Moe's Southwest Grill

Fast Food, Tex-Mex
$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

At Moe's, Plenty of Food and a Side of Silliness

By Bobbie and Tom Wilkinson
Sunday, July 10, 2005

The first thing you need to know about Moe's Southwest Grill in Leesburg is that you're going to be yelled at when you come in the door.

The second thing is that the waiters are trying to be friendly when they holler "Welcome to Moe's!" But it generally comes out as "Bneysfyorltzzgws . . . MOE'S!" Or at least that's what it sounded like when we wandered in.

Moe's is somewhat new on the scene, having opened in December as part of the development of the Potomac Station shopping center. The center is just east of Leesburg and north of Route 7.

There's a light at Battlefield Parkway, also relatively new. Hang a left there if you're going east, or a right if you're going west, and you'll see Moe's.

Moe's is a lively place, with lots of kids and families. Nothing fancy -- in fact, it's kind of a cafeteria-style place. But there is plenty of food and a strong Tex-Mex influence.

The menu is on the wall as you enter, and you order in the serving line, where you're expected to be an active participant. Here's what you hear: "You want some of this [guacamole, beans, sour cream, salsa]? "Sure." Plop. "You want some of this?" "Sure." Plop. And so on.

Side orders of mushrooms and peppers, among other items, are also available. The menu notes that you can order a "cup of fat" for $10. Manager Charles Belendir, who has worked in the restaurant business for 19 years, says that's a joke.

Make sure, however, that you do order the guacamole. It comes with just about everything, and an extra side is good for you. It attracted universal admiration in our party, with its piquant edge of cilantro and generous chunks of avocado and tomato. Cool, refreshing, tasty.

Your basic order can be tacos, fajitas, burritos or quesadillas. The exact names are something else again, edging heavily toward the "cute" category -- as in "Joey Bag of Donuts," "The Other Lewinsky" and "I Said Posse."

In addition to soft drinks, iced tea, beer and the like, there are two large machines mixing frozen margaritas, or Moe-ritas. "Blabbermouth" is lime flavor, and "Village Idiot" is strawberry flavor. If you like Mexican beer, you'll be pleased with the half-dozen offerings.

After getting your meal, you head to the seating area, where there are 10 or so booths and a half-dozen tables. There are big windows in the front, and you'll like the view if you like parking lots.

We should also mention that you will pass a table of additional sauces on the way to your table. The choices are a medium spicy sauce ("Moe's Rock and Roll"), a higher-octane sauce ("Moe's Hard Rock"), salsa and tomatillo sauce. Some in our party didn't taste much difference in the two spicy sauces.

We chose a couple of starters to share: a bowl of queso and chips and a quesadilla, known as "Sherman Klump." Both got good marks. Queso, which also comes in a cup size, is essentially melted American cheese. It turned out to be comforting: warm, smooth and inviting. The quesadilla was a warm soft tortilla packed with cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese.

Here's the other stuff we ended up with: "Homewrecker," "Ugly Naked Guy," "The Other Lewinsky" and "Fat Sam." Those are names, the menu says, that make Moe laugh. And who's Moe? Moe is an old nickname of the chain's founder, Martin Sprock, whose boyhood bowl haircut prompted comparisons to Moe Howard of the Three Stooges.

Moe gets around, by the way. The company, which has its headquarters in Atlanta, was established in 2000 and now has restaurants in about 20 states. There's another Moe's in Falls Church.

Moe also has a thing about freshness. We learned that from the menu, again, which says that the food at lunch is made that morning and that the afternoon is spent preparing the dinner ingredients.

So let's translate a little. The "Homewrecker" is a burrito with beans, rice, shredded cheese, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and lettuce accompanying grilled steak, chicken or tofu. It was generally good, although its consumer spent a little time brooding over the beans. Not as flavorful as they could be, she said.

The "Ugly Naked Guy" is also known as a taco -- a vegetarian one with a hard or soft shell. It comes with pinto or black beans, shredded cheese, lettuce, sour cream, salsa and guacamole. The member of our party who ordered it said she was so hungry that she ate the whole thing without thinking about how it tasted. Well. You can dress them up, but sometimes you can't take them out. After some reflection, she said she should have paid closer attention in the serving line. The taco had too much sour cream, she said, something she could have controlled had she been watching instead of talking. A cautionary tale.

"The Other Lewinsky" also is a taco, but with steak, chicken or tofu. The other ingredients are the same, but our companion opted to add cilantro and peppers. He liked it, and was quite proud of his culinary experimentation.

"Fat Sam" is steak fajitas with mushrooms. The tortillas came separately, wrapped in foil and retaining their warmth. We experimented here with the spicy sauces, which certainly stepped up the heat.

The hottest sauce had a gritty feel, which one of us thought was chipotle powder. Belendir said it came out of a seasoning packet. Another person in our party thought it had too much vinegar. We also dumped some of this sauce in the queso, which brought varying reviews.

The aforementioned guacamole provides a soothing antidote, by the way, if your hot sauce consumption gets out of hand.

The margaritas? Mild, tasting something like a lime soda, was the consensus opinion.

A note about the music: The informative menu says it's the stuff that Moe likes, mostly tunes by his musical favorites who are no longer with us. So expect to hear Sinatra, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis and the Beatles. There are paintings of these musicians on the walls. The words our party used to describe the paintings included "arresting," "garish," "colorful," "stuff you win at a county fair," "stark" and "vibrant." You be the judge.

Also on the wall was a television that, when we were there, was tuned to a Cubs-Reds game, even though the Nationals were playing.