Cabo Fresh, a Californian-Mexican restaurant in Stony Brook, features a...

Cabo Fresh, a Californian-Mexican restaurant in Stony Brook, features a Baja Bowl with fire-grilled chicken, the same as a burrito, only without the tortilla and served in a eco-friendly bowl. (Feb. 21, 2012) Credit: Doug Young

While it may have the look of a chain like Chipotle, Cabo Fresh is truly a mom and pop operation. Owner Jim DiVilio, his wife, Diana, and their three children take orders from behind the counter, assembling tacos, burritos, salads and more. Customers move down a line, picking out ingredients. The operative word here is "fresh," with almost everything made on premises and from scratch.

From the outset, DiVilio won me over by using dark meat chicken. The moist, fire-roasted poultry pieces were part of a vibrant salad topped with citrus Texmati rice, black beans, pico de gallo and two salsas, roasted corn and mango.

Another time, a friend's first bite of a barbecued chicken quesadilla elicited a double take: Something this good at a fast-food place? Meanwhile, a fire-eating companion made fast work of a "Baja bowl" -- smoky, juicy pieces of fire-grilled steak atop rice, beans and white-hot habanero salsa. To cool the flames: a refreshing mango madness smoothie.

There was, admittedly, too much cucumber wasabi dressing in an otherwise grand seared ahi tuna bowl, the chunks of spice-crusted fish done super-rare, as specified. Also in the bowl: spinach, rice and pico de gallo.

Crisp corn tortillas stuffed with sweet pork carnitas -- cubes of meat roasted with pineapple barbecue sauce -- proved a revelation. I would have preferred soft corn to white flour tortillas in my chili-roasted beef taco, but the meat was imbued with such dulcet smokiness that it hardly mattered. A whole-wheat burrito "fajita style" came with onions and peppers in place of beans; its main ingredient, shrimp, was grilled to sweet succulence. A big hit.

A potent and fruity frozen strawberry margarita came in a plastic cup. Beer also is available. To finish, there were choco tacos, little waffle ice-cream treats made by Klondike. I preferred them to churros -- sticks of sugary fried dough.

DiVilio, doubtless, sank much dough into making Cabo Fresh a "green" place that optimizes reclaimed and energy-efficient materials. Franchises are on the horizon. For now, though, there's much to be appreciated in a family-run original.

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