In Atlanta there used to be great little restaurant called Tortillas, where a person could buy tasty and gargantuan burritos, literally the size of a Nerf football. It was located in a questionable neighborhood, the sound system was usually blasting some kind of gravel in a blender punk music, and the clientele was, um, colorful.
I loved it, and ate there roughly a million times. My apartment was within walking distance, and I’d often hoof it over there after work, order my Land of the Giants dinner, and polish off a Rolling Rock (from their self-serve coolers) while a team of hipsters built my burrito.
They served up “Mexican” that wasn’t anywhere near Mexican – without apology. And was I looking for authenticity? No, I was not. I was looking for really good food, in outrageous quantity, for little money. And that’s exactly what those folks provided.
After we left Atlanta Tortillas was at the top of my list of things I missed most about the city. It had become a comfortable and reliable part of my life. When I heard they’d closed, a couple years later, it seemed impossible. A world without Tortillas? It just didn’t compute.
In California there was a Baja Fresh a couple miles from our house, and we thought it was pretty good. We considered it a commercialized Tortillas rip-off, which was a little irritating, but begrudgingly enjoyed their burritos. We didn’t go there often, but enough to long for it when we moved to Scranton.
“I wish someone would put a Baja Fresh in this town,” was something Toney and I said repeatedly, while considering our options for a quick and cheap lunch.
When a place called Panchero’s opened, we were excited. It was clearly of the same concept: gigantic Americanized burritos in pseudo-hipster surroundings.
But I didn’t like it. The rice and chicken were tasteless, and everything was about 20% too expensive, according to my inner sensor. Yeah, the burritos were large, but there was no flavor. It was like eating a sack of dry cornbread mix. And who wants to do that?
We went to Panchero’s exactly twice, and never returned.
Now we have another contender near us: Moe’s Southwest Grill. They opened on Thursday, and we had lunch there on Saturday – hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.
As we passed through the door the entire staff hollered, “Welcome to Moe’s!” from all corners of the restaurant. This caused the other customers to turn on their heels, and look directly at us. Already, I was irritated.
Their menu featured wacky names for things, like the Joey Bag of Donuts burrito, and the Overachiever taco. This was not starting well…
Toney went with a vegetarian burrito, called the Art Vandalay (I shit you not), and I opted for the Homewrecker, which seemed to offer the approximate lineup of ingredients I prefer. Including grilled chicken.
While we waited for the woman to steam our tortillas, or whatever she was doing, I realized the Homewrecker burrito and the Triple Lindy are exactly the same thing – except one has lettuce on it. Come on! They just wanted another opportunity to be wacky.
Once the tortillas were lying flat on the serving board, it was a lot like Subway. They just shoved them down the length of the thing, and we told them what to pile on the sumbitches. In addition to chicken and rice, I went with cheese, black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream, lettuce, and cilantro.
During the building process the manager (I presume) repeatedly screamed “Welcome to Moe’s!!” at a volume level usually reserved for drunken spectators at bowl games. And the staff would follow a beat or two behind, with much less enthusiasm. I watched their faces during all this, and it looked like they were dying a little inside.
There was a bottleneck at the cash register, and I don’t really like waiting in line for the opportunity to give my money away. But the restaurant was just-opened, so I was willing to give them a little more leeway than usual.
We (finally!) paid for our food, and stopped at the drink station/salsa bar. They’d included nacho chips with our meals, and each of us chose a salsa from five or six options. I went with something relatively mild, because I have nothing to prove.
At the table we unwrapped our burritos, and they were indeed sizable. Like cannonballs, really. And now we were at the moment of truth… Would it be a keeper, or another two-times and we’re out? Would it remind me of the late, great Tortillas, or bag o’ pencil shavings Panchero’s?
And I’m happy to report it was very good indeed. I could actually taste every ingredient, it wasn’t just a big wad of blandness. Everything seemed fresh, and the burrito didn’t collapse at the halfway mark. In fact, it wasn’t messy at all, which is fairly miraculous considering the circumstances.
The chips weren’t the greatest in the world; they were kinda thick and Triscuit-like. But the salsa was really good, which almost made up for it.
Overall, I thought it was excellent. Nothing will ever take the place of Tortillas in my heart, of course, but I’m happy to have a decent facsimile in the neighborhood. I have a feeling I’m going to be logging considerable time there.
