El Canelo – Shenango Township

Have I mentioned yet that I really love tacos?  I really, really do.  I could eat just tacos for the rest of my life and be happy.  I have always loved tacos.  I did not, however, always have an accurate understanding of Mexican food.

Growing up in a very white area of Pennsylvania, it was not until my adolescence that I was introduced to anything remotely considered true Mexican food.  We grew up eating Taco Bell and going out to Chi-Chi’s (the former I won’t get within 100 feet of and the latter went out of business years ago).  It wasn’t until El Canelo opened in New Castle  (around 2003) that I got to experience more traditional Mexican food.

I honestly can’t give a complete history of where they have been located in Lawrence County because I can’t recall some of the early years and I haven’t kept up with all the changes since I left.  I can speak on two locations though.  The restaurant in Neshannock Township was originally a Wendy’s.  At first it was weird going there because we used eat there when it was Wendy’s.  However, I can’t even remember what the Wendy’s looked like now.  It has been El Canelo for so long that I associate the restaurant with that building.

The location in Shenango Township, however, more recently turned.  It originally was a KFC.  El Canelo was already in Shenango, back in the ‘plaza,’ but they switched to this location up the street when KFC went out.  My sister actually worked in that KFC, so it is still a bit strange to have a Mexican restaurant there.

El Canelo in Shenango, formerly KFC

While still Americanized in comparison to some true Mexican food places I have been to in Texas and the DMV, it still has a soft spot in my heart.  I still come back here almost every time I visit home, partly out of nostalgia, but partly because I enjoy the food.

El Canelo has an especially sentimental place in my heart after an event that happened last fall.  In September 2017, a friend of mine suddenly and unexpectedly passed away after an aneurysm burst.  She was 17 years old and just a genuinely amazing young woman.  Her name was Katie (spelled differently than mine) and she was like a little sister to me.  I had known Katie since she was a baby.  Our families were members of the same church.  For three summers in a row, I was Katie’s full time babysitter when she was 9 to 11 years old.

Katie and I did so many fun things together.  It has been a bit hard making rounds to all my favorite New Castle spots because we had a lot of the same favorites.  Everywhere I have gone this week in New Castle has reminded me of Katie.  El Canelo was Katie’s favorite restaurant.  We went there a lot!  If I said we could go out for lunch, she almost always chose El Canelo.  We went to the Neshannock location because that was close to her house.

I still remember her order.  It was Especial la Casa:  a beef tip burrito smothered in queso.  It was a rare occasion if she ordered anything else.  That dish has always been one of my favorites, too.  I wanted to order that in honor of her this week.  I do miss her so much.

On Tuesday night, I met one of my friends from high school for dinner at El Canelo in Shenango.  It looked very much the same since I was last here.  However, I noticed that their salsa recipe has changed.  This is not a complaint, as I actually like this new salsa better.  It has less of a raw tomato taste and is smoother.  I would guess that this has more of a tomato sauce base than just raw tomatoes.  I certainly approve of this new change.

I was going to order the Special la Casa in Katie’s memory, but that item is only on the lunch menu.  Instead of paying the surcharge to order off the lunch menu, I ordered the Chile Verde Special la Casa.  It is basically the same as the lunch item but smothered with a green chile sauce in addition to the queso.  I had never seen that on the menu before.


I quite enjoyed my meal.  The chile verde sauce was a great addition to this dish.  It gives it a bit more flavor and kick than just the queso.  It was a satisfying meal.  I was having a hankering for some classic El Canelo food.  I am glad I was able to fulfill that craving.

I know that El Canelo is not the best Mexican food I’ve ever had, but it is the best Mexican food in my hometown.  There is nothing that could even come close.  In fact, I think it is the only Mexican restaurant in New Castle (well including all the restaurants operated by the El Canelo owner).  I always enjoy coming to El Canelo when I am in town.  The food is good, the service is quick, and I love the people there.  I always have a positive experience at El Canelo.


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