There’s a new Mexican joint in town. Tucked away at the back of an arcade on the wharf side of Manly is Chica Bonita – a Mexican small bar and restaurant headed up in the kitchen by the awesome Lex. We checked it out on a Friday night and it was totally packed by 6.30pm, with people spilling out into the arcade.
A round of drinks was definitely in order to celebrate the end of the week, and Chica Bonita’s bar certainly delivers. Coronas, margaritas (ginger, watermelon, and jalapeno and orange flavours), and a cinnamon and honey cocktail called the “Rim Job”. Make what you will of that ;)
Lex’s ceviche is served with a brown paper bag filled to the brim with crisp tortilla chips. The ling fish is zingy from the lime marinade, and has a nice firm texture. I could definitely do with a larger bowl of this all to myself!
The Olivera street corn comes wrapped in foil with a generous sprinkling of cheese. The corn is a little soft without the usual crunch when you bite into the kernels, but it’s still incredibly juicy.
“What’s corn truffle?” asks Sir D. “We’ll tell you after you eat it”. The quesadilla contains an earthy mix of mushrooms, melted cheese and “corn truffle“, which is actually a fungus that grows on corn. Probably best not to wiki it before you eat it, but if you do – don’t be put off! It’s delicious, I promise!
One of the specials on the night is the chimichanga, which comes highly recommended by Sean, one of the owners of Chica Bonita. The dish comes as a pair of spring roll looking scrolls – one filled with pulled pork and the other with black beans. The pulled pork one is delicious and definitely my preference, but the one filled with black beans and cheese is also tasty with a slight spicyness to it from the chipotle creme.
If you only order one thing from Chica Bonita, make sure you get the chicharron sopa. A mini tortilla is topped with a tile of the crunchiest pork crackling ever, creamy guacamole and a tomato salsa. It’s gone in just two bites, but oh baby were they the two most glorious bites ever!
The cochinita pibil taco is filled with pulled pork, similar to what was in one of our chimichangas. It’s topped with some black beans and slices of pickled onion. My favourite of the tacos though is the fish taco which contains little deep fried nuggets of fish, shredded cabbage and a Baja creme which is slightly spicy.
The tama asada taco has pieces of grilled steak, corn and some cabbage. The steak pieces are flavoursome and not at all chewy, but I do much prefer them in the carne asada fries…
A mound of shoestring fries mixed in with aforementioned pieces of steak, melted cheese and topped with guacamole and salsa arrives on our table with forks speared into it. It’s a tasty stomach filler just in case you weren’t quite full yet, and I find it best to have a little bit of everything in one mouthful.
Do we have room for dessert? Of course! We pounce on the tres leches cake, another special for the night. The sponge cake is soaked with tres leches, or three milks: condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream. It’s sweet and rich, with a sprinkle of cinnamon as well. The sweetness is countered well by the dark chocolate ganache which includes a hidden punch of chilli, seeds and all.
The other dessert on the regular menu is a rum and raisin cremita. Think of a pannacotta – then add a whole lotta rum and some booze-soaked raisins and you get this dessert. Definitely not something for the faint hearted (or the lightweight drinker!)
Even though we’ve eaten and drank for a few hours, Chica Bonita shows no signs of slowing down. The service is super friendly, though a little slow at times due to the masses of patrons but few waitstaff. Come at lunchtime for a reduced menu of burritos and fries or check it out at dinner for the full menu. Be prepared to get in early or wait though, because it seems like everybody wants a piece of Chica Bonita!
7 The Corso
Manly NSW 2095 (inside Manly Arcade)
Ph: +61 (0)450 612 896
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11.30am to midnight (kitchen closes at 10pm)