We quickly learned that if you want to devour spectacular Mexican food in Tijuana, there’s no reason to stray far from the corner of 8th & Quintana Roo. Within one block, this is where you’ll find Taqueria Franc and La Cahua del Yeyo, but best yet, it’s also the resting place for what might be the best food truck on the west coast: Mariscos Ruben.
Ruben and wife Mirta Rodriguez have been operating Mariscos Ruben for the past 20 years, specializing in Sonora style seafood caught in the Sea of Cortez. Their three-part space consists of the truck, a covered patio and a small structure containing a charcoal grill.
Our introduction to Mariscos Ruben was a plate of Manitas de Jaiba – sweet crab claws dressed with a pour of chile sauce and a squeeze of lime. The counters hosted jars of enticing salsa, and I experimented with fiery habanero salsa, but it was unnecessary with so much inherent flavor.
Ruben char-grilled us marlin taquitos, featuring meat from Mexico’s most popular sportfish.
Taquitos de marlin were crisp and smoky from the grill, loaded with pink, tuna-like meat, molten Monterey jack cheese, shredded cabbage for crunch and pours of 1000 Island dressing and creamy avocado salsa. With each bite, a sea of texture and flavor flooded our palates.
Camarones enchilados were another crowd pleaser, featuring plump chile and butter-infused shrimp topped with crunchy cabbage, a drizzle of crema and strips of fresh-shucked avocado. This was a complete taco experience, but probably not quite as devastating as the version at Mariscos El Mazateno.
La Familia Rodriguez clearly has a way with crab. They by-and-large let the claws speak for themselves, but their Tostada de Jaiba was a more refined seafood experience, with fresh avocado, red onion and a sprinkling of sea salt that really set off the sweetness of the pulled crab meat.
Cahuamanta con Aleta de Atun is a soulful play on a classic Sonora soup that’s no longer available due to the ban on turtle meat. Now Sonorans substitute chunks of manta ray, which have the texture of albacore. Mariscos Ruben also offers the option of tuna fin, and we had them load on the gelatinous chunks. The herbaceous broth infused the fish with explosive flavor.
We finished our Mariscos Ruben feast with a dish that required multiple steps: Almejas Gratinadas, which translates to clams au gratin. Ruben Martinez began by wrapping our six-inch Pismo clams in foil and tossing them straight on to the hot coals.
Ruben fanned the coals with a plastic plate to kick up the embers. After they were cooked to his satisfaction, he tossed them on a tray and ushered them to the truck for prep. The tender clams cook in their own juices before getting sliced and are served au gratin in the shell with shrimp, octopus, cream, Monterey Jack cheeese and sea scallops. This was my favorite dish, a near-perfect mix of smoky, briny and sweet.
A generous sampling of each treasure only costs up to $15 per person, a bargain at twice the price. If Mariscos Ruben were in Los Angeles…I’m not even going to go there. I’m just going to let the sweet memory of Mariscos Ruben wash over me before planning a return trip to Tijuana.