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Salsarita’s steps into north Tarrant’s fast-casual dance

The area surrounding the U.S 377-North Tarrant Parkway intersection, roughly where Fort Worth, Watauga and Keller meet, has not been kind to fast-casual, assembly-line burrito shops.

Moe’s Southwest Grill and Bad Azz Burrito quickly came and went on 377, a little south of that intersection. Not far to the west, a Freebirds World Burrito was quickly grounded on North Tarrant Parkway.

Now, in that former Freebirds space, Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina is giving it a go. It’s a pleasant, cleanly laid-out, friendly shop where, on my visits, the guys behind the counter have been helpful and eager to please.

Salsarita’s is a growing chain that originated in Charlotte, N.C., in 2000 and has locations in 19 states, according to its website. A close friend of Christopher Blair, one of the partners in the north Fort Worth franchise, opened a Salsarita’s in Tyler in 2009. Blair, who had restaurant experience, started looking into the chain, which was sold in 2013 to the former CEO of McAlister’s Deli. Blair says in an e-mail that growth seemed imminent under the new leadership, and his friend has since opened a second Tyler location.

In 2014, Blair met Stephen Heim while they were working in nursing administration in Fort Worth (coincidentally, Heim is a distant cousin of Travis Heim, whose Heim Barbecue is the subject of DFW.com’s other restaurant review this week). They began discussing the possibility of obtaining franchise rights for the booming north Fort Worth area. They made several visits to North Carolina, signed a franchise agreement and opened Salsarita’s in the late spring on North Tarrant.

There, you’ll find a familiar drill: Order at the counter. Decide on your entree (burrito, bowl, quesadilla, salad, nachos). Pick a protein (or go veggie). Add toppings. Entrees range from $7.49 to $8.99. For a little more, you can get a “Quesorito,” a queso-topped burrito. Tacos, listed separately from the other entrees, are also available, ranging from $2.79 to $3.29 per taco.

The trays behind the counter were filled with vibrant-looking options, and a steak burrito ($8.49) didn’t disappoint. The cubes of meat were tender and flavorful, the shredded cheese generous, the vegetables fresh, the burrito huge. The “hot” sauce isn’t going to strike fear in any fire-eater’s heart, which means that it might not be as spicy as some people like, but it also won’t blow your palate.

A shrimp bowl ($7.79) was loaded with fresh, tails-off shrimp — when I noted the near-empty tray, a new batch was quickly cooked — and a pile of shredded cheese melted nicely into it. Ingredients were similar, aside from the “roja” salsa, the second-hottest but again not overwhelmingly spicy. If you’re looking for a bigger kick, adding jalapeños to an entree is the way to go.

Chips are sturdy enough to handle the various sides. Guacamole ($3.19) was good without being spectacular; queso ($3.19) was better, slightly runny in texture but delivering on the cheese flavor. Portions of both were a little on the small side compared with some other restaurants but were enough for a solo diner.

The Fort Worth location recently began offering soft cookies, made off-site. The only dessert on the menu is “poquitos” ($1.99) bite-sized bits of churros that will definitely satisfy any cinnamon craving (and possibly leave you dusting cinnamon off your clothes). A few beers and a margarita are also available.

The northern Tarrant County growth that attracted Blair and Heim to this location also means a lot of competition — drive-through fast-food restaurants with more familiar brand names aren’t that far away. But the service and the food make Salsarita’s a good addition to a tough area.

And we’ll be back to try a quesorito. Always gotta have more cheese.

Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina

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