Southwest flavors on the go
There's no shortage of enthusiasm among staffers at the newly opened Moe's Southwest Grill in Pearlridge Center Uptown, where diners are greeted with a hearty "Welcome to Moe's!" -- the American equivalent of a Japanese restaurants' "Irasshai mase!"
Moe's Southwest Grill
Pearlridge Center, Uptown / 488-MOES (6637)
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Sundays
Cost: About $15 to $20 for two
The restaurant is one of a growing number of what are being called "fast casual" restaurants that serve food quickly but are a step up from a typical fast-food drive-through. Food-court-style tables and chairs are not as plush as at a so-called "family restaurant," but still make it convenient for shoppers to sit down and rest their feet while getting a bite to eat, especially with shopping madness due to kick into full gear by the end of the week.
The concept at Moe's is easy enough to grasp. Think Subway gone Southwestern or Tex/Mex. Stand in line and choose your ingredients and they build your meal before your eyes. It's a little rougher in execution, as those who've already spent minutes trying to understand Wahoo's Fish Taco's menu can probably attest.
Moe's menu also takes some time to study. Then, between the loud music and plastic barrier, it was hard for buyer and burrito builder to connect in a meaningful, constructive way. At least the owners, Patrick Rinn and Travis Wailehua, figured this out during the first week of business and have smartly adjusted the volume.
Ordering can be tricky until you get the hang of it, and forget about sending one person up to order for a large party. There are so many options you're bound to forget who can't eat jalapeños, who hates cilantro, who won't eat onions before a date, etc., etc. One person stuck with four orders can really hold up the line because it takes a while for the first server to steam tortillas and prep other shells before you can move on to the next station.
MOE'S IS ALL about selling a good time, and dish names like the Pinky Tuscadero Salad and Ugly Naked Guy Tacos are intended to reflect the relationship between fun and pop culture. If you get most of them, it's probably because you're watching way too much TV.
Don't get too hung up on the names because there's not much variety among dishes. All you need to know is whether you want a burrito ($5.79 to $6.99), taco ($1.99 to $3.39), quesadilla ($3.69 to $5.99), fajita ($7.99 to $8.99) or nachos ($4.79 to $6.29). Just remember a higher price gets you more toppings. For instance, the Joey Bag of Donuts burrito ($5.79) has rice, beans, meat, shredded cheese and salsa, while the Homewrecker burrito ($6.99) has all that plus guacamole, sour cream and lettuce.
The last option on each list is vegetarian, but if you're not going this route, you will be asked to make a meat selection. In Hawaii, we're lucky enough to have kalua pig and fish options in addition to the company's standard steak, chicken and tofu offerings. I thought the chicken fared best, but kalua pig was unavailable on my visit.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Moe's opens directly onto the mall, located outside the old JC Penney site in Pearlridge Center Uptown.
Then, just look at what's in front of you to close the deal. Choose pinto or black beans, shredded cheese, pico de gallo, sour cream, cucumbers, guacamole, jalapeños, green peppers, onions, cilantro and various salsas.
Think you're done?
There's still a salsa bar with various "rock 'n' roll," tomatillo and chipotle salsas.
The food might be best described as whitebread Mexican that's as Southwest as it can be for a company whose headquarters are in Atlanta, Ga. Flavors of cumin and chili powder are tamed so as to be palatable to the youngest members of your family, who can take their pick of Puff the Magic Dragon hard or soft tacos ($3.49), Moo Moo Mr. Cow burritos ($3.99) or Mini-Me cheese quesadillas ($2.99).
The fresh vegetables are a plus and by choosing black beans and nixing the sour cream, you can eat fairly healthy here.
No dessert is offered, but if you're still hungry, get an Açaí Bowl across the way at Robek's.
COURESTY MOE'S SOUTHWEST GRILL
Bill Barou nachos are $6.29 at Moe's Southwest Grill. The nachos are topped here with steak grilled on the premises.