115 N. El Camino Real, Encinitas
There’s a rapidly expanding fish taco chain in San Diego. Oscar’s Mexican Seafood is up to five locations, and it’s good news for everyone — with the possible exception of Rubio’s.
Not that anyone is worried about Rubio’s, the family-run Mission Bay taco stand that grew to a regional franchise worth $91 million. I’m personally responsible for a measurable fraction of the 200 million fried-fish tacos Rubio’s sold on the way to success, and I have no regrets.
But faced with a choice last week, I went with Oscar’s. This family-run Pacific Beach taco stand started in 2011 and recently added East Village and Encinitas to its lineup. It’s not worth anything near $90 million yet, but when I saw that it was moving into North County, my first thought was “Lucky North County.”
The Encinitas shop is so new that it didn’t have a sign up yet when I found myself near the intersection of Encinitas Boulevard and El Camino Real. Google Maps didn’t even know it was there. But I had an address, and social media taco nuts were checking in, so I went looking.
It’s in the back corner of a complex of shopping strips large enough that I navigated the busy parking lot for ten minutes without finding the place.
Time was an issue. I was driving a friend to catch a train back to Los Angeles, and if we didn’t eat fish tacos tout suite he would miss the train or ride home hungry. A Rubio’s was easy to spot across the street as we completed our first loop through the parking lot, but my friend’s a big fan of Oscar’s smoked fish tacos. “It’s worth missing the train,” he said. I agreed, and we pressed on.
And we got lucky. I took the first open parking spot we saw, and right in front of it was the new Oscar’s. We could just make out a window sign behind the afternoon glare. Inside, several customers were spaced out in a comfortable, casual dining room. A couple of them told me they too had circled the lot searching for the place. They knew Oscar’s from PB and Hillcrest and were stoked to have it in the neighborhood.
Because the battered, Baja-style fish tacos are only two bucks apiece, my friend and I each nabbed one of those. Will they add up to 200 million in time? I can only do my part.
But the smoked tuna tacos — with shredded cabbage, avocado, and cheese on a soft corn tortilla — were what brought us here. At $4.65, it’s twice the cost of the battered fish or shrimp. I won’t call it twice as good, because the fried fish is near perfect, but the smoky, salty fish wrapped in grilled masa is worth every cent.
And since that train showed up a minute late, my sprinting friend was able to catch it, and with a couple tacos for the road.