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Kiko’s Place food truck: Lunch in the rushes

A food truck cafe society set up between a road and a river

Mission Valley: who knew such bucolic scenes formed the patio for a food truck?
Mission Valley: who knew such bucolic scenes formed the patio for a food truck?

Oh wow. Ducks. They’re swimming up to me. I can see their little webbed feet pumping hard against the current. Wish I had something in my pocket for them. I’m standing by this beautiful pool of water where the San Diego River does a meander past some islands in the stream. The river flows down toward the stores of Fashion Valley. Here, though, you feel you’re in deepest backcountry California.

Place

Kiko’s Place

4404 Texas Street, San Diego

I’m out here for an appointment with Verizon, but they’re delayed. So hey, time to grab a bite first. I work my way toward Mission Center Road and its corner with Hazard Center Drive. “Road may flood,” says a sign. But what’s this? It’s one of those flapping flag ads: “Original Baja Fish Taco.” Hmm. This sounds like a Rubio’s-type deal, but...

Food truck between the SD River and Hazard Center is busy all day long.

Ah. I see the taco truck up ahead. “Kiko’s Place,” say the signs. The truck’s blue sides feature painted silhouettes of just about every fish species you can imagine. And even in mid-afternoon, as it is now, there’s a clump of people hovering around the truck’s window. Behind them, sitting on rocks among the bushes, other folks dig into their tacos, holding their plates on their knees. Or they stand at a nearby SDG&E electrical box that’s just the right height. It feels nicely odd, oddly nice, this food truck cafe society set up between a road and a river.

I approach the truck cab window. Two girls are chatting and laughing away in Spanish. The girl on this side seems to know every customer. “Yes?” she says when my turn comes. Lordy. She has the wide, gathering smile of a ‘50s movie star. Her name is Dulce. Perfect. “My daddy was Francisco, ‘Kiko.’ He started this business in San Felipe, Baja California, in 1983,” she says. Huh! Because that’s the exact same place and exact same year that Ralph Rubio got his fish taco idea and opened his first Baja-style fish taco restaurant (in PB). It seems Kiko built his business in San Felipe, then brought it up to Chula Vista in 2000. Dulce says he passed away three years ago. “Now my brother Xavier and I have taken over,” she says.

A Kikotele. Costing between $13-$23, these are the most expensive dishes

So my immediate question: which taco? First decision is easy, but hard to translate. “You must try the OG fish taco,” she says.

“OG?”

“Original,” she says. “It’s the recipe that my daddy brought here.”

It has sea bass, “Baja Style, fried, with cabbage, pico de gallo and cream,” and it costs $3. Or $8 if you want it as a burrito or a quesadilla, she says. Deal! “Or you could have our Monday Special. Two for $5.99.” Alright! The basic fish taco plus a shrimp taco. I go for it. I also can’t resist a bottle of Mexican Coke ($2.50).

It’s going to take a minute. “Please be patient,” says a sign. “We make everything from scratch.” But in the meantime, they honor that nice Mexican custom: a free cup of broth of the seafood mix while you’re waiting. Not only hot, but picante and onion-filled in an interesting, fish-garlicky way. So yes, it does take ten minutes or so. But it’s worth it. And they’ve got Mexican radio: La Invasora (105.5 FM) blasting Mexican classic pop from a speaker on the truck.

Hard to tell, but this taco is stuffed with mussels

“Ed?” shouts Dulce, “OG fish taco!”

Got to say, for three buckeroos, this is a beautiful deal. It comes with that big golden fish hiding beneath tortilla chips, pico de gallo, and crema. A mess, and so fresh. I go back over to the truck, where they lay out the hot sauces, and also sautéed peppers and onions. “Need some heat!” I shout. “Which one?”

“Red!” shouts Dulce out the truck’s cab window. “Or yellow, hottest!” She’s talking about the colored caps on the homemade salsas. I sauce up and take my tacos over to the electrical panel table in the grasses. A couple of mallard ducks cruise low overhead, heading for a splashdown. I get talking to Tyler. “I come every chance I get,” he says. “And I always have the same thing: the garlic shrimp taco ($6). Best I ever had.”

