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You'll feel welcome at Moe's.

Byline: Bill Clapper

As soon as we walked into Moe's Southwest Grill, we knew we weren't in our children's fast-food restaurant. The decor was more closely allied to a Starbucks or casual cafe rather than the garish youth marketing monster that the hamburger joints and other fast-food eateries have become.

The menus were tastefully and legibly painted on wall-mounted boards. The desert colors, the furniture, the posters and prints all evoked a sense of the Southwest. We felt as if we were in an intimate cafe in Santa Fe or Sonoma rather than a squat, yellow brick building at the top of a parking lot off Route 9 in Shrewsbury.

Greetings of "Welcome to Moe's" rang out from the counter as enthusiastic and upbeat servers stood poised to prepare our dinners. The choice of entrees was typical for a Southwestern or Mex-American restaurant - burritos, tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, salads and nachos. It's the variations on those themes that put Moe's ahead of all the fast-food taco shacks that ring our urban centers.

Burritos appeared to be the raison d'etre of Moe's, and if you're not attracted by the beguiling names of the rolled meals - Homewrecker, Triple Lindy, Joey Bag of Donuts, Art Vandalay - then the fresh ingredients are sure to win you over.

The burritos, ranging in price from $5.99 to $6.59, are stuffed to the bursting point with choice of grilled meat, tofu, veggies, rice, beans, cheese, jalapenos, pico de gallo tomatoes, assorted peppers, onions or cilantro.

The quesadillas ($4.19 to $5.89), fajitas ($8.69 and $7.69) and nachos ($5.49 and $5.99) are similarly named and constructed according to the customer's wishes. Moe's also offers vegetarian variations of its dinners.

After watching a Homewrecker burrito put together, we decided to exercise our right of restraint with nachos and fajitas.

My partner chose steak for her Billy Barou nacho platter ($5.99). The steak was grilled to her liking, medium well, and combined with oversized dollops of pinto beans, cheese, pico de gallo, jalapenos and black olives.

She allowed that the beans were well-prepared (not mushy, in other words) and had acceptable flavor. I agreed that the beans were freshly made and not out of a can. But I failed to find much flavor and there was no peppery zing that I was expecting. We agreed to disagree on the beans. I say they were bland while she says they were flavorful.

My Alfredo Garcia fajita ($7.69) was expertly prepared with chunks of marinated chicken grilled as I watched. The peppers and onions were sauteed in a light oil and some delicate spices that allowed the sweetness of the onions and slight bitterness of the peppers to come through.

A side of guacamole was disappointing for one of us. I expected the guac to be heavily garlicked and tangy with lemon juice, because that is what I am accustomed to. It was neither. The subtleness of the avocado and cilantro were evident, and that appealed to my partner.

We were both disappointed with the free chips and salsa. The salsa was bland and lacked character. Salsa should be spicy and make a statement. Moe's salsa falls short on the boldness scale and the finely chopped ingredients tend to make the consistency closer to a compote or a tapenade, not a robust salsa.

Beverages were a mixed bag. Moe's choices are limited to bottled beers, frozen margaritas that come out of a slush drink machines, and soft drinks.

The margaritas, called moe-ritas, come in lime, which is not close to a traditional 'rita, or strawberry, which tended to be more of a frozen punch drink than the lips-puckering, limey sourness a true margarita aficionado would demand.

One thing that sets Moe's apart is the artwork. Abstract prints that reflect the Moe's theme adorn the walls. Along with other first-timers to Moe's, we found it amusing to read the pithy sayings that border the framed prints.

Of the dozen or so pictures in the restaurant, we found a couple that encapsulated what Moe's is all about:

"If you don't have fun saying guacamole, you're probably pronouncing it wrong."

"You can tell a lot by the way a person dips their chips."

At Moe's, you can't tell a lot about the food or service until you walk in and hear, "Welcome to Moe's."

Moe's Southwest Grill

61 Boston Tpke., Route 9 West


* * *

Hours: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Phone: (508) 797-6637

Parking: in lot in front of building.

Handicapped access: Adequate. Restaurant on ground level. An upper-level dining area in the rear of the restaurant can be accessed from the sidewalk.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover.

Prices: Low; entrees $2.79 to $8.69.

Pluses: Welcoming, attentive staff, tasteful decor, no-frills basic fare.

Minuses: Blandness in the foods where spiciness is expected.

About the Stars

Perfection: * * * *

Very Good: * * *

Good: * *

Below Par: *

Serious Flaws: No stars

Etc. restaurant reviews are the opinions of reviewers based upon at least one visit to the restaurant. The reviewer is accompanied by at least one companion. Recommendations from readers about restaurants they would like to have reviewed are welcome.
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Title Annotation:ETC.
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 6, 2008
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