I'm a big fan of Mexican food, so I think that the "fast casual" Mexican trend of the last two decades or so has been one of the best things to happen to lunch time in a long time.

Here in Ocean County, in addition to traditional sit-down restaurants, we have a number of options that fit the "fast casual" bill, and they're all great in their own ways.

So here are my top 5 Ocean County fast casual Tex-Mex joints, and what they each excel at.

  • Bubbakoo's Burritos

    Home of the Chiwawa

    A shore original (Point Pleasant born and bred), you can't go wrong with anything at Bubbakoo's, including the outgoing personalities of almost everyone that I've ever encountered working at one. But if you go for one thing, go for the Chiwawa.

    They take lightly breaded and fried rice balls, smash them into a bowl, and add any Mexican toppings that you want.

    The best part of the Chiwawa to me is the brilliant mix of flavors and textures. The sticky-style rice gives it a perfect starchy base to be the vehicle for your favorite toppings.

    Bubbakoo's Route 9 Bayville location (Google Maps)
  • Surf Taco

    It's right in the name

    Another Ocean County original (you can still eat at the first location on Richmond Ave in Point Pleasant Beach), I always get the same thing at Surf Taco - naturally, the Surf Taco!

    Their California-style fish tacos are exactly what you would want from a shore Mexican-fusion restaurant - lightly crispy fish, crunchy slaw, and cool cilantro sauce, I've never gotten one that wasn't piping hot and crispy.

    I also really dig the rice & beans side dish at Surf Taco. I couldn't even tell you specifically why, but they just really know how to do rice & beans!

    Silverton Surf Taco (Google Maps)
  • Fins

    Always get "High Tide", always!

    Yet another local success story, Fins Tropicali Cuisine has a trio of locations - Point Pleasant, Bradley Beach, and Sea Girt.

    While still fast casual, you'll wait a little bit longer for your meal at Fins. But it's not because they're slow, it's because they're making everything to order. While you can certainly get your meal to go, I recommend eating it right there, the second it comes out of the kitchen.

    And always get your burrito "High Tide" style - with enchilada sauce and melted cheese.

    They also make killer salsa. Like, I've ordered sides of salsa just to take home with me.

    Fins Sea Girt Location (Google Maps)
  • Moe's Southwest Grill

    Everything. Just, everything.

    Look, I'm not even going to pretend to not be biased. If I had to choose one place to eat lunch every day, it would be Moe's.

    I've talked a number of times here about how I've practically begged the food gods for an Ocean County Moe's since I first moved back home to Jersey a decade ago.

    Now that we finally have one right in Toms River, I suppose I theoretically could eat there every day for lunch, but I probably shouldn't.

    While I'll eat just about anything on their menu, I do have my go-to: the "Joey Jr" burrito and the "Who is Kaiser Salsa?" from the salsa bar..

    Moe's Southwest Grill's New Toms River Location (Photo by Justin Louis)
  • Chipotle

    The Grandfather of Fast Casual Mexican

    When Chipotle came on to the scene in the early 90s, "fast casual" wasn't really much of a thing yet.

    Before Chipotle, if you wanted a burrito for lunch, you'd either have to order from a full service Mexican restaurant, or, heaven forbid, hit a Taco Bell.

    They took the Subway model of the customer picking their ingredients as their meal was assembled, and brought fresh burritos and tacos to the masses.

    If I'm being honest, I'm actually not a big Chipotle fan, which I know will be blasphemy to some. But it gets a spot on this list for starting it all.

    Hooper Ave Chipotle (Google Maps)