There are a dozen other choices, and Dulce says they always have a deal going on. Like Taco Tuesdays, when you can get three OG fish tacos with chips for $5.99. Two bucks each! Or spicy smoked fish, which is about the most expensive at $8. (Actually, the most expensive has to be the “Viagra Seafood Mix,” XX-large, for $23.) Of course, I could have had a zillion other things, like the “Kikotele,” (think “cocktail”) that this other guy has. He sets down a tall glass loaded with shrimp, bits of octopus, clam, and I don’t know what-all else, swimming in clamato juice. Says it cost him $13, on special. “Usually they’re $17. You’ve heard of ‘Vuelve a la Vida’ — ‘Return to Life’? A kind of reviver cocktail? That’s what this is about. They call this the ‘Viagra’ cocktail, too.”

Have to say, my two tacos are totally fresh and filling, and somehow carry a Baja vibe. I wonder if Kiko and Ralph Rubio knew each other. Next time? I’m thinking a mussel taco and an octopus taco. And part of the pleasure will be the Mexican Coke, as well as this crazy idea of roughing it among the plants and rocks. And dodging low-flying mallards.

Not that everyone here is into that nature stuff. A couple pulls up and orders the Monday Special. “We live in the next block,” says the gal.

“Do you ever eat your tacos down here by the river?” I say.

“River? What river?”

OMG. These road warriors have never seen the San Diego River, our greatest asset? After our fish tacos, that is.

  • The Place: Kiko’s Place food truck, Hazard Center Driveway at Mission Center Road, Mission Valley
  • Hours: 8am-8pm, daily (till 7pm Sundays)
  • Prices: The OG (Original) Fish Taco, $3.00; Taco Tuesday special: 3 OG fish tacos, $5.99; octopus and shrimp ceviche, $9.50; fish soup, $10; grilled shrimp taco, $6; onion fish taco, $5; spicy gobernador taco (grilled shrimp, tomato, pepper, onion, spicy salsa), $7.50 (quesadilla or burrito, $11.50); angus beef taco, $4
  • Trolley: Green Line
  • Nearest Trolley Stop: Hazard Center, (Hazard Center Drive, near Hazard Center East Driveway), Mission Valley
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Mission Valley: who knew such bucolic scenes formed the patio for a food truck?
Mission Valley: who knew such bucolic scenes formed the patio for a food truck?

Oh wow. Ducks. They’re swimming up to me. I can see their little webbed feet pumping hard against the current. Wish I had something in my pocket for them. I’m standing by this beautiful pool of water where the San Diego River does a meander past some islands in the stream. The river flows down toward the stores of Fashion Valley. Here, though, you feel you’re in deepest backcountry California.

Place

Kiko’s Place

4404 Texas Street, San Diego

I’m out here for an appointment with Verizon, but they’re delayed. So hey, time to grab a bite first. I work my way toward Mission Center Road and its corner with Hazard Center Drive. “Road may flood,” says a sign. But what’s this? It’s one of those flapping flag ads: “Original Baja Fish Taco.” Hmm. This sounds like a Rubio’s-type deal, but...

Food truck between the SD River and Hazard Center is busy all day long.

Ah. I see the taco truck up ahead. “Kiko’s Place,” say the signs. The truck’s blue sides feature painted silhouettes of just about every fish species you can imagine. And even in mid-afternoon, as it is now, there’s a clump of people hovering around the truck’s window. Behind them, sitting on rocks among the bushes, other folks dig into their tacos, holding their plates on their knees. Or they stand at a nearby SDG&E electrical box that’s just the right height. It feels nicely odd, oddly nice, this food truck cafe society set up between a road and a river.

I approach the truck cab window. Two girls are chatting and laughing away in Spanish. The girl on this side seems to know every customer. “Yes?” she says when my turn comes. Lordy. She has the wide, gathering smile of a ‘50s movie star. Her name is Dulce. Perfect. “My daddy was Francisco, ‘Kiko.’ He started this business in San Felipe, Baja California, in 1983,” she says. Huh! Because that’s the exact same place and exact same year that Ralph Rubio got his fish taco idea and opened his first Baja-style fish taco restaurant (in PB). It seems Kiko built his business in San Felipe, then brought it up to Chula Vista in 2000. Dulce says he passed away three years ago. “Now my brother Xavier and I have taken over,” she says.

