Monday, June 25, 2012
Why I Am Decidely Split On Moe’s Southwestern Grill!
Click here to get a gift card for Moe's Southwestern Grill!
The Good: Good tasting food, Relatively nutritious, Inexpensive, Decent corporate philosophy
The Bad: “Fun” names are annoyingly unspecific, Meats are always cold, Light on side dishes/choices
The Basics: A surprisingly good chain, Moe’s Southwestern Grill offers affordable Mexican food assembled while one watches. Decent, if limited, options.
I am a fan of Mexican food. Ironically, I am a fan of American Mexican food; all of the times I have had the chance to avail myself of a trip to a Mexican restaurant where authentic Mexican cuisine is served, I have missed out. While I do frequent one local Mexican restaurant, most of my Mexican dining comes in the form of Taco Bell (reviewed here) or Mexican Grills, like Chipotle Grill (reviewed here!), which I prefer to the faster food option. Now, as direct competition to Chipotle Grill, there is Moe’s Southwestern Grill.
Having now eaten at three different Moe’s Southwestern Grills across New York State, I figured it was time to pen a review of the up and coming chain restaurant. The bottom line is: it’s good. Moe’s Southwestern Grill has a few quirks that I’m not so keen on, but otherwise is a casual dining experience that delivers on its promise of affordable Mexican cuisine made with good ingredients.
I've been going back and forth on the rating, largely over the temperature of the "protein." I went to Moe's Southwestern Grill today even and yet again, the meat in my meal was cold. I absolutely don't understand that. On the plus side, the fajita that I had was actually three fajitas (there were three shells and enough filling to make three very full fajitas!). FYI, my rating oscillated from 7.5 - 5 and ultimately ended up where it did because the meat and tofu has never once been hot or even particularly warm when I've eaten at Moe's Southwestern Grill.
Moe’s Southwestern Grill is a fast-growing restaurant chain. In New York State, where I live, there are already thirty-six and there are over four hundred locations peppered all over the East Coast of the United States, moving west. They seem to be direct competition with Chipotle in both style and substance.
Moe’s Southwestern seems to be a reasonably fast food establishment that is catering to the conscientious carnivores of the United States. The dining rooms tend to have a very trendy, modern look and minimal southwestern décor (though the colorscheme of the Moe’s Southwestern Grills that I have been to have been predominantly orange inside). All three I visited were kept exceptionally clean, even on my weekend visits. All three featured booths and tables that were moderately comfortable. They also had televisions on in the dining area that gave the restaurants a little more of a “sports bar” feel. That did not grab me, but it does differentiate the restaurant well from its competition.
Moe’s Southwestern Grill - at least the ones I have been to - do not exactly have waiters and waitresses. Patrons line up at a cafeteria-style assembly station and place their order with a “cook” who assembles the meal for them. These stations are very sleek, clean stainless steel hotpads where all of the fillings for the possible dishes are kept warm.
Between the three establishments I have been to, the drill seems to be that when one reaches the front of the line, one tells the assembler what one wants and they prepare the shell (burrito or taco or salad bowl) that is appropriate. That assembler walks down the line putting in ingredients as they reach them, confirming when necessary with the customer.
At the locations I have been a patron at, the servers were friendly, clean and easily executed all of my wishes. In fact, at the second one I visited (the only one so far I have been to multiple times!) the assembler redefined my order to a lower-priced option based on how little I actually wanted in my burrito.
Moe’s Southwestern Grill is essentially a Mexican food establishment. The dishes include burritos, fajitas, rice bowls, quesadillas, tacos and salads. The selection for these items is differentiated by the meat or tofu (which the chain annoyingly refers to as “protein”) one chooses to add to the dish and it is the price of the meat that determines the price of the dish. As a result, a steak burrito runs more expensive than a chicken one.
And here’s my big problem with Moe’s Southwestern Grill: the names. I’ve been to multiple Moe’s and each time I order, I feel like a Mo because the names of things aren’t specific and clearly differentiate between what one gets. The burritos, for example, are called Homewrecker, Joey Bag Of Donuts, Art Vandalay, and Joey Jr. Now, all four can have any of 20 free ingredients added to them, like lettuce and tomtatoes. The Art Vandalay is vegetarian, but the fundamental difference between the Homewrecker, Joey and Joey Jr. seriously appears to be that one has guacamole and the others . . .? When I go into a place and make my order, I like to know exactly what I am getting, I don’t want a decoder ring. Thinking, for example, that I was reading the menu right the last time when I asked for a Joey Bag Of Donuts with steak, black beans, rice, and lots of cheese, that I had ordered the right thing, I was informed that the cheaper option for such a simple burrito was a Joey Jr. Go figure. Moe’s Southwestern Grill makes ordering food needlessly complicated.
Like Chipotle, Moe’s Southwestern Grill is competing for the healthy, ethical crowd. All of the meats Moe’s Southwestern Grill uses are advertised as being all-natural. There are no hormones added to the animals and they are not kept in restrictive cages. Grass-fed, grain-fed and steroid free, Moe’s Southwestern Grill apparently works hard to provide great ingredients and they are honestly tasty.
The main food I have tried at all of the Moe’s I have gone to is a steak burrito, with black beans, rice, and lots of cheese. I get the big one, so it does not fall apart easily and the Joey Bag of Donuts/Joey Jr. is actually quite good. The beans have always been soft, the rice is fresh and I’ve never yet run into a grain of it that is hard and undercooked, which is a welcome change from some of the eateries I have frequented! Consistently, though, I have had to ask for the burritos to be cooked a little longer to reheat the meat (meat temperature is very important to me for enjoying the taste). The steak, however, has always been flavorful and delicious.
The tofu taco is actually a lot of fun. I enjoy a good sense of irony, so I got a tofu taco with bacon and smothered in cheese. The tofu was surprisingly bland and even though it looked pretty well-seasoned and baked, it was incredibly bland. Fortunately, when paired with the bacon, it turned into a salty, delicious taco unlike any I had ever had. This is what I would strongly recommend for anyone going to Moe's Southwestern Grill!
The chicken fajita(s) were far better when I got them home and could heat them up. The chicken for the chicken was supple and flavorful. Originally, it was very juicy and it was accented by the peppers and onions the chicken was paired with. The peppers were sweet and the onions were fully flavorful, without being crunchy. Ironically, the vegetables were hotter than the chicken! For the fajitas, the portions were exceptional and that was a great value. I recommend the fajitas, but take-out only so they can be reheated so the chicken achieves its full flavor.
In addition to the main courses, there are free corn chips. The corn chips are freshly made (I watched them being made!). Alas, they were not particularly salty enough for me.
Drinks vary based on location, but they seem to all serve alcohol. The sodas and bottled waters were both under $2, which is fair in this day in age.
Considering it is pretty easy to get filled up on any one meal with a drink for around $10, Moe’s Southwestern Grill represents a very ethical, delicious dining option that seems like it would reasonably continue to expand, even if its menu options are named in an irksome fashion.
For other restaurants, be sure to check out my reviews of:
For other restaurant reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
Click here to get a gift card for Moe's Southwestern Grill!