Showing us how it rolls, Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill (NASDAQ:RUBO) announced that it was acquiring four of its franchised eateries in Las Vegas. The company that prides itself on introducing fish tacos to the Southern Californian diet more than 20 years ago is paying just $500,000 to take over the locations and that's clearly a mixed message.

Yes, Rubio's is getting itself a bargain. On the flipside, one has to wonder why a franchisee would unload the concept stores so quickly. Rubio's has been busy trying to win back investor confidence with gradual expansion and concept tweaks, but the results haven't delivered the goods lately.

The chain is coming off a questionable quarter. Earnings were halved as revenue climbed all of 3.9% for the March quarter. Comps rose 0.9% for the period, but that was the result of price hikes as traffic was actually down by 2.1%. Tack on the 1% decline in comps a year earlier and you have a company that isn't performing any better at the store level than it was two years ago.

It's only logical to compare that to Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG). The companies share the "Mexican Grill" moniker on the corporate letterhead but that's about it. Chipotle has been a spicy growth stock since going public earlier this year, topping forecasts and doing so on double-digit spikes in comps and breakneck expansion.

This doesn't mean that Rubio's is a failure, only mortal. Chipotle's rivals like Baja Fresh at Wendy's (NYSE:WEN) or CKE Restaurants' (NYSE:CKR) La Salsa have also been stuck in neutral.

Rubio's isn't really in that camp as its reach is only one-third of the size of the larger players. Its 150 units stretch across only the five Southwestern states and its expansion strategy calls for adding no more than a dozen new locations this year.

However, it joins Chipotle and casual dining operator Mexican Restaurants (NASDAQ:CASA) as some of the few stand-alone Mexican eateries that are publicly traded. In time, it may even be a beneficiary of Chipotle if Chipotle's success continues to steer diners towards slightly fancier fare than Yum! Restaurants' (NYSE:YUM) Taco Bell fast food behemoth.

That wouldn't be too bad, and it would certainly make Rubio's gamble in Vegas pay off nicely.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz could go for a burrito about now. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. T he Fool has a disclosure policy. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.