In six months, I predict, I’ll walk in and everyone will yell, “WELCOME TO M-! Oh, it’s just that weird guy again…”
I do, however, have one tiny moral reservation about the whole thing… In this article from 2003 the former owner of Tortillas blames Moe’s for the demise of his restaurant, and actually challenges “Moe” to a fistfight. So, in my hunt for a Tortillas alternative I’ll be supporting the very people who killed it off!
It’s like a friggin’ O. Henry short story, or something.
Hi everyone. Merry Christmas.
Merry Christmas to you too!!
uncle rickles says
We have a place her now called Ionic Burrito–They used to be Sonic Burrito but some Big-arse Corp said they ownred the Sonic name when they moved t o town a couple years ago. Won’t ever have me a Sonic Burger I can tell you that but Ionic (like A Saturn ion) make a damn fine Burrito you can’t get your mouth around.
Moe’s would be great if they would shut the fuck up.
If you do ever get to come to Oklahoma, or Texas Jeff you have go to try Taco Bueno, Stupid Name, good food. The have a B.O.B. (Big Ole Burrito) its soo good.
I usually find that those sort of places – Chipotle comes to mind – don’t really make burritos, but rather, food wraps. I also think their food is really bland. We are getting more and more chain places now – a Red Lobster and a Sonic are the latest.
I still think the best burritos I ever had were off of the roach coaches in LA, in the mid 1980s.
D in Seattle says
Woo hoo! Top ten! A giant burrito sounds delicious right now, too bad I’m snowed in.
Man, do I miss Baja Fresh.
A place in Bozeman, MT called Soby’s. I have spent years trying to replicate their most delicious breakfast burrito. There’ nothing like it in the whole entire world!
I freakin love Moe’s man! The place actually started here in Atlanta and “Moe’s” stands for Musicians, Outlaws, and Entertainers.
But dude, seriously, skip the burritos next time and go for the Billy Barou Nachos. Then get them to load them sons-a-bitches up with queso and fresh jalapenos. You will slap your mama after eating it.
Baja fresh sucks monkey balls, they don’t understand the importance of molten queso.
Missed it by that much…
I grew up in L.A. and two monster burrito places spring to mind…Manuel’s El Tepeyac in East L.A. had a beast called the Hollenbeck (named after the local LAPD station) and La Familia in Venice had a 5 lb gut bomb called El Toro.
Chitpotle>Moes all day every day.
Wow – another Tortillas fan. My bride and I were regulars from the very beginning – in fact I eventually got to know Charlie pretty well – we used to go to the San Fransisco/Atlanta football games together Good times. We had kind of lost touch by the time the place closed and .were unaware that his business had tailed off at all. I hadn’t read the article in Creative Loafing – sounds like just like Charlie though,
As for Moe’s – meh. Not bad but not really good. Better, I think, is Chipotle. Good fresh stuff and nobody yells at you. Downside – they are a recent acquisition of McDonalds – still seems good, though.
Greg, Remember when Tortillas was just a walk-up window, a few doors down from the eventual mega-location? Good stuff, regardless of venue.
We’ve got Moe’s down here in nearby Boca Del Vista. Your description of the experience is the way it happens here too. At lunch the line goes out the door and around the corner so the staff gets a little lax on the yelling thing. They just indiscriminately scream it out from time to time. The food is ok but hard to enjoy when sitting in such a large herd of snooty Boca snobs.
I’ve never left the place hungry…that’s for sure. DAM those things are huge!!!
Joe T. says
I wondered how long it would take you to give us a review. You’re like clockwork.
I drove by Moe’s on Saturday, fully expecting to grab a burrito, but then realized it was a sit down place when I got to the parking lot. By myself…no, not when the parking lot was something “Vince the Pizza Prince” could only dream of in the clink.
So, I had another great idea, screw the newness of Moe’s, I’d grab a 5 Guys to go. The line of cars on the 5 Guys side of the road was streched out to Wegman’s, there’s no light and the parking lot looked like a giant pain in the ass….GRRRR!
Settled for Chinese.
Good Afternoon Surf Reporters……..
No real mexican or tex-mex places around here I’d go out of my way to get to, so I’ve got nothing really.
Although I will stray from the subject at hand to ask: What’s the deal with the Bunker Cam pic? I don’t get it. Am I missing something??
Big Bear In OH says
Chipotle is as good if not better than Moe’s. No yelling, no douchery, and best of all, it’s all organic AND not that bad for you! Granted, the burritos are the size of your forearm, and technically could be two meals, but who isn’t going to try to down it as a meal? Either way, burritos are the new subs.
