It’s hard to imagine, I know, but there was a time when San Diego wasn’t so sure about fish tacos.

When Ralph Rubio opened the inaugural Rubio’s on Mission Bay Drive in Pacific Beach, people still expected a taco to have a crunchy shell and contain some sort of beef. It took some time before Rubio’s original fish taco, with its soft, yellow corn tortillas and beer-battered fish, caught on.

“There was a lot of resistance. I was surprised when people would say, “What? Fish in a tortilla? What are you thinking?’” Rubio told me on the latest episode of “I Made it in San Diego,” VOSD’s podcast about the people behind the region’s businesses. “That thought never occurred to me. And so I was I was ignorant of that, or that possibility. I didn’t realize what a marketing challenge I was in for.”

Rubio's fish tacos
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

We all know how things turned out, though. San Diego ultimately embraced fish tacos so hard that they’re now the thing people seek out when they visit the city.

In fact, Rubio’s initial challenge of marketing the fish taco eventually morphed into the opposite problem: The company grew so much, so quickly, that it created a whole new set of problems.

And even though the fish taco is now a San Diego icon, Rubio said he’s also had to pull items off the menu on occasion when they proved unsuccessful, including a calamari burrito and a cheeseburger taco.

The company has pivoted to recent years to focus on fresh seafood and healthier fare.

“People were looking for delicious grilled seafood options and it’s hard to get delicious grilled seafood in a fast-casual setting anywhere in the United States. That was our market opportunity. And so that’s what we went after,” Rubio said.

Subscribe to I Made it in San Diego on iTunes or StitcherStream it here, or listen to past episodes here.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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