Surfers and food-savvy travelers to Mexico have long considered fish tacos an essential part of the Baja experience. Ralph Rubio is generally credited for bringing fish tacos from San Felipe to the United States, although rival fish-taco center Ensenada claims their port town is the humble delicacy’s true home. Back in the 1970s, Rubio took a spring break trip along the Sea of Cortez with some buddies. After living on cerveza (beer) and fish tacos from local stands, he returned home and began experimenting with various fish, batter mixes and sauces. Eventually he got the recipe right and, with the help of his father, opened the first Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill in 1983 in San Diego.
Now, Rubio’s uses more than 2.2 million pounds of fish every year at 150 locations for “World Famous Fish Tacos,” and San Diego’s signature dish is even served at Jack Murphy Stadium during Padres baseball games. The fish-taco mogul says that beer batter is the key to making a great fish taco, because “that’s where you get a lot of flavor—garlic, oregano, dry mustard and beer.” Plus you need a really fresh, stone-ground corn tortilla. “To make it perfect, you need a squeeze of fresh lime juice to bring all the flavors together,” he adds. Don’t even think about using iceberg lettuce instead of cabbage, although frozen fish sticks can suffice in a pinch. Like most tacos, this one can be messy to eat, so have plenty of napkins around. “And an ice cold Corona makes any fish taco taste even better,” says Rubio.
—By Charyn Pfeuffer