Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Rebranding of Rubio's

Rubio's Coastal Grill
27000 Alicia Pkwy
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

Keeping things fresh in the restaurant business is always challenging. On one hand you have your faithful customers that love the look, feel, and taste of your food. Then,  on the other hand you have to keep trying to grow your business by enticing new guests to give you a try by creating new menu items, redesigning your restaurants, and creating a welcoming atmosphere that will get people not only coming in the door once, but coming back many times. This balance of keeping your old customers happy, while attracting new customers has to be nerve wracking for restaurant owners. If it is, the Co-Founder of Rubio's, Ralph Rubio, definitely does not show it.

We had the pleasure of dining with Ralph Rubio for the first time recently, at Rubio's first OC restaurant to get the makeover treatment. This new redesign started in San Diego County last fall, and there will be 45 restaurants re-imaged this year. Gone is the tiki/Baja California look that customers have come to expect from Rubio's, and its been replaced with a sleeker and cleaner decor package that draws inspiration from the sea, and artwork showcasing Rubio's history and brand philosophy. Ralph was not even a little bit upset, when I had commented that I thought the old decor was a bit hokey. I did apologize, but I still felt a little bad about it later on.

It was great getting to talk with Ralph Rubio, who had his first fish taco when he was a college student living in San Diego. He would take surfing trips down to Mexico, and that's where his love affair with fish tacos started. We also talked about the way the business has shifted now, since they opened their doors in 1983. These days people want to know where their food is actually coming from. Responsible fishing practices are apart of everyone's vocabulary now, and seafood, more than any other kind of food is at the forefront of this. We also talked about food development, and the amount of tries it takes some items to find their way to the menu boards above the registers. It took 40 tries to get their blackened seasoning just right, with two times being brought out to be tested in selected stores before they got it. There's really a lot that goes into getting the food out to the public. I was excited to see some of the new and classics items that they had in store for us on this evening.

Before we get to the food that we had on this night, I started out with a Lolailo Sangria ($4.50). I really had no idea that Rubio's served sangria, and this one is imported from Spain, and was really good. Lolailo sangria is made with indigenous grapes from Spain, and cherries and oranges from the Mediterranean region. The result was a very refreshing beverage, which will satisfy people that love a sweeter wine, like myself.  Along with the sangria, Rubio's also offers craft and Mexican beers, and premium bottled drinks, such as Fanta and Coca Cola.

No meal at Rubio's Coastal Grill would be complete without a trip to their world famous salsa bar, and some of their Chips and Guacamole. They make their guacamole fresh everyday, and use an abundant amount of avocados throughout the day. There's definitely a freshness that you get when you taste it. The chips are made in house as well, and fried crisp, with little greasiness to them. What I like most about the salsa bar at Rubio's is that the salsas here actually have flavor. The hot ones are actually hot, and not made milder for the masses. Even the milder ones may ease up on the heat a bit, but they still have a great salsa flavor to them, and are not just here to add moisture to your food.

For the first time in 25 years, Rubio's now has tostadas on their menu. These Tostada Frescas are a must try for tostada lovers. They are served two to an order, with your choice of shrimp, chicken, or roasted veggies. Being the carnivore that I am, I was happy we got to try the shrimp and chicken versions, which also came topped with their new lemon white sauce, that fresh guacamole, a blend of spring mix and butter lettuce, and salsa fresca. I learned that there's no real easy way to eat a tostada. I just ate mine bite by bite, but others broke there's in two for easier handling. These are light, but still had big time flavor. The shrimp one was my favorite of the two, with five good sized shrimp on the crisp corn tostada shell. I found the spring mix to have some bigger leafs than I would have liked, but these are still a great option for people who want a lighter lunch or dinner.

We were discussing how many fish tacos Rubio's has sold in their history, and it's almost inconceivable that the answer is 200 million sold, but that's the figure we were given. So, it's definitely true that they are pretty iconic in the fish taco game. My love for the Original Fish Taco is well known to my friends and family, even having them at numerous poker games, but Rubio's Coastal Grill is much more diverse than their most recognizable menu item. We were treated to two of their other tacos, the Blackened Regal Springs Tilapia Taco and the Pacific Mahi Mahi Taco with Fire Roasted Corn. They ended up getting the blackening spice just right, as it gave a pop of flavor, but did not mask the natural flavor of the tilapia. The mahi mahi taco is probably made for milder tastes, but I brought this taco to life by adding their very good Diablo Hot Sauce. I had no idea that Rubio's had a hot sauce to offer, but I will be making sure that I get my fair share of this on future visits to my local Rubio's Coastal Grill.

Katie and I eat at Rubio's probably once every month, which is a lot considering that we are always on the search for new restaurants for the blog. I was kind of embarrassed that I had never had a Gourmet Shrimp Taco before, and after tasting it, I thought of all my wasted trips not coming to Rubio's and not having this taco that is right up my alley. It's made up of a crispy, toasted cheese blend, with bacon, avocado, cilantro, onion, a chile sauce, and of course shrimp. I loved the crispy cheese, and of course bacon and shrimp go together like peanut butter and jelly, while the avocado added a creaminess that helped cut the salt a bit. A new favorite for me off of the menu at Rubio's that will be hard to resist.

For a long while, if you wanted dessert a Rubio's, you had only one option, the churro. Now they have added three new desserts to their menu, and I was lucky enough to try them all. Chocolate fiends will not want to pass up the Caramel Ganache Brownie, which is as decadent as it sounds. A very well made brownie base was made even better with the addition of plenty of caramel and ganache. Absolutely sinful. I'm definitely not a fan of lemon bars, but this Limon Coconut Bar might have won me over. It actually won me over because the coconut cut the lemon flavor a good amount, and the shortbread this was placed on had a good crunch to it. Cookie fans will have to give their Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie a try. This was probably my least favorite of the three, but just because I liked the other two so much. This is my favorite kind of cookie, and now I know where I can get one anytime my cravings strike.

I would say that the re-imaging that's going on at Rubio's Coastal Grill is going to be a big success from everything we experienced on this evening. It will help bring in new guests to their restaurants, while adding some diversity to their menu, and keeping faithful patrons very happy with the new choices here. The new additions to the Rubio's Coastal Grill menu has really spotlighted that there's way more to them than just their iconic Original Fish Taco.

We would like to thank some people for the invite to experience this transformation at Rubio's Coastal Grill. First, we would like to thank Ralph Rubio, who took time out of his busy day to share his passion for the restaurant he co-founded with us. He was so down to earth, proud, and excited to show off his restaurant, it got us all excited to be here as well. We would also like to thank all of the staff of Rubio's, who made us feel so welcome, and made sure we had everything that we could want. You all did a wonderful job on this night. I'd also like to thank my dining companions on this night. As usual the people behind the popular OC blogs always make these nights even more fun than they already are. Lastly, we would like to thank the great folks over at i.d.e.a, and especially Venice Lahey, who invited us to experience everything new at Rubio's. Thanks so much for thinking of us Venice.

If you would like to experience the new Rubio's Coastal Grill for yourself, follow this link to find your nearest location, and all the other happenings going on over at Rubio's.


  1. I am a Rubio's employee and I really enjoyed reading your article! I'm glad you had such a pleasant experience dining in one of our restaurants! My favorite item on the menu by far is the Grilled Gourmet Shrimp Taco. Yum!

  2. Anonymous - You should be proud to work for such a great company, and know that Ralph Rubio could not have been nicer. Really a nice man. Glad you enjoyed the article, and good call on the Gourmet Shrimp Taco. Absolutely delicious. Thanks for taking the time to comment on the blog. I appreciate it.