trip, he wrote down a list of basic ingredients from his favorite fish taco stand—rumored to be Taqueria Adriana—and carried it with him for nearly seven years before opening his first restaurant.

Recipe for Success

In Baja’s famed lobster village, Puerto Nuevo, Ralph tipped a chef $20 for his salsa recipe, written on a paper napkin. This would become Rubio’s salsa picante.

Batter Up

It took about two weeks to perfect the recipe. A friend suggested Ralph try Alaskan pollock, a mild, white, certified-sustainable fish that would pair well with the spicy batter. It’s still used today.

Call Me Maybe

The first Rubio’s, on Mission Bay Drive, had previously been an Orange Julius stand and a Mickey’s Burgers. When Ralph’s father saw that Mickey’s was for sale (for close to $80,000), he encouraged Ralph to offer $15,000. The owner hung up on young Ralph—then called back 10 minutes later to accept. 

Open Sesame

On Rubio’s opening day in 1983, there was only one paid employee. The rest were all seven members of Rubio’s family, working pro bono—even his parents.

Rec It, Ralph

His recommended way to eat an Original Fish Taco is with salsa picante, or more recently, Rubio’s new Diablo Hot Sauce, with one lime. 

Green Is the New Black

Rubio’s uses approximately 2.6 million pounds of avocados a year. 

By the Numbers

Rubio’s sold its 200 millionth fish taco this April. Laid end to end with 6-inch tortillas, that amounts to 18,939 miles—nearly three times the circumference of the moon.

Dine and Drive

Ralph has a California license plate on his car that says FSHTKOBZ (fish taco biz).

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