San Diegans, take a bow. You’ve played a beefy — not to mention fishy — role in the evolution of Mexican food in the U.S. Sure, you’re not Los Angeles (where the taco first took root) or San Francisco (home of the Mission burrito), but you have some bragging rights.
Just ask Gustavo Arellano, the guy who’s perhaps the leading historian of American Mexican food. We did just that in honor of the 100th anniversary of the taco’s appearance in our country.
Arellano is best known as the writer behind the syndicated alternative-newspaper column “¡Ask a Mexican!” but he’s developed impressive journalistic chops as a reporter with Orange County’s OC Weekly. Most importantly for our purposes, he wrote the well-received 2012 book “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America,” which explores the origins of taquitos, tortillas, tamales and even the combination plate. (Just make sure you’re not a couple tacos short of one, if you know what I mean. If you don’t know what I mean, look it up.)
San Diego is responsible for introducing Americans to two mouth-watering Mexican dishes: the fish taco and the California burrito. “The fish taco first popped up in the U.S. through Ralph Rubio, who was the first introduce it,” Arellano said. “It’s more of a Southern California thing, but it’s slowly spreading across the United States.”
Rubio’s to the Rescue
Rubio’s, the fish taco chain born in a walk-up taco stand in the Mission Bay area, now has 190 restaurants in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Colorado. The legend goes that the Rubio brought fish tacos here after discovering them in San Felipe while on spring break in 1974. A few years later, he opened his first restaurant.
In Mexico, the fish taco is “a regional taco,” Arellano said. “Fish tacos really only exist really in Mexico on the Pacific Coast and around the Sea of Cortés and Gulf of Mexico. You won’t find them on the east side of the ocean.”
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I had no idea that Rubio's started as a taco stand. It is interesting that it made it's mark with the fish taco when, as you said, that is a regional dish in Mexico. I know San Diego is well known for their fish taco's, but I like the Rubio's fish tacos everywhere.
@KarenAnelZamora What's your fav Mex spot in SD? Mine is El Zarape in University Heights.
@acoreynews that's a difficult question ... does Rubio's and the 'Bertos count? Those are classics!
@KarenAnelZamora fersure haha The Bertos.
@add i did speak up about his not liking guac. Sacrilege!!! Outrage!
@LisaHalverstadt This makes me really want to eat a California burrito.