Fish tacos create a new wave in restaurant industry

fish tacoWe're hooked on fish tacos -- and it's about time. Native North Americans were wrapping their catch in stone-ground corn tortillas centuries ago, but only now is mass culture gobbling up fish tacos at a rate that is making them one of the restaurant industry's top trends.

Taco Bell, the Mexican fast food stalwart for decades, recently announced it will offer them in stores nationwide next year. But it is behind the curve, according to a story in USA Today. Fish tacos rank 20th among the 200 items sold at the Cheesecake Factory chain. Off-the-charts testing compelled California Pizza Kitchen to include them on the menu. Many other franchises that had little to do with traditional Mexican food are biting as well.

It's a perfect storm for marketing: Consumers want a new twist on the taco and they want it to be healthier, Warren Sackler, a hospitality professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, said in the story. At least in its unadulterated state, fish is low in fat, high in protein, with many species containing Omega 3 oil, said to protect the heart. Fish tacos appear to give fitness-minded Mexican-food lovers the whole enchilada. On the flip side, restaurants are reeling in profit.

Rubio's, the San Diego-based chain that began selling fish tacos 26 years ago, is now looking like an industry soothsayer.
What began as a vacation-inspired whim of founder Ralph Rubio is now a $200 million business that is on track to sell 15 million fish tacos in 2010, the newspaper said. Rubio's is also talking about expanding to the East Coast. They'll have competition in the 56-store Wahoo's Fish Taco, which announced its intentions to branch out in New York and Connecticut.

Not even the Gulf oil spill has dampened the trend, despite a University of Minnesota survey in the article that said 54 percent of consumers said they would scale back their seafood consumption because of the disaster.

Other eateries are taking the bait. Fish tacos are a huge seller at B.J.'s Restaurants. They're on a trial run at El Pollo Loco. It's not called Pescado Loco, but the chain couldn't resist what has amounted to a sea change in non-burger fast food.

Where can you get the best fish tacos? Try
this list from AOL's City Best.
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