A Kikotele. Costing between $13-$23, these are the most expensive dishes

So my immediate question: which taco? First decision is easy, but hard to translate. “You must try the OG fish taco,” she says.

“OG?”

“Original,” she says. “It’s the recipe that my daddy brought here.”

It has sea bass, “Baja Style, fried, with cabbage, pico de gallo and cream,” and it costs $3. Or $8 if you want it as a burrito or a quesadilla, she says. Deal! “Or you could have our Monday Special. Two for $5.99.” Alright! The basic fish taco plus a shrimp taco. I go for it. I also can’t resist a bottle of Mexican Coke ($2.50).

It’s going to take a minute. “Please be patient,” says a sign. “We make everything from scratch.” But in the meantime, they honor that nice Mexican custom: a free cup of broth of the seafood mix while you’re waiting. Not only hot, but picante and onion-filled in an interesting, fish-garlicky way. So yes, it does take ten minutes or so. But it’s worth it. And they’ve got Mexican radio: La Invasora (105.5 FM) blasting Mexican classic pop from a speaker on the truck.

Hard to tell, but this taco is stuffed with mussels

“Ed?” shouts Dulce, “OG fish taco!”

Got to say, for three buckeroos, this is a beautiful deal. It comes with that big golden fish hiding beneath tortilla chips, pico de gallo, and crema. A mess, and so fresh. I go back over to the truck, where they lay out the hot sauces, and also sautéed peppers and onions. “Need some heat!” I shout. “Which one?”

“Red!” shouts Dulce out the truck’s cab window. “Or yellow, hottest!” She’s talking about the colored caps on the homemade salsas. I sauce up and take my tacos over to the electrical panel table in the grasses. A couple of mallard ducks cruise low overhead, heading for a splashdown. I get talking to Tyler. “I come every chance I get,” he says. “And I always have the same thing: the garlic shrimp taco ($6). Best I ever had.”

There are a dozen other choices, and Dulce says they always have a deal going on. Like Taco Tuesdays, when you can get three OG fish tacos with chips for $5.99. Two bucks each! Or spicy smoked fish, which is about the most expensive at $8. (Actually, the most expensive has to be the “Viagra Seafood Mix,” XX-large, for $23.) Of course, I could have had a zillion other things, like the “Kikotele,” (think “cocktail”) that this other guy has. He sets down a tall glass loaded with shrimp, bits of octopus, clam, and I don’t know what-all else, swimming in clamato juice. Says it cost him $13, on special. “Usually they’re $17. You’ve heard of ‘Vuelve a la Vida’ — ‘Return to Life’? A kind of reviver cocktail? That’s what this is about. They call this the ‘Viagra’ cocktail, too.”

Have to say, my two tacos are totally fresh and filling, and somehow carry a Baja vibe. I wonder if Kiko and Ralph Rubio knew each other. Next time? I’m thinking a mussel taco and an octopus taco. And part of the pleasure will be the Mexican Coke, as well as this crazy idea of roughing it among the plants and rocks. And dodging low-flying mallards.

Not that everyone here is into that nature stuff. A couple pulls up and orders the Monday Special. “We live in the next block,” says the gal.

“Do you ever eat your tacos down here by the river?” I say.

“River? What river?”

OMG. These road warriors have never seen the San Diego River, our greatest asset? After our fish tacos, that is.

  • The Place: Kiko’s Place food truck, Hazard Center Driveway at Mission Center Road, Mission Valley
  • Hours: 8am-8pm, daily (till 7pm Sundays)
  • Prices: The OG (Original) Fish Taco, $3.00; Taco Tuesday special: 3 OG fish tacos, $5.99; octopus and shrimp ceviche, $9.50; fish soup, $10; grilled shrimp taco, $6; onion fish taco, $5; spicy gobernador taco (grilled shrimp, tomato, pepper, onion, spicy salsa), $7.50 (quesadilla or burrito, $11.50); angus beef taco, $4
  • Trolley: Green Line
  • Nearest Trolley Stop: Hazard Center, (Hazard Center Drive, near Hazard Center East Driveway), Mission Valley
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