Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina, one of the nation’s fastest growing, fast-casual Mexican restaurant chains, has opened four new restaurants in 2009, and signed agreements for 28 more locations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The company is currently closing in on 100 restaurants, and aims to reach 200 restaurants by 2012.

The chain announced that Minneapolis, Jacksonville, Detroit, Raleigh-Durham, Birmingham, Nashville, Upstate New York and Baltimore will be key markets for its 2009 expansion plans.

“We are very excited about the progress we’ve made in the first half of 2009 and are looking to expand our high-quality, Fresh-Mexican concept to new and existing markets across the country,” said Paul Mangiamele, president and CEO of Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina. “With successful penetration in select southern and northeastern markets, Salsarita’s is setting its sights on building a nationally competitive franchise brand.”

Most recently, Salsarita’s opened two restaurants in Charlotte, North Carolina, and single units in Murfreesboro and Knoxville, Tennessee. A 20-unit store development agreement was signed in the Upstate New York region, and agreements with franchisees have been signed in Clarence, New York; Overland Park, Kansas; Greenville, North Carolina; and Puerto Rico.

“With more customers visiting fast-casual concepts instead of traditional full-service, sit-down restaurants, Salsarita’s is well positioned to succeed during this time of economic uncertainty,” Mangiamele said. “Fresh-Mexican is an up and coming concept and Salsarita’s fills this growing niche in the franchise industry.”

Salsarita’s specializes in serving made-to-order burritos, tacos, tortillas, pizzas, and taco salads. Prepared fresh in each restaurant, guests can order dishes featuring ground beef, grilled chicken, grilled steak or pork, grilled shrimp and fresh vegetables. Salsarita’s also offers a choice of 13 fillings and four homemade salsas. Every order is prepared in full view of customers in a 700-square-foot display kitchen with a contemporary Hispanic motif.