Monday, October 17, 2016

Salads from Rubio's

By now, you surely know about my not-so-secret love of Rubio's, a fast casual Mexican chain restaurant that I discovered a few years ago in San Francisco.  No, I don't really like Mexican cuisine, and no I don't really like fast casual, but, uh, Rubio's is delicious.  I've reviewed basically every single type of taco that they make, and the new enchiladas, and the burritos, plus all the seasonal seafood specials, like the signature langostino lobster, as they come out.  Since I have an entire label devoted to Rubios, I suggest you start there for background, and then return here to read about my new adventures - with the salad.

Yes, go ahead and suspend even further disbelief.  I'm now telling you I love a fast casual Mexican chain for their ... salad.  The vegetarian version no less (inspired by my recent trying of the roasted vegetable grilled gourmet tacos, to great success).

Let's start in October 2015.  I was speaking at an event in SoCal, the real home of Rubio's.  And ... the event was catered by Rubio's!  They had a huge spread, including burritos, chips & salsa, and, huge salads.  I didn't know it was going to be catered, so I ate beforehand.  But, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get my Rubio's fix!  Trying to eat light, I opted to try the salads.

Since I had them at an event, there was not an option to add a protein on top, but you can normally top the salads with any of the seafood or chicken options.

I started with the Balsamic and Roasted Veggie Salad, described as:
"A blend of fresh butter and spring lettuce with roasted veggies and light balsamic vinaigrette. Fire-roasted corn, roasted sweet peppers, onions, zucchini and squash, sweet buttery Hass avocado slices, and a cilantro/onion mix on a butter and spring lettuce mix. Drizzled with light balsamic vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil.
I really liked the salad.  The base was just lettuce (spring mix), but it was fresh enough, although not particularly exciting.  The veggies on top were shockingly good.  Roasted corn, sweet peppers, onions, zucchini, and squash.  The veggies were flavorful, fresh, and marinated in something tasty before being roasted.

I didn't care for the balsamic dressing, but the veggies went great with the dressing from the other salad ...

Next up, the Chopped Salad, described as:
"Chopped salad with salsa fresca and a creamy chipotle dressing.  Romaine lettuce and cabbage, a blend of cheeses, tortilla chips, our salsa fresca and mild salsa drizzled with a creamy chipotle dressing."
I really liked this salad.  The base was just romaine lettuce, again, a bit boring, but it also had crunchy fresh cabbage mixed in.  The winning element however was the creamy chipotle dressing.  I love creamy dressings, and this was very flavorful, with lots of garlic and just a bit of kick.  The salsa fresca was a surprise in a salad, but I liked it more than just regular tomatoes, it reminded me of a marinated tomato mix I used to always add to my Caesar salad at my favorite restaurant in my hometown.  The chip bits gave it some crunch, and the cheese helped complete that almost Caesar-like feel to it.

So, both successful salads, but I quickly realized that my idea salad was a combination of the two - the chopped salad topped with roasted veggies.  And luckily for me, since it was an event with big bowls of each, I could do just that.
Chopped Salad with Roasted Vegetables, Takeout.
"Chopped salad with salsa fresca and a creamy chipotle dressing.  Romaine lettuce and cabbage, a blend of cheeses, tortilla chips, our salsa fresca and mild salsa drizzled with a creamy chipotle dressing."

Fast forward to my recent trip to Rubio's.  I was really craving vegetables, so a salad seemed in order, and I decided to try to order my custom salad.  I ordered the chopped salad, and was immediately asked what topping I'd like, grilled chicken, blackened or grilled salmon, shrimp, etc.  I asked for the roasted veggies instead, and told it was no problem.  They really do a great job with customization at Rubio's.

So, as when I had it at the event, the base was a mix of fresh, crispy, romaine, in just the right bite sized chunks.  Mixed in was shredded green cabbage, even crunchier.  I was, as before, impressed with the freshness of the lettuce mix.  The salsa fresca was again a nicer touch than standard tomatoes, as it had a bit more flavor.  Sprinkled on was a mix of shredded cheese, not too much, and it melted slightly from the warm veggies.

The veggies were exactly as I remembered from both the roasted veggie salad and the veggie taco I ordered before.  Mostly a mix of colorful bell peppers (red, yellow, and green) and red onions, all soft but not mushy, and nicely seasoned (it turns out they marinate the veggies in garlic and lemon first).  The veggies had visible grill marks, and an amazing smoky flavor.  My salad had a nice sized scoop of veggies, but, I was a bit sad to receive only one spear of zucchini.  The veggie mix never includes mushrooms, but I think they would make a wonderful addition as well.

The creamy chioptle dressing was again fabulous, it has some serious kick, and, the unhealthy person I am, I do adore creamy dressings.  The creamy dressing and shredded cheese in particular go together fabulously.

But there was something missing from this salad.  The crunch.  Which is supposed to come in the form of tortilla strips.  They were there when I had the salad at the event, this was clearly just an accidental omission.

Overall, I was very satisfied with my salad.  It was a huge serving, enough to fill me up for lunch and then have a little side salad for later.  I really liked the roasted veggie mix, the dressing, the fresh greens.  But, if I were to refine it further ... I'd also add on a scoop of the fire-roasted corn and fresno chiles, that I loved so much in the chimichurri taco. I'd also consider trying the chipotle ranch salad, but it uses a base of spring lettuce, which seems less exciting.  Maybe ... chopped salad, plus roasted veggies, plus fire roasted corn, sub chipotle ranch for the chipotle white sauce?
Rubio's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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