There often is a good measuring stick when eating at a restaurant specializing in a particular type of food. Judge an Italian restaurant by the quality of its sauce. Pick your best breakfast joint by the home fries. A good Chinese restaurant stuffs a mean egg roll.
When it comes to Mexican fare, it’s all in the tortilla chips. They are (or should be) the first thing you taste, almost immediately upon being seated. Are they served warm? Salty? Too salty? And of course, how’s the salsa?
El Canelo Restaurant in Hamburg passes the chips-and-salsa test with flying jalapeños. But before you get to sink your teeth into a warm, salted, crisp chip, served by the basketful, you’ll enjoy the brightly decorated walls and festively painted booths as you enter the restaurant, located in a strip plaza across from the McKinley Mall. If the décor is a little too kitschy, it certainly errs on the side of fun.
That being said, no one will blame you if you completely overlook the décor, as your senses are overwhelmed by the mix of aromas wafting out from the kitchen. The folks at El Canelo take their Mexican food very seriously. If you expect anything even remotely resembling a Super Mighty, you’ll be sadly disappointed. But, if you are searching for as authentic a Mexican lunch as you might find in these parts, you’ll be at the right place.
After polishing off a basket of chips and a bowl of house-made salsa, it was time to get down to business. Wanting to get the full feel for the menu, we ordered big, which, given the depth of the lunch menu (33 lunch items priced between $6.15 and $7.99), wasn’t hard to do.
The food will take a bit longer than you might be used to, but that’s what you get if you want hot, fresh food prepared to order. When it arrived, we had enough to feed a football team. The mixed fajitas (chicken and steak, $8.25) came with all the fixings. In addition to the peppers and onions you are accustomed to, they sautéed in a portion of fresh tomatoes.
Next up, an order of Taquitos Mexicanos. One beef, one chicken and your choice of rice or refried beans (we opted for the beans, which were delicious). At $6.50, it was a lot of food for not much dinero.
We also added an order of the Queso Fundito ($5.99) to spice up our second round of chips. If you are a fan of chorizo, this is a must-have.
The food felt authentic, came out hot and well presented. The service was excellent, and our only complaint was that the portions were so generous, we didn’t have room to try the Sopapillas for dessert ($3.99).
One bonus about El Canelo: the children’s menu. We love Mexican in our house, but try getting two small children to buy into it. With unfamiliar foods and sides that include beans and rice, my 6-year-old says he’ll take his chances on starving. But El Canelo offers several traditional American kids items on their menu. From hamburgers to chicken fingers to mozzarella sticks or french fries, you’ll be able to enjoy an authentic Mexican delight, while your kids aren’t climbing the walls begging for a drive-thru.
El Canelo Mexican Restaurant
Where: 3670 McKinley Parkway, Hamburg (822-1220)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.