Spectacular Sonoran Mariscos

Mirta Rodriguez is fully in command at Mariscos Rubén in Tijuana.

Rubén Martinez is one of the owners of Mariscos Rubén (Av. Andres Quintana Roo 740 Col. Centro, 22000 Tijuana).

Rubén, however, doesn’t run the place. His wife, Mirta, does, and there seems to be absolutely zero question about that fact. Rubén doesn’t seem to question it, customers don’t, and apparently neither do Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure magazines, which just included the truck on a globe-spanning list of “the best restaurants that travelers must visit right now.”

The food Mirta puts out at Mariscos Rubén is Sonoran-style mariscos (seafood). The northern Mexican state of Sonora is, perhaps, better known for its terrific beef and overshadowed in the Mexican seafood world by its southern neighbor, Sinaloa. But Sonora has an extensive seacoast and a style all its own.

Perhaps the headline dish at Mariscos Rubén is the scallop and shrimp aguachile. It’s raw shrimp and scallops bathed in a concoction of citrus, chiles and tomato juice with garnishes of red onions and Persian cucumbers. The shrimp were good, tasty and fresh, but the scallops were downright luxurious. Neither, however, is the star. That’s the aguachile concoction: tart and spicy with an umami layer from the tomato. The overall dish was bright but brilliantly balanced.

Mariscos Rubén has a number of taco offerings (its menu changes based on the best available ingredients). The most noted of these is the smoked marlin taquitos. The couple fabricates them ahead of time then grills them to order. The smokiness of the marlin was both tasty and evocative but, in the end, seemed dry.

The shrimp taquito was a better take on the theme. The richness and sweetness of the shrimp offered much of what the smoked marlin didn’t, while the char from the grill provided much of what the marlin did. It was succulent, savory and delicious. The dual creamy salsas—one chile-based, one avocado-based—completed the picture.

The salsas on the tacos were decidedly on the mild side, but that’s just a starting point at Mariscos Rubén. The truck offers perhaps the single most extensive selection of homemade salsas on the rock. They range from the fruity, flavorful and mild to the habanero incendiary. And if that weren’t enough, there are some commercially bottled options, too.

Mariscos Rubén’s headliner may be the scallop aguachile, but it ought to be the shrimp and octopus cocktail. At one level it seems similar to the aguachile, but the textural contrast adds an additional layer of interest. The complexity of the cocktail—and, more specifically, the funk and umami from the Worcestershire sauce—brings it to another level.

Mariscos Rubén seems to be a place for gringos rather than locals. While the prices are well within the command of tourists, they’re distinctly higher than most south of the border. On two trips we did not have a single local sitting next to us. At the end of the day, though, Mariscos Rubén’s food is singular and extraordinary. If it is in your budget (as it likely is not for most locals) it is a destination not to be missed in Tijuana. Indeed, it’s well worth a cab ride from the border.