I like Moes well enough. I think I prefer it to Chipotle. I like Panchero’s but I think it is a little flavorless. Baja Fresh does nothing for me. We’ve also got a Del Taco which has so far failed to impress me every time I’ve tried it. It’s only redeeming quality is it’s location, which I find convenient.
We used to have a little family owned mexican place a couple miles from the house that made what they called a California Grande burrito and Oh my God it was awesome. And they had a salsa that was incredile.
My wife and I ate there almost once a week while she was pregnant and pretty regularly afterwards. In fact I think it was the first restaurant we visited with The Peanut.
Then we went in there one day and eveything was different. It seems the owners had a fight and the husband/cook decided just to bag it.
The wife came in, changed the menu and wrecked the place. They were gone in a few months.
Now it’s a middle eastern restaurant and we’ve got plenty of those already.
Chipotle, Moes, Qdoba… 6 of 1 half dozen of the other.
What I need is good chinese. Had some ‘food’ last night – and I use the term loosely – from a chinese place nearby. Soggy potstickers, tasteless soup, medicinal tasting fried rice… ugh.
I have a Moe’s near my house, and go there pretty often. The burritos are delicious, and I love that I get to give “my” name for the burrito. They don’t seem to find it odd that Aleister Crowley and Calligula eat their burritos.
The Billy Barou ROCKS!!! Here in Atlanta/Athens we have Barberitos also (they don’t yell at ya when you walk in the door)!! They are both good!!!
Ahhh, I remember Tortillas. The burritos were great, but the thing I miss most were the weird little toys that they gave you so that the server could associate your order with your table. Strange thing to miss, I know, but it was part of the charm. Fortunately, we still have Eats!
Whenever restaurants ask for a name I am always Tupac. Pour some liquor out!
Since I live in Texas, we don’t have a lot of pseudo-Mexican places because there are enough real Mexican and Tex-Mex places to go around. I for one feel like an ass going to Taco Bell when there is a perfectly good tacqueria down the road charging similar prices. Similarly, the existance of Texas Roadhouse here is a bit of a mystery – like going to an Olive Garden in Rome, you know?
But there was a similar place in Lubbock called Freebirds – really expensive and not very good.
But it is funny how restaurants can become part of your comfort zone. There is a little Italian place in our neighborhood that we go to all the time and if it closed I think I would personally trying to help them find financing to reopen.
Moe’s does kind of rock, esp the nachos. Mmm, molten cheese.
That being said, the new fave around these parts is aplce right in Downtown Wake Forest called “Las Maragaritas.” Who doesn’t love a basement Mexi place staffed to the gills with actual natives that serves pitchers of margaritas???
I was worried you would not like Moe’s (after reccomending it a few weeks back).
I yell “get back to work!” after they yell “welcome to Moe’s”
i’m not much for chains, but the chipotles around here (twin cities) sponser and donate to a lot of cool things like charity bike rides and d-level rec hockey teams that would never get big sponsers otherwise, so i gotta give them kudos.
while i was gone, a baja fresh took over the baja grill i used to frequent regularly (just across the street from my old place in minneapolis, worked by real central americans, and the only thing they ever played was the best of the gipsy kings) – i have not been able to bring myself to try it.
I’ll take Moe’s over Chipotle anyday as Moe’s gives free chips and salsa, but Chipotle charges for them. As for yelling “Welcome,” give it time. Once people are used to going there, they won’t even notice when it’s yelled.
I normally make my own Mexican feasts so everything is fresh and tasty, but occasionally I enjoy a trip the the Rio Grande in Nitro. Most times it’s great, sometimes it’s not so great but after a couple Margaritas, a can of dog food and an old shoe would taste like the best bean burrito in the universe.
Ok…so shoot me. I go for the Margaritas…
Joey Bag of Donuts? serious? That is from Mike Birbiglia’s stand up routine….might just be the funniest guy on the comedy circuit right now.
Fat Dad says
I miss Angela’s Pizza, King’s Table, The Family Kitchen and Billie Joe’s Dairy Queen.
Tammie – sure am missing me some Rio Grande. I usually ate at the downtown Chas. one though. Unfortunately, if you jokingly yell “Emigre!” the waitstaff will clear out.
Thanks for the review! Moe’s has just opened up here in Toronto! We are so deprived we used to actually eat at Chi Chi’s before it went bust! When i first drove by Moe’s I was wondering what the hell a dead stooge had to do with Mexican food! Nyuk,Nyuk,Nyuk!!
