Chef Joshua Smith opened Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions in Waltham five years ago, and since then expanded three more times, taking over adjacent storefronts. First he put in the Backroom, a restaurant that serves smoky meats and other delicious dishes cooked in a wood-fired oven. Then came Crudo, in a space that was once the Indian restaurant Santa Banta. The additional storefront gave the restaurant — with all the spaces connected — 120 seats.
Now Smith, who also owns New England Charcuterie, has expanded once more into a former Haitian market. The little space, El Rincon de Moody’s (the “corner” of Moody’s), stands by itself next door, but is connected to the mother ship in every way. Staff come from the first restaurant, and Smith says that crew — natives of Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, and other Latin American counties — named the venture and decided on many of the menu items.
Though Smith and his team gutted the original market, El Rincon, which seats 20, has an appealing make-do quality. Wood boxes mounted on the walls hold Mexican dolls, trinkets, and hot sauces. Walls have unfinished wood wainscotting that’s painted white; each table has its own roll of paper towels mounted on the wall beside it (these are your napkins).
El Rincon serves a limited menu of tacos and barbecue. You can order a house margarita, pleasantly lime-y, or a Long Distance Runner, with Lillet, yellow Chartreuse, lime, and grapefruit soda. All drinks come in a plastic cup. The taqueria is only a few steps removed from a food truck.
Order at a counter and food comes out quickly so nothing soaks into your gorgeous tacos. Get a trio in a woven red plastic basket. Carnitas, with Berkshire pork shoulder and tomatilla sauce, are deliciously smoky. Barbacoa begins with shanks that are so massive, says Smith, they take 16 hours to slow cook over fire and in an oven. This is meat candy with a smoky chile sauce, radishes, lime, and cilantro. A drippy, three-bite wonder.
The flour tortillas come from Chelsea-based Cinco de Mayo Mexican Foods. Cooks cut them to make extraordinary chips for guacamole and salsa. Guac is bright green with onion, cilantro, and lime juice. Intense and addictive salsa is made with toasted and rehydrated dried jalapenos ground to a paste and mixed with wood-roasted Roma tomatoes.
Smith is known for vivid flavors, for dishes that make you want to keep eating, like a shrimp torta, a sandwich in a soft roll, filled with grilled pink crustaceans, jalapeno, avocado aioli, and plenty of lettuce. It’s all wonderfully creamy, crunchy, sweet, spicy, and smoky.
On the barbecue menu, baked beans have the pleasing taste of smoked pork in the pot, cole slaw is bathed in a creamy dressing. But smoked brisket seems dry and lonely on the platter. It improves with barbecue sauce that isn’t meant to go with it.
Smith says that he sees staff on their lunch break and days off eating at El Rincon, which pleases him, and vouches for the authenticity of the place. If you ask him about culinary appropriation — someone from one culture offering food of another — he’ll tell you that everyone making this food comes from the place it originated. “I’m just the guy financing it and supporting it.” 456 Moody St., Waltham, 781-693-9191, www.elrincondemoodys.com