Good atmosphere, decent food. Welcome to Moe's!


Published: Friday, January 2, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 11:52 p.m.

A first visit to Moe's Southwest Grill can be a little overwhelming.

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Chris and Lorraine Joseph have a late lunch together at the Moe's Southwest Grill on Archer Road. Chris is eating chicken fajitas and Lorraine is eating a burrito. The original Gainesville location is in Plaza Royale on Newberry Road.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun

Facts

Moe's Southwest Grill

Plaza Royale,
3832 W. Newberry Road
(337-2850)
Plaza Centro,
3443 SW Archer Road
(367-8565)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
FOOD: Mexican
SERVICE: N/A
LIBATIONS: Beer
ATMOSPHERE: Fast food but comfortable.

First, it's the cry of "Welcome to Moe's" from the crew when you walk in the door. Then it's the pressure to make a quick choice from a fairly extensive menu posted on the wall.

I say "pressure" not because the crews at Moe's two Gainesville locations are impatient. It's because there's always somebody, or several somebodies, right behind you as you come through the door at these busy Mexican restaurants, and, invariably, they know what they want.

Once you make the choice from a menu filled with very odd dish names ("Joey, Bag of Donuts" is a burrito, for example), it gets easier.

Moe's is to Mexican what Subway is to sandwiches in that there is an assembly line down which one follows one's meal, choosing ingredients as it's prepared before your eyes. Fortunately, the atmosphere at Moe's relies a lot less on the yellow Formica that saturates Subway.

There is no "service" per se. Once your fajitas, nachos, burritos, tacos, quesadillas or salads are assembled, you pay at the end of the line and take your plastic plate and cup to a comfortable, padded booth or table with movable chairs. Then, you get your own drink, napkins and whatever salsa or hot sauces you want from a condiment bar. Afterward, you bus your own table, just like Mickey D's.

I know this doesn't sound all that inviting, but there's a certain charm to the place other fast-food restaurants don't have. Perhaps it's the eclectic but excellent music ranging from early Beatles to the Grateful Dead and Miles Davis that plays louder than background music but not so loud as to stifle conversation. Perhaps it's that Moe's is darker and more comfortable than Taco Bell or Wendy's.

I'm not sure.

I can tell you the steak burritos ($4.99-$5.99) are pretty good. They feature rice, beans, lettuce, cheese, salsa and marinated, grilled steak inside a huge, rolled flour tortilla. You can add sour cream, guacamole or both for about $1, and sautéed mushrooms or veggies for another 79 cents each.

You won't need two burritos. These babies are huge.

Frankly, I didn't find anything else on the menu very compelling. The tacos ($2.09-$2.99 each) are not bad but so overstuffed I had to eat them with a fork. The fajitas ($6.49-$7.49) feature exactly the same ingredients as the burrito, as do the quesadillas ($2.99-$4.99), so why not just order a burrito?

Chicken or tofu is available in place of the beef, but I found the steak much more capable of standing up to the rest of the flavors. And I preferred the Newberry Road location. The crew offered a much more convincing "Welcome to Moe's!"

David Carlson has been writing about food, wine and restaurants for more than a decade. He can be reached at dave@carlsonfamily.net.

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