We have always said that Southwest food can be light and healthy. Now, we have proof. Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill just opened restaurant number 200! The restaurants feature Baja style “beach food” that is packed with fresh ingredients and authentic flavor.
We were invited to join Ralph Rubio (the man behind the fish tacos and founder of Rubio’s) and a group of fellow bloggers for a free lunch at one of the new locations in Utah. Rubio showed off the food he fell in love with as a college student while vacationing on the beaches of Baja, Mexico. That’s when, at a little taco shop in San Felipe, he met his first love, the fish taco. Rubio brought the concept of the fish taco back to California and, after perfecting his own recipe, opened his first restaurant in San Diego in 1983.
Before sitting down for lunch, Rubio took us on a tour of the kitchen where we saw chiles and fresh vegetables cooking on an open flame grill and stuffed into the healthy, Baja style food that Rubio’s is famous for. The lunch featured some of the greatest hits from the menu as well as some of Rubio’s newer dishes. The fish taco is still the star, but other items have been added to the menu along the way to keep up with customers’ tastes and current trends. With each course, Rubio gave us tips on how he to keeps the authentic flavor in his fresh and healthy food.
Tip # 1-The Fish Taco: Rubio uses flaky white fish with a very thin batter for his fish tacos. He serves them “street taco” style on a fresh corn tortilla. There is no need to fry the tortilla, just warm them to make them soft. You’ll love the fresh corn taste. Rubio wraps the tortilla around the crunchy fish and tops it off with thinly shredded cabbage instead of lettuce. It adds extra nutrients as well as extra crunch. What a great way to sneak cabbage into your family’s meals!
Tip #2-The Salsa Bar: Not everyone in the family loves spicy food. Rubio uses a trick we use with our own families. He uses the mildest salsa in the taco or burrito itself then offers a fresh salsa bar for guests to customize food to their own tastes. The salsa bar offers four styles of salsa made with fresh ingredients including a mild, a spicy, a salsa verde and a roasted tomato with chipotle salsa (our favorite).
(NOTE by DONNA: That Chipotle salsa is one of the best salsas I have ever tasted – I could have just eaten it with a spoon! Make sure you try this when you go!)
Tip #3-Don’t add fat when you don’t have to: There’s no need to add extra fat to rice and beans. We were amazed at how flavorful the refried beans were. Rubio only uses beans, garlic and salt to make them. No lard! We didn’t even miss the fat or its “mouth feel” that coats your tongue with a sort of greasy feeling. The beans had such a “clean” flavor. The same is true for his rice. It’s light and fluffy without all of the added butter. If you wrap rice and black beans together with some grilled chicken in a flour tortilla, you’ll have the Big Burrito Especial, one of the biggest hits of the day.
Tip #4-Grill the meat for your tacos and burritos: Grilling is a much lighter way to prepare your food. There is no need for extra oil to saute and the natural fat melts away from the meat instead of staying in the braising liquid. We tasted some of Rubio’s new gourmet grilled tacos. They have added grilled chicken, grilled shrimp, grilled steak and even a grilled portobello and poblano taco for meatless meals.
Tip #5-Use Southwest flavors for your salads: Southwest flavors are perfect when you are watching your weight. Anything you can put in a tortilla, you can put on a salad or lettuce wrap. The spicy flavors can kick up your diet food and add a little variety. Rubio’s Balsamic and Roasted Veggie Salad has grilled chicken and is large enough for a entre. We never would have guessed that it only has 340 calories!
If you are close to a Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill, go ahead and give them a try to see what fresh and healthy Southwest cooking should be. In fact, if you are in Utah, mark June 4th on your calendar. It’s Rubio’s second annual “Go Fish Day.” Fish tacos are free (no purchase necessary) to promote Utah’s free fishing day though out the state on June 5th. If you aren’t close by, you can use Rubio’s tips to lighten up your own recipes. Don’t forget to watch our blog, we”ll have plenty of light and healthy Southwest cooking tips. We’re even working on some Rubio’s inspired dishes of our own that will be perfect for summertime grilling.
— Written by Sandy