Thursday, September 18, 2008

Review: El Canelo

Name: El Canelo
Address: 2740 Erie Blvd E, Syracuse, NY
Neighborhood: Salt Springs (Erie Boulevard East)
Menu: View Menu
Cuisine: Mexican
Alcohol: Full Bar
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 AM to 10 PM, Friday-Saturday 11 AM to 11 PM, Sunday 11 AM to 9 PM
Parking: Private lot
Accepts credit cards: Yes
Happy Hour: Every Sunday through Thursday from 5PM to 7PM with $.89 drafts
Buffet: Sundays from 11 AM to 4 PM

I don't at all claim to be any kind of expert on Mexican food, but it is one of my top three favorite cuisines and I have eaten at Mexican restaurants in at least a few places of note: New York City, Boston, LA, and on two separate visits to Mexico - once to the Baja Strip and once to the Yucatan Peninsula. At any rate, I was by no means expecting El Canelo to out-do any of the restaurants in these places, especially given the fact that most Erie Boulevard eateries are either chain restaurants or are relatively sketchy. However, I was expeting the food to be quite good being that they stated "Authentic Mexican Food".

Just by walking in through the door, you can almost tell that El Canelo in located in what used to be a Chinese restaurant. It's just setup that way. You walk in and there's a bunch of boxes of gum on the counter next to the cash register. Where else do you find boxes of gum when you first walk in to a place other than a Chinese buffet? The booths and carpet, although very clean, looked like they were left over from a previous establishment. And my theory on the whole "Sunday Buffet" is probably because El Canelo claimed the extra vats and heat lights from a Chinese buffet and decided they could still use them on their own. Although, I will admit, a Mexican buffet is a great concept. The interior could use some work, or at least some direction. It's really just a mass of former Chinese restaurant gimmicks and confusing Mexican restaurant additions. Kind of a let-down because from the outside, it looks like they might know what they're doing in here, but on the inside it was jumbled confusion.

The menu reads like a Chinese menu as well, with such things as "Lunch Specials" and "Combination Dinners". It can be a little confusing ordering, not only because of the amount of choices, but for the limited amount of descriptions on most of the dishes. (For a pdf file of El Canelo's menu, click here). The waitresses do not speak English very well, so you may or may not have to repeat yourself or ask the waitresses to repeat themselves. Not a big deal in my book, but just a heads up. The order...

Regular Lime Margarita: $4.95
Burrito California: $7.95
Total money spent with tax and tip: $13.80

Before the meals, you are served complimentary chips and salsa. The tortillas were very good and were served quite warm, so I'm guessing they had just made them before I had walked in. The salsa was a puree mixture - not necessarily what I'm used to for table salsa, but it was still good none the less. Although, I thought it could have had a little more heat to it.

Check out my huge margarita...

There was a rim of salt on the outside (which I'm a big fan of) but the grains were pretty small. Not that it really matters, but I'm used to sea salt on the rims and this looked a bit more like table salt. It wasn't really a big deal because the drink tasted limey and delicious. A great value for $5. Is limey a word?

The Burrito California was listed on the menu as "one big burrito rolled with carne asada, refried beans, Spanish rice, and pico de gallo, served with lettuce and guacamole".

The burrito was served with half a plate full of shredded lettuce with a large piece of tomato and small dollop of guacamole in the middle. A little too much lettuce for decoration (or for eating) and not nearly enough guacamole - especially being that this dish has the word "California" in it. And something was just off with the guacamole. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. It was very acidic and it wasn't because it had too much lime juice or anything like that. It just tasted funky so I didn't finish it.

As for the carne asada, it was fairly dry. Which was strange because as far as my understanding goes, carne asada is supposed to be marinated strips of grilled beef. Come to think of it, most of my burrito was dry: the tortilla, the meat, and the Spanish rice. And there really wasn't any pico de gallo in the burrito. Pico de gallo is essentially freshly chopped salsa, but there were hardly ANY tomatoes in it - there was just way too much meat for my taste and not nearly enough refried beans or salsa. I did end up finishing most of it, but I thought the proportions of ingredients could have been way better.

Overall, the prices were cheap, but I wasn't blown away by anything. In my opinion you can have cheap prices and still serve awesome Mexican food - hence the whole concept of roadside stands throughout much of Mexico. I guess I was just really expecting their "Authentic Mexican" food to be better. Instead, I left feeling let-down and confused. I doubt I'll be going back.

Oh, El Canelo. I had such high hopes for you.

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