Rubio’s Fish Tacos – Mexican Fast Food Chains. Discuss.

rubio's fish tacos, beverly center, los angeles, ca
Do you remember the first time you ever had a fish taco? I do.

It was at Rubio’s, and I thought it was culinary genius. It was a point in my foodish life when “fast” Mexican at Manuel’s in Berkeley and, when I was lucky enough to find a willing upper classman with a car, Gordo’s in Elmwood were still only second to my memories of the Taco Bell Grande at Taco Bell. Yes yes, my taste was enviously sophisticated back then, don’t you think? I had just moved back home to LA from Berkeley, so Baja Fresh and La Salsa, and particularly Wahoo’s, were still unknown to me — because, you know, Baja Fresh and La Salsa and Wahoo’s are sooo the standards by which we should measure Mexican food! Rubio’s fish taco was battered, deep-fried fish wrapped in a tortilla with a creamy white sauce, cabbage, and salsa. Fish and chips, minus the chips. I thought it was fucking culinary genius.

Well, let’s just say that I had not gone back to Rubio’s in years, after I realized that 1) Rubio’s just isn’t that good and 2) Rubio’s just isn’t that good. I didn’t mind the fried fish part, but I kept thinking to myself, it sure would be nice if the fried fish didn’t take like cod jerky (or whatever seafood spam it is they pass off as fish), if the batter were actually crisp instead of tasting like a doughnut soaked in tap water, and the strangely stale corn tortilla didn’t fall apart rendering a simple fish taco into a creamy fish chowder spilling all over a bowl-less paper wrapper. With stale tortilla flakes.

I don’t think I’ll even go into all the faults of Rubio’s, but I will give them credit for the being the first fish taco I ever had. *sigh* My first. The First. The first is never the best, right? You’ll always remember it, and you might even try to nostalgically remember it as romantic, but it wasn’t. No matter how you try to spin it, it was nothing like the movies, honey. Your first is never the best. It introduces you to a whole new world wherein you will eventually find The Fabulous, but The First? It’s painful. It isn’t that good, if good at all. And it’s messy.

Apparently, that First Time nostalgia struck again and I forgot how bad it really was because I ended up at Rubio’s during a mini shopping spree with my sister at the Beverly Center. Then again, perhaps it wasn’t that I forgot how bad it was, and really that given the options in a mall food court, Rubio’s seemed to be the least of all the overpriced, mediocre evils. Hey, I’m not saying the Great Steak & Fry is evil – how can you call those fries with seasoned salt and malt vinegar evil? It’s just that I’d rather spend $46 on a t-shirt than a Philly Steak and Fries Combo with Small Drink.

At least I had the sense to stay away from the fish tacos, though. Instead, we ordered a cheese quesadilla, which wasn’t all that sensible anyway because the quesadilla was about as good as microwaving a tortilla sprinkled with Kraft shredded Mexi-Jack cheese. I had also forgotten that of the Mexcican fast food chains, Rubio’s has the most undesirable salsa selection. Do I dare go on a petty salsa bar rant?

I dare.

The number of salsas that Rubio’s offers in comparison to the others is much smaller, which is not necessarily a bad thing if the percentage of favorable salsas greatly outweighs the undesirable salsas. For example, Benito’s Taco Shop ( I am sooo going to get railed in the comments for this) offers only two salsas, the firrhea-inducing red and the seemingly mild green, but percentage-wise, the salsas are 100% good. By comparison, Rubio’s has something like five salsas, and percentage-wise the offering is only 10% good because the one salsa, roasted tomato Baja Fresh biter, that could have made that percentage 1/5=20% is only halfway decent and the pico de gallo that could have brought the percentage up to 2/5=40% looked like they made it last Wednesday.

And you thought I couldn’t do math.

If the salsas weren’t so proportionately bad, then I probably wouldn’t mind the proportionately horrible salsa “cups.” But the salsas are bad and I do mind the proportionately way too small cups. Cups? The containers in which you are supposed to put the salsa are hardly a shot, let alone a cup. Let’s call it a handle-less teaspoon. I am willing to bet that Mexican fast food chains could potentially cut down their costs if they made the damn salsa cups bigger.

