Do you know what you’re eating? The food on your plate is very much influenced by who made it, and it’s interesting to know the history behind your favorite dining establishments. Here are some of San Diego’s most famous restaurants, and the foods that put them on the map.
Co-founder Ralph Rubio opened the first Rubio’s restaurant in 1983 in the friendly San Diego neighborhood of Mission Bay. Ralph’s love of fresh, high-quality ingredients and fish tacos from Mexico became the foundation of Rubio’s menu. In fact, the restaurant is credited with “inventing” the fish taco in the U.S., which has become one of the most popular food items in San Diego and across the country. Rubio’s was awarded the “Number One Most Craveable Taco Chain” by Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics and is committed to serving healthy, coastal food. As the website states, “Fresh produce arrives throughout the week from California’s Salinas Valley, when possible. Salsas are prepared in-house every day. Responsibly-sourced seafood, all natural chicken raised without antibiotics and all natural steak are found across our menu.”
It’s no wonder that Rubio’s rapidly expanded from the single location. Over 30 years later, there are more than 200 restaurants in California, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Florida. Rubio’s is also committed to giving back to the communities it serves by sponsoring a variety of ocean-related events and organizations throughout the year.
What It’s Known For:
Rubio’s is famous for its Original Fish Taco® — the “meal that started it all” in 1983. The recipe includes sustainable wild Alaska Pollock hand-dipped in a signature seasoned beer batter and cooked to crispy perfection, Rubio’s white sauce, mild salsa, fresh cabbage, a stone-ground corn tortilla, and a slice of lime.
Back in 1978, two San Diego surfers decided to create a healthy place to eat that offered a huge variety of options. Their vision was to establish a restaurant that not only served nutritious food, but it would also be a family-friendly, farm-to-table dining experience. Souplantation is the result of their entrepreneurial efforts. This restaurant serves fresh produce and salads, made-from-scratch soups, hot pastas, fresh-baked breads, fresh fruit, desserts, and more. The buffet-style service allows people to create their own meal and choose from a wide selection of farm-fresh, flavorful food items. The Souplantation website has an entire Discover Fresh section that explains, “Our produce doesn’t come from a freezer or a big corporation. It’s harvested fresh from the earth from family farmers like Broccoli Bob Campbell and Charles Muranaka. Trusted growers who are our friends, our partners, our heroes.”
There are approximately 100 Souplantation (called Sweet Tomatoes in locations outside Southern California) restaurants in 11 states and more than 300 million guests have been served since 1978.
What It’s Known For:
Souplantation’s seats are packed in large part due to its incredible salad bar. There is an abundance of freshly cut veggies, proteins, and grains, as well as almost every type of dressing under the sun. A guest can assemble a hearty, heavy meal or a light, vegan dish, all at the famous Souplantation salad bar.
While not technically a restaurant, Ne-Mo’s Bakery has been serving up the sweeter types of food in San Diego since 1975. About 40 years ago, founder Ed Smith began baking cakes using traditional family recipes and selling those cakes to local restaurants and delis. The orders started rolling in and it quickly became clear that there was a demand for high quality, freshly made, delicious bakery products. And so Ne-Mo’s Bakery was born. Over the past few decades, Ne-Mo’s has maintained its commitment to authentic scratch-baking with the finest, freshest ingredients. The company believes that, “Successful growth is not possible without a commitment to the qualities and standards Ed Smith baked into that very first Ne-Mo’s carrot cake – fresh, high-quality ingredients; careful attention throughout the entire baking process; knowledge and understanding of consumer tastes; and a pure and simple love of baking.”
Ne-Mo’s line of individually portioned specialty bakery treats can be found throughout San Diego and far beyond, available in thousands of convenience stores nationwide. The bakery also has invested in a high-end gourmet test kitchen and expert team of bakers to develop new recipes.
What It’s Known For:
Ne-Mo’s first established itself back in 1975 with one incredible baked good: the carrot cake. The original family recipe for the famous carrot cake remains unchanged today. The cake is moist and rich with walnuts and a hint of cinnamon, topped with cream cheese frosting that’s just the right amount of sweet.
San Diego’s cuisine is a mix of traditional family recipes, coastal influences, and south of the border flavor. But one thing that’s consistent is the city’s craving for fresh, local, homemade food that’s delicious enough to build a business on.