The price of one of Southern California’s most iconic foods, tacos, has skyrocketed in recent years, as have most menu items across the country. Blame inflation and rising food costs.
But a small, family-owned restaurant chain in northern San Diego County has bucked the trend, keeping the price of its signature fish tacos near $1 for more than a decade.
Jack Sollecito heard about the tacos at El Pueblo Mexican Food in the coastal community of Cardiff from some fellow surfers. One morning, he picked up a couple as he waited for the fog to pass on his way to the beach.
He checked his receipt. “Two fish tacos cost $2.38,” he read aloud. “It is a nice.”
These are not small street tacos. They’re full-sized tacos with crispy, breaded fish, creamy chipotle sauce, fresh cabbage, and pico de gallo. And this is not Taco Tuesday. Fish tacos at El Pueblo are very cheap every day of the week.
Other taco standards on the menu — carne asada, carnitas — are $6.90 apiece.
So how and why does the company maintain the price of fish tacos?
El Pueblo General Manager Noni Funes said they tried to raise the price of fish tacos, which originally cost 99 cents, in 2019. They went up to $1.99 each or two for $3.
“It was not met with happiness,” Funes said. “So we brought back the 99-cent fish tacos with the agreement that we would make a small increase once a year — but only when our guests were OK with it and only when people weren’t mad at us.”
Fish tacos now cost $1.19.
The four-restaurant chain generally doesn’t make money on its fish tacos, Funes said. But when people buy them in bulk, which they do — 40 or 50 at a time, she says — the company can at least break even.
On a recent weekend, Funes said they sold 10,000 fish tacos at just one of their restaurants. In comparison, they sold only about 2,000 carne asada tacos during the same time period.
Restaurant consultant Ben Brown said fish tacos appear to be what is known in the economy as a loss leader.
“It gets these people through the door,” he said. “And people will want to try different menu items.”
Inexpensive tacos are also an alternative to placing print or online ads, Brown said.
“It creates great word-of-mouth marketing,” he said. “So I would consider it a marketing cost, which is a very interesting cost in that regard.”
Customer Faye Gentry said she has been coming to the El Pueblo location in Cardiff for “years and years.” She left her car to get details at the nearby gas station and stopped for a fish taco.
“Best in town,” she said after swallowing a bite. “Really and truly.”
Gentry said she doesn’t remember El Pueblo’s brief and controversial hike in fish taco prices a few years ago, and it didn’t bother her anyway.
“Even then, a deal is still a deal,” she said.
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