Uncle Buzz in Wheeling says
Rolling Rock Beer, now known as Rotting Rock Beer.
Hope you’ns haven’t tried one lately because the real Rolling Rock Beer died in 1987.
Yes, it’s true – the Latrobe Brewing Company is long gone, and the plant today makes, are you ready… Samuel Adams Beer.
Not sure where they make the fake Rolling Rock these days, but the motto on their web site says, actually says…
“Let’s put the past behind us.” I swear I am not making this up. So, you have been warned.
The quote for today is actually a question…
“What would you undertake to do if you knew that you absolutely could not fail?”
Munch on that over the xmas holiday!
And, as always, respect those who seek the truth; suspect those who say they’ve found it.
Everyone was talking about Moe’s a while back so I went and tried it. I’ve been twice. I had the nachos the first time (because of Tiff did such a good job of selling them) and a burrito the second time. I have to say, I was underwhelmed.
I could do without the screaming. Whoever came up with that needs to have their dick fed to them. “Hey, let’s cause a scene everytime someone comes in. It’ll be cute and make us different.” Yeah, maybe that was the case the first 600 times. Now it’s just another way to disturb the peace.
I went to a Cold Stone Creamery once and I’ve not been back because they insisted on dropping everything and singing an absurd jingle whenever someone put a dollar in the tip jar. STFU and hand me my mint chocolate chip, assholes.
I was also wondering about the bunker cam. There must be some kind of hidden joke and I’m not getting it. I tried reading the letters that were left exposed to see if it was something witty. No dice.
Merry Christmas to everyone ! although sometimes I think no one here cares much for me or my comments. I never was the popular one………
Too bad you guys don’t have Tijuana Flats yet (Florida chain). They beat Moe’s in fistfights down here all the time. Best chain burritos around.
And then there is Burrito Brothers from Gainesville, FL. Best burritos of all time there.
Merry Christmas Debra!
I hope it’s “Perfect”
90% of us are the unpopular ones so you belong to the Best group!
Holy crikey! I just checked and you DO have Tijuana Flats in PA. Three locations: Pittsburgh, Bensalem and Duncansville. Not sure if close to you, but if you go, get the blackened chicken Megajuana, wet with queso and chipotle red sauce. Damn! I may have to go tonight.
Merry Christmas Debra! The idea that no one here cares much for you or your comments is balderdash – poppycock, even!
Haven’t got a lot of the commercial Mexican joints in my town. Chi-Chi’s tried and failed, and of course there’s the ubiquitous Taco Bell (featuring Grade F meat: made from circus animals and road kill). We do have one place called Under the Volcano, which has an awesome burrito called The Big One, and a new joint called Si Senor.
We have a lot of South American immigrants in my town, so we have a lot of restaurants featuring foods from Columbia, Honduras, etc, which has similarities to Mexican. My current favorite is EL RANCHITO (http://www.checkoutarestaurant.com/profile.cfm?pid=1289). They have the best papoosas ever!.
We did have a Peruvian restaurant that served Ceviche de Pescado (http://laylita.com/recipes/2008/07/13/fish-ceviche/), which was fantastic. Unfortunately the owner decided to close the restaurant and focus on his catering business.
Sorry to hear your current Tortillas replacement is the company that hand-fed them their demise.
What YOU need is to pry hard for a
..to come to your neck of the woods.
Fresh, flavorful, salsa bar AND no yelling at every entrance.
GREAT prices, too.
*This* is your true Tortilla’s without-guilt-replacement
At Moe’s here, they stopped yelling at you after about 4 months. That’s good, because I wouldn’t go back until they did. Try the john Coctostan with pinto beans. It’s really good!
Do you have a Chipotle? They are good too. But the best is a local place here called Los Vaqueros.
fattie20xl / lucas says
the screaming “welome” crap needs to die a slow cancer/aids ridden death before i’d go to moe’s. besides, i live in the barrio. cheepo mexican food’s everywhere. i’ll go to a taco stop with no name, eat some spicy flavorful food and then go home and watch fatgirl bondage porn.
because i’m a man. and that’s the manly thing to do.
I’ll tell you about Casa De Mama one more time. It’s in South Side. Look it up, you fey, gorging, middle-aged epicenter of bitch!
NC Dave says
The local Moe’s here has a Monday Homewrecker special with chips and drink for five bucks! Best damn deal in town and the place is packed.