by Tom Sims
Tom Sims searches the Valley for tips on eating healthy, buying healthy food, growing healthy food, and eating out healthy in the Valley, for this Healthy Eating in the Valley column. Feel free to share your suggestions of places and things to check out!
How could I have missed Rubio’s for the last four years? Perhaps it was because I have been eating a vegetarian diet all that time. There have been plenty of options for bean tacos in Fresno and I have stalked them out.
For several reasons, I started eating some fish again, so I suppose that makes me, at least for now, a “pescatarian” instead of a vegetarian. It is another story and a bit of an excuse for what I am about to share – fish tacos at Rubios.
I was passing time and planning to spend the afternoon with my laptop and ideas at Starbucks when their sign across the parking lot at Riverpark caught my eye. “A fish taco might taste good,” I thought and I was right. It was À la carte and reasonably priced. The ingredients were unusually fresh; the fish was not overpowered, but complimented by them. The salsa bar was clean and I tried every salsa there. I went away satisfied and feeling that there was more to the company than another chain of Mexican restaurants.
There was and there is. They are not local, but they started as a local restaurant in San Diego in 1983 by Ralph Rubio. He had been to Mexico and tasted the first fish taco of his life. So hooked on the flavor, he introduced it to his neighbors. Not content to just invite people in, he launched his first fish truck in 2001. He has won awards and expanded his reach through company-owned stores.
According to the company website, “The history of Rubio’s is a classic love story. Man meets fish taco. Man eats fish taco. Man falls in love with fish taco. Such was the case for Ralph Rubio, co-founder of Rubio’s. As a college student, Ralph made regular pilgrimages to Mexico’s best beaches to surf, sun and socialize. It was on one of these trips that Ralph sat down at a seaside taqueria and met his true love. He was hooked on the fish taco.”
All that is great, but a good taco is not enough of a story for me. I need fresh ingredients, healthy choices, and social responsibility. Ralph brings them all to the table and serves them up with good flavor. 170 million fish tacos have been sold with solid, healthy sustainable products wrapped in a tortilla.
The cornerstone product is “The Original Fish Taco.” The store describes it this way, “Wild Alaska Pollock, beer-battered-by-hand and cooked to crispy perfection. Topped with shredded cabbage, mild salsa, and our signature white sauce, all wrapped in a warm, stone-ground corn tortilla.” Built upon that core are new flavor creations being constantly developed in their test kitchen. They always include “Mexican flavors with the influence of California’s coastal waters and fresh ingredients.”
On the menu are a variety of dishes including beef, chicken, and vegetarian options. And the vegetarian options are as creative and inviting as the fish and meat. That is not always the case in restaurants, especially chains.
Rubios takes recycling, sustainability, and eco-friendly packaging seriously. Their web site includes pages about their rationale and practices. They recycle enough grease to fill about 5 swimming pools per year. Their napkins are compostable. They avoid Styrofoam. They use energy efficient lighting. The list goes on.
On the website and in the stores, ingredients are listed, calories are disclosed, and nutritional information is freely given. They say, “A majority of our fish and seafood is certified sustainable and sourced from fisheries that maintain healthy populations and ecosystems.”
I gave up all meat for four years, but, because of absorption issues, I still need more iron than I can get in a supplement, so, I chose to eat fish. With fish, I get omega-3 fatty acids1, protein, natural vitamins, minerals and polyunsaturated fats.
The American Heart Association recommends fish consumption twice a week.
I ate my first piece of fish in four years, in late June, by the Sea of Galilee – a big one caught on that great, historic, and biblical lake.
I ate it with new, dear friends at a Shabbat meal and surrounded by love, laughter, and conversation. It seemed right.
The restaurant takes as much care with flavors and presentation as they do with health and sustainability. Even their pots and pans make sense to them. They use “a sizzling hot comal, similar to a cast iron skillet” for their fish and shrimp.
Their aim is for “a flavorful, seared exterior with a perfectly moist interior.”
All main dishes can be ordered À la carte or as a meal with two items. I made two visits and tried both. The meal was too much for me to finish although the chips were fresh, crispy, and low fat, the beans were good, and the extra fish was a bonus. I ended up eating the interior of second taco, leaving most of the beans and chips, and walking away feeling very full.
My objections to eating fish involve digestibility with regard to my own stomach’s capacity, as well as the issues of sustainability, over-fishing, contaminants, and my own desire to be a purist.
The purist thing is pride and so, I discarded that one. I have been able to digest it well – check! The others are answered by responsible fishing and preparation. For me, fish is, for now, healthy and somewhat necessary. Anemia cramps my style!
And I love it. It is the main thing I have missed on this journey. I have felt no longing for beef, chicken, or pork, but fish has been another matter!
And the poor things will be eaten at some point – by us or by bigger fish!
I like reading the menu in a restaurant, asking questions, and observing other peoples’ plates, but it is very helpful for me to understand the menu before I come into a restaurant. Rubios’ website is great for that. I won’t give all the prices, but the taco by itself, was under $4.
Rubios has catering, fund-raisers, and a casual atmosphere. You walk up and order, they bring it to your table, and you bus your own table when you are done. There are real plates and cutlery.
For me, they qualify for this column because they qualify for my life – healthy food in a comfortable atmosphere, with delicious flavors and large dose of social responsibility. Check out Rubios!
FRESNO – River Park Center
40 El Camino
Fresno, CA 93720
You can learn more about Rubio’s on their Facebook page and check out their menu and much more info about them on their website.
Video on Sustainable Seafood with Ralph Rubio: youtu.be/v00CAqViki8
Video on Fresh Ingredients: youtu.be/t4LCyw_zzM8
You can find more of Tom’s columns here. Keep up with all of Tom’s writing by following him on Twitter @tomsims