For five years now, chef/owner Joshua Smith has been making fabulous charcuterie, sausages and other aged, cured, fermented and/or smoked meat products at his New England Charcuterie wholesale facility in Waltham. These end up in retail outlets and restaurants all over the area, including Smith’s own Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions, its adjacent, fancier table-service sibling The Backroom at Moody’s and a second Moody’s Deli in the Back Bay. His empire recently grew again with the nearby El Rincón de Moody’s, a little storefront next to The Backroom that slings tacos and barbecue with some surprisingly mixed results.
Smith’s take on Mexican fare soars on the back of impeccable ingredients, starting with complimentary chips and a bright, smooth tomato salsa. A double layer of tortillas from Chelsea’s Cinco de Mayo wraps each of his gorgeous, wittily composed tacos ($4 each except for the lobster, $6). Thus langosta generously piles on Maine lobster with a big slice of fresh avocado plus some pickled red onion and lime crema, like a pretty, budget-priced, south-of-the-border lobster roll. Pollo complements delectable smoked chicken with chipotle aioli, pico de gallo and an insistent hit of fried garlic. Chorizo is a grease-dripping delight of crumbly spicy sausage with a dusting of cotija, given useful acid balance with blistered tomato salsa.
Carnitas loads beautifully big, chewy chunks of smoked heritage pork with a vivid splash of tomatillo salsa and thin, refreshing slices of cucumber. Barbacoa features slow-cooked Wagyu beef with evident slow-smoke flavor, some smooth, tangy-hot morita sauce, plus some radishes. Al pastor isn’t sliced shawarma-like off a traditional trompo, but it hits the right Syrian-inspired notes with chunks of crisp, tender Berkshire pork, diced pineapple, orange salsa and pickled Fresno chilies.
The slightly chunky guacamole ($5) is gorgeous, vivid and fresh. Vegetable escabeche ($4), sweet-tart pickles of carrots, bell peppers, celery, garlic and cauliflower, is terrific. Canonical soft drinks ($2-$3) include sweet, candy-colored Jarritos bottled sodas, North Carolina’s Dr-Pepper-like Cheerwine, quality sweet iced tea and lemonade-like agua fresca. Light, refreshing beers are a traditional choice with this food, here honored with four drafts ($5-$6), including two Mexican lagers, and five packaged beers, such as Miller High Life ponies ($2.50; six in a bucket of ice for $15), PBR tall boys ($4) and Shiner Bock ($6). Specialty cocktails ($8.50-$10) in plastic cups do the best they can with a cordial license, hence the margarita ($8.50) must sub out tequila for the sweeter, milder Agavero licor de tequila. Stop right here, and you’ve hit one of the area’s finer outposts of the gussied-up taquería genre.
Things get dicier as the menu moves on. The BBQ chicken BLT ($10) is rather good, with moist, smoky, shredded chicken topped with tomato, romaine, buttermilk dressing and excellent smoked bacon on a soft, round Martin’s potato bun. But the shrimp torta ($11) drowns a skimpy portion of flattop-grilled shrimp with too much avocado aioli, bland tomatoes and shredded romaine leaves. It’s really underwhelming despite a good torpedo roll. BBQ platters with two sides plus bread-and-butter pickles of cucumber and red onion are likewise a roller-coaster ride. Pulled pork ($14) from a heritage pig is cut coarse with good admixture of fat but lacks the expected vinegar bite. BBQ chicken ($14) is crisp-skinned, moist and a little smoky: very nice. But smoked brisket ($15) cut into a large dice is alternately inedibly hard or overly fatty, with a strangely strong, almost chemical smoke flavor, while pork ribs ($17) boast no visible smoke ring and are dreadfully mushy, falling off the bone in a way that suggests parboiling and grilling rather than low-and-slow smoking. That’s a few too many busts from a chef who rarely misses the mark elsewhere.
Sides ($3/cup, $5/pint, $10/quart) offer a few saving graces in the form of baked beans (superb, only slightly sweet and loaded with smoky pork chunks), potato salad (big chunks of red bliss potatoes, a little dull), mac and cheese (huge, deliciously creamy, dusted with chopped truffle potato and minced chives), cornbread (dense, a bit dry, but with good flavor), mayo-dressed slaw (generic), macaroni salad (helpfully punched up with nuggets of quality ham) and arroz rojo (substantial but underseasoned). Smaller appetites can try the BBQ options as sandwiches ($9-$11) on potato rolls, or as build-your-own taco platters ($16 for two proteins, three toppings, plus rice, beans and tortillas).
The sunny room centers on 13 bar seats around an open kitchen, plus another three window stools and four small picnic tables. It’s a cute bundle of hoary taquería tropes: exposed ductwork, wooden floors, white walls, pale blue tile lining the kitchen, a TV playing the fútbol match, kitschy bric-a-brac (Day of the Dead posters, serapes, sombreros) and a sapling lattice hanging over the bar, perhaps suggesting a border-country roadside beer garden. After a string of Joshua Smith restaurants on which The Improper has heaped rave reviews and multiple Boston’s Best awards, we’re nonplussed to have to render a split verdict on El Rincón de Moody’s: Stick to the amazing tacos and a few tasty sides, maybe crush a bucket of icy beers, but save your BBQ calories and dollars for elsewhere. ◆
All of the tacos
BBQ chicken BLT
BBQ chicken platter
Mac and cheese
El Rincón de Moody’s, 456 Moody St., Waltham (781-693-9191) elrincondemoodys.com; Hours: Tue.-Sun., 11 am-9 pm; Liquor: Cordials, beer and wine; Reservations: No; Parking: Free street spaces and nearby metered public lots