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    Trailblazer Rubio’s Coastal Grill Continues to Evolve

  • The brand that helped launch the fish-taco craze is still going strong.

    Rubio’s Coastal Grill / Crystal Cartier
    Rubio's is well positioned to take advantage as “better-for-you fast-casual options” grow.

    A seafood fast casual before there was such a thing as fast casual, Rubio’s first opened as a walk-up stand in San Diego’s Mission Bay in 1983 and helped launch the fish-taco craze that continues today. The brand has since grown to nearly 200 locations and evolved to include a wide range of menu platforms, like burritos, bowls, and salads. Fish varieties include mahi mahi, grouper, ono, shrimp, and salmon.

    Founder Ralph Rubio says nearly all of the brand’s seafood is sourced sustainably, and he says he works closely with the culinary team to expand its grilled seafood options and unique flavors.

    “Food preparation and freshness are a big focus for us, so all of our grilled seafood is made to order on an authentic comal (a traditional Mexican flat griddle), while marinades and beer batter are handmade in our kitchens every day,” he says.

    Rubio says it’s a challenge to keep prices in the fast-casual range while also balancing sustainability and rising seafood costs. There’s also a misperception among consumers that large-scale operations sacrifice quality when it comes to ingredients, which is not the case at Rubio’s, he adds. Still, he says the brand is well positioned to take advantage as “better-for-you fast-casual options” grow.

    “We think there will be continued innovation around global flavors like Peruvian aji and North African harissa sauces paired with new sustainable species, like barramundi and cobia,” he says. “Beer-battered or breaded fried fish continue to have a lot of potential with its crispy texture and unlimited combinations of flavors.”