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Cheap Eats

A funny thing happened to us at El Canelo.

Our four dinners came out of the kitchen so fast that I was certain it wasn't our order and tried to send the plates away.

When the confusion was straightened out, Ruth, Dan, John and I would have laughed, but we were too busy digging into our dinners.

El Canelo is part of a small chain with restaurants in Ohio and Pennsylvania and two locally. We visited the one near the Ogden Street toll barrier that started life as a Howard Johnson's and then was the Nickel City Cafe. (The second El Canelo is located on Transit Road in Depew.) Inside, there are colorful serapes decorating the walls and a good number of tables and booths.

On the way to our table, we spotted a beer special -- Coors or Blue Light for a mere $2.50 in a huge mug that we estimated to hold close to a quart. It made Dan a happy diner indeed.

The menu was close to overwhelming. The combination dinners offer various arrays of burritos, chile rellenos, tacos, enchiladas, chalupas, rice and beans, ranging in price from $6.05 to $6.90. But that was just a start. The menu also listed more unusual choices, including a Super Crabmeat Quesadilla for $8.90, grilled steaks for $12.29 or a Grilled Lobster Burrito for $13.99, the most expensive item on the menu. There's also a vegetarian section, a la carte items, side orders and appetizers. Believe me, you will have no trouble finding something you'll like.

I chose the Tacos de Carne Asada ($8.10), three steamy, soft flour tortillas filled with tender chunks of marinated steak. I sauced them with the accompanying dish of Pico de Gallo, a mixture of fresh tomatoes, onions and cilantro.

Dan enjoyed the Combination Dinner 30 for $6.90, two beef burritos and one chile relleno, a flattened poblano pepper filled with melted cheese. John chose combination Dinner 28, which was made up of a burrito, an enchilada, a tamale and Spanish rice. The tamale, with its thicker cornmeal casing, was particularly tasty, he said. Ruth liked her four deep-fried Taquitos Mexicanos ($7.20), two chicken and two beef.

Dessert offerings went far beyond the normal flan and fried ice cream. I had the flan ($2.40), which was velvety and sweet, and Dan had the fried ice cream ($2.40), which arrived decorated with whipped cream and drizzles of chocolate. Ruth went for the Choco-Taco ($2.40), a folded pastry crust filled with pudding, and John pronounced the Pastel de Queso, or strawberry cheesecake ($3.15), just OK.

It was the only misfire of the night. In all, muy bueno!

El Canelo

431 Dingens St., Cheektowaga

897-1195

Review: 3 1/2 pennies (Out of 4)

"Fresh, hot, fast."

El Canelo is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

-- Anne Neville

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