The restaurants wouldn’t have to pay staff to keep cleaning up the drip-acious mess that every customer inevitably makes on the countertop because it would take a tiny leprechun to deftly maneuver the long-handled ladle from the salsa bin, out from under the sneezguard that is too low and always gets in the way of the handle, to the teeny tiny salsa cup and accurately get the salsa into the cup without spilling some of it onto the countertop. They could also cut down on waste of both plastic and salsa because customers wouldn’t need to ladle out 57 dollhouse miniature teacups of salsa that all get thrown into the trash half full because the cups are too damn tiny to get a chip in there and get all the salsa out. Who just dips one triangular corner of a tortilla chip into salsa? I don’t! I need 57 cups of salsa because I have to pour the whole nanocup of salsa onto each chip.

Yes, salsa cups can get me that heated.

So I guess I should never go back to Rubio’s. The first time was bad. The quesadilla wasn’t better. I’
ve got to learn to let go.

Rubio’s Fish Tacos
Pretty Much Everywhere

www.rubios.com

** a year ago today, croquetas de salmon put my MBA to good use **
** two years ago today, i had to brace myself for the bridal barrage **

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  • hoong

    I have never tasted fish tacos, but it sounds like the Malaysian (or possible south east asian) fish-crackers.

  • Deborah Dowd

    I have always wanted to try fish tacos, and your post and picture have made me determined to try my own! Thanks for the push!

  • Deborah Dowd

    I have always wanted to try fish tacos, and your post and picture have made me determined to try my own! Thanks for the push!

  • H. C.

    Wow… you mirror my sentiments to a ‘T’ ~ my “first” (and not knowing any better or with any other bars to compare fish tacos to, was also my second, and third), too, was with Rubio’s. I have since moved on . . .

    Now if I can only muster the strength to permanently stay away from the crack-chemical amalgamation that is Nachos Bell Grande.

  • assa

    Hey Sarah,
    Rubio’s for fish tacos…or any Mex food for that matter…you are kiddin’, right? Taco Bell, La Salsa??? eeewww!!!

    At least consider Senor Fish or Wahoo’s for the fish tacos.

    Or if you really wanted to get down n dirty, go to one of the many hole in the wall taquerias in ELA or SFV.

    btw, how does one associate a fish taco with “painful”? not unless you get mercury poisoning or something? ;)

  • Rachael

    Yea, Rubios is just a downer. Wahoos though, now thats a quality fish taco chain. Mmmm. Wahoos.

  • RT

    Rubio’s lobster burrito was a very guilty indulgence for me in my early college years. Yes, it wasn’t all that good, but it was sooooo good.

    Wahoo’s is really the only fast food place for good fish tacos (despite Sarah’s dislike for it), although La Salsa will do in a pinch. Islands – yes, the Hawaiian themed burger joint – actually has surprisingly excellent fish tacos.

  • sarah

    hoong: fish crackers. interesting.

    deborahdowd: the thing is, fish tacos CAN be so good, but rubio’s is a very bad example. and the food in the image is a quesadilla, aos from rubio’s, and also a bad example. eek! do i write too much about bad examples?

    hc: taco bell is absolutely utterly horrendous, but i have a soft spot for it because of my history with it in san antonio. odd. i lived int he heart of tex-mex and i ate taco bell. LOL!

    assa: pain renders itself in many ways.

    rachael: i like wahoo’s, especially since they have that ridiculous chili pepper hot sauce. now if they had sriracha…

    rt: la salsa’a avocado “salsa” scares me. and what about baja fresh? baja bud’s?

  • GT

    I still haven’t had a Rubio’s fish taco. I stood in line once, but got impatient. In any case, I’m more of a carnitas tacos person.

  • GT

    I still haven’t had a Rubio’s fish taco. I stood in line once, but got impatient. In any case, I’m more of a carnitas tacos person.

  • Chase Bathersfield III, Esq.

    My sole experience at Wahoo’s was HORRID. It deserves to die a slow, painful death-by-overextension ala Planet Hollywood or Nazi Germany.

    Taco Bell after Wahoo’s tastes like a Michelin 2-star.

  • Anonymous

    Hahahaha You made me literally LOL on the salsa cup rant. I thought I was the only one who had that problem there. It’s so true, you really can only get one tip of the chip into the shallow “handle-less teaspoon.” Great Post!

