NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A growing chain of fast-casual burrito restaurants is the latest newcomer to Easton Avenue, a thoroughfare that has seen several new food chains open in recent years.
Bubbakoo’s Burritos opened in February at 53 Easton Avenue, the longtime home of Cluck-U Chicken and a short-lived dessert shop.
The restaurant serves tailor-made Mexican fare, and is built around a highly customizable menu: the customer chooses the protein and toppings inside any burrito.
For meat eaters, Bubbakoo’s offers a mixture of familiar favorites with the unconventional — grilled chicken, ground beef and carnitas stand alongside ghost pepper chicken, sriracha pork and buffalo shrimp.
Vegetarians can try both bean & cheese and fried jalapeño burritos. The lengthy list of toppings includes black beans, pinto beans, hot salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese and more.
Burrito bowls, tacos, quesadillas and nachos on the menu can also be customized. Customers might wish to complement their entree with side orders such as chips with salsa, tater tots, curly fries and jalapeño poppers.
Part of a small but growing chain of restaurants, the New Brunswick location became the eighth Bubbakoo’s Burritos to open its doors in February, joining a crowded field of restaurants in the city.
For owners Paul Altero and Bill Hart, New Brunswick proved the perfect city for expanding their business.
“First and foremost, it’s a college area,” Altero said. “We’ve always been interested and excited about getting into a college atmosphere or a college venue. That, coupled with just the sheer density of New Brunswick, we thought that it would be a great idea.”
Titled after a memorable nickname Altero received during his college years, Bubbakoo’s Burritos first opened in Point Pleasant in 2008 and gradually opened several more locations in Ocean and Monmouth counties.
The restaurant’s shore origins are reflected in the restaurant’s decor: the sand-colored floors, ocean-blue ceilings and avocado-green walls emit an almost tropical vibe.
“We want you to walk in here and feel as though you can just relax for even fifteen to twenty minutes,” Altero said.
Altero emphasizes that he builds his business on quality food and friendly service.
“We prep our food all day, several times a day,” Altero said.
“We mix sauces several times a day. We hand cut produce during the day to make sure that we’re serving fresh, high-quality product. We think that definitely separates us from the competition.”
When compared with similar fast-casual restaurants such as Chipotle, Bubbakoo’s stands out with its more unique menu options.
Its signature item is the “Chiwawa,” which combines fried, panko-crusted rice balls with nacho cheese and the customer’s choice of meat and toppings.
For dessert, the restaurant offers “Love Chips” — soft taco tortillas quartered, lightly deep-fried, covered in powdered sugar and topped with a caramel drizzle.
More daring customers can choose to attempt the Bubbakoo’s Burritos eating challenge: two Chiwawas and a bag of chips within an hour.
A handful of customers have already completed the challenge, earning a T-shirt and their picture on the “Wall of Hefes.”
In the upcoming months, Hart and Altero plan to launch a mobile phone application allowing customers to submit orders to the New Brunswick restaurant using their smartphones.
For now, the duo is busy with plans to develop Bubbakoo’s Burritos as a franchise operation.
The Easton Avenue location is open Sunday through Wednesday from 11:00 AM until 9:00 PM, and from Thursday through Saturday until midnight. Late night hours are expected to resume in the fall, and delivery is available.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick.