But there’s a small, family-owned restaurant chain in northern San Diego County that has bucked the trend, keeping the price of their signature fish tacos close to $1 for more than a decade.
Jack Sollecito heard about the tacos at El Pueblo Mexican Food in the seaside community of Cardiff from some fellow surfers. On a recent morning, he picked up a couple while waiting for the fog to pass on his way to the beach.
He checked his receipt. “Two fish tacos is $2.38,” he read aloud. “It’s awesome.”
These are not mini street tacos. They are full-sized tacos with crispy, breaded fish, a creamy chipotle sauce, fresh cabbage and pico de gallo. And this is no Taco Tuesday special. El Pueblo’s fish tacos are this cheap every day of the week.
The other taco standards on their menu — carne asada, carnitas — are $6.90 a piece.
So how and why does the company maintain their fish taco price?
El Pueblo General Manager Nony Funes said they tried to raise the price of their fish tacos, which originally cost 99 cents, in 2019. They went up to $1.99 each or two for $3.
“That was not met with happiness,” Funes said. “So we brought the 99 cent fish tacos back with the agreement that once a year we will do a small raise — but only when our guests are OK with it and only when people are not going to be so angry at us.”
The fish tacos now cost $1.19.
Funes said the chain of four restaurants doesn’t generally make money on their fish tacos. But when people buy them in large quantities, which they do — 40, 50 at a time, she said — 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 only sold about 2,000 carne asada tacos over the same time period.
Restaurant consultant Ben Brown said the fish tacos seem to be what’s known in economics as a loss leader.
“It gets those people through the door,” he said. “And people will want to try different menu items.”
Brown said the inexpensive fish tacos are also an alternative to placing ads in print or online.
“It creates great word-of-mouth marketing,” he said. “So I would consider it a marketing cost, and a very fun one at that.”
Customer Faye Gentry said she’s been coming to El Pueblo’s Cardiff location for “years and years.” She drops her car off to get detailed at the gas station next door and stops in to munch on a fish taco.
“Best in town,” she said after swallowing a bite. “Really and truly.”
Gentry said she didn’t remember El Pueblo’s brief, controversial fish taco price hike a few years back, and it wouldn’t have bothered her anyway.
“Even at that, it’s still a bargain,” she said.
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