    -Pam

  • mommycat

    funny enough i was at rubio’s for the first time in a long time today. just like you it seemed the least of evils at the paseo colorado. golly shopping renders my culinary tastes debilitated.

    anyhow, of all the “mexican” chains, i have to say that La Salsa reigns supreme to me with Wahoo’s a second. La Salsa because they have the guacamole salsa. it still tastes like crap, but i appreciate the gesture. oh and their salsa “cups” more closely resemble a cup as it can hold about 2 teaspoons of liquid. and wahoo’s because that was MY first fish taco. and for a college girl, hafta say it tasted pretty damn good.

    love your blog btw!

  • Vicki

    I prefer La Salsa only because of their habanero salsa. Yum. Rubios? Not even on $1 fish taco day.

  • sarah

    gt: you aren’t missing out.

    chase: can i call you chase? wahoo’s isn’t that bad. they even have onion rings!

    pam: oh, and you don’t even want to know what i have to say about what the salsa bar smells like. it definitely doesn’t smell like salsa.

    mommycat: “it still tastes like crap, but i appreciate the gesture.” that just made me LOL.

    vicki: oh man. i forgot about the habanero salsa at la salsa. i guess that explains why i eat la salsa for lunch about 3 times out of the week. (either that or i’m just too loazy to walk across the street from my office to…something that’s no better! :) )

  • assa

    Hey Sarah,

    The salsa cup rant….what a gem!!! LOL!!! My peeve is how do you get the lemon slices inside that little thimble of a cup, let alone the salsa.

    And another thing…

    sarah said…
    pain renders itself in many ways.

    Such a deliberate and deliciously revealing choice of words!
    Got BDSM? I’ll take mine to go, please. You must be spending way too much time in the WeHo leather bars. Been to the Fautline lately, after getting outfitted at Syren?

    And they say this is only a food blog! Keep up the spewing!!!

  • Charlie

    I’m totally into the absolute plethora of taco joints (taquerias) on Santa Monica. My favorite of the bunch is El Super Taco on Santa Monica and Brockton. Tasty tasty tacos and only $1 each to boot! yumtastic. to the max.

  • off2cdwzrd

    oh my god! i thought i was the only one to obsess about such trivia!

    1. my first fish taco experience was somewhere in the LBC, after taking the newly opened red line from NoHo downtown to the blue line and then wanting to see where that went… and ending up walking around the touristy part of Long Beach.

    2. saying all that to say… i love Rubios fish tacos! where have you been going? i go to the one in MDR and they are always fresh and crispy.

    3. and i love the brown (chipotle?) salsa. alas, you DO have to pre-break your tortilla chip into thirds in order to dip them in the teeny tiny salsa cups.

    4. and assa? there is almost no one, except maybe our delicious blog hostess, who looks good in the stuff they sell at Syren… now, ask me about the chaps i bought at the Pleasure Chest…

  • cincodemayo1

    I have to agree with off2cdwzrd…the Rubio’s in MDR has fantastic (for fast food) fish tacos. They’re always crispy and you can actually pick out the fish parts. Rubio’s has always been my favorite fast food place although I have yet to try La Salsa.

    But that said, I’ve only been in LA for about 4 years now and I really haven’t sampled all that many fish tacos. Where do you suggest I go for the best fish tacos?

  • nosh

    I completely agree with the thimble-size salsa container complaint. It is my main criticism of Tacos Por Favor, on Olympic at 14th in Santa Monica, which has an excellent salsa roja but only offers those tiny cups. It requires at least two per taco, supplemented by a direct splash over the top with the spoon, and I can’t fill up enough in the time it takes to construct my take-out burrito.

  • sarah

    assa: bdsm?

    charlie: i think i may try el super taco this week for lunch!

    off2cdwzrd: we shold go shopping together. i need some 6″ lucite stiletto heels with studs on the ankle strap.

    cincodemayo: i like wahoo’s, but the thing is, i just don’t think i like fish tacos all the much to begin with anymore.

    nosh: hi :) i thought you abandoned me. glad to see you again. and tacos por favor is so on my way to work – i should stop there and try it.

  • Dave K.

    Sarah… you might want to try El Taco Nazo aka Senor Baja. Hole in the wall fish taco place (that actually has a few locations in LA). I didn’t expect much but 1000x better than Rubios.. plus they have larger containers for salsa and these incredible salt/pepper pickled peppers that go great with fish.

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