Moe's Southwest follows a path of proven success

It's another fast, fresh Mexican food chain

September 15, 2005|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In a world so big that both Coke and Pepsi can become giant corporations by selling sweetened water, a world that serves billions and billions of McDonald's hamburgers, yet still has enough meat-eaters left over to keep both Wendy's and Burger King in business, there's probably room for Moe's, a Southwest-style casual restaurant that bears a striking resemblance to both Chiptole and Qdoba.

Like the other two rapidly growing chains, Moe's Southwest Grill features such south-of-the-border fare as tacos, burritos, quesadillas and fajitas. And, like the other two, the food at Moe's is assembled in front of you while you wait.

You know the drill. After you order, you slide your tray down the assembly line while your taco is assembled. Do you want black beans or pinto? Chicken or beef? A lot of guacamole or a little?

All three also offer some version of a burrito in a bowl, apparently in deference to the Atkins crowd.

And all three, according to their respective Web sites, started with a simple idea and a desire to give the world the best dang Mexican food ever.

"When I created Chipotle in 1993, I had a very simple idea," says Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle Mexican Grill, which is owned by McDonald's. "Offer a simple menu of great food prepared fresh each day."

"It all started with some fresh ideas," says the Qdoba site. "Fresh foods. Fast service. Lots of choices." The company, now with more than 200 restaurants, is owned by Jack in the Box.

Not to be outdone, Moe's Web site informs us that "it's pretty simple, really." According to the restaurant literature, it started with a "guy named Moe," who wanted to create a restaurant that served his favorite foods and played his favorite music.

The chain, now about 200 strong, is owned by Raving Brands, which also franchises Mama Fu's Asian House, Planet Smoothie, Shane's Rib Shack and a bunch of other stuff.

The York Road location, which opened in December, is the second one in Maryland. (The other is in College Park.) More are sure to follow.

Naturally, there's a gimmick, though a small one. When you walk into Moe's, the staff behind the counter stops rolling burritos and spooning beans into tacos long enough to shout "Welcome to Moe's."

Another overly cute touch is that most of the entrees have names that refer to some dated morsel of pop culture, such as the Pinky Tuscadero, the Close Talker and Art Vandalay (the last two are from Seinfeld).

Yet, though it lacks originality, Moe's offers a pleasant dining experience. The restaurant is clean and bright, with fun music playing at just the right decibel level (and much quieter than at Chipotle).

The food is straightforward and tasty, if a tad too salty. The red, yellow and purple tortilla chips are crisp and fresh, the guacamole is made with real avocado, the salsa packs plenty of spice. The chicken and beef, chopped into large chunks, are both quite tender and nicely flavored with lime and cumin.

A vegetarian quesadilla with a nicely browned tortilla was especially tasty, featuring a flavorful mix of sauteed mushrooms, peppers and onions, as well as cheese and beans.

The unpleasantly named Homewrecker, one of the more expensive items at $6.49, consists of a burrito stuffed with seasoned rice, meat, beans, cheese, guacamole, sour cream and veggies - a lot of food for the money.

Dessert is cookies - white chocolate, regular chocolate or oatmeal, three for a dollar.

Even though you pour your own sodas and bus your own table, the quality of service at Moe's is worth noting. The line moved quickly during a recent visit, the people putting the burritos together were pleasant, and when we asked for a box to take away our leftovers, it was gladly provided.

It just goes to show you: Competition is good for the consumer.

Moe's Southwest Grill

Where: 10015 York Road, Cockeysville

Call: 410-667-MOES (6637)

Open: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Credit cards: All major

Prices: Sides, $.79-$4.99, entrees $2.29-$7.99

Food: *** (3 stars)

Service: ** (2 stars)

Atmosphere: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)

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