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Monday, July 16, 2012

Chica Bonita, Manly

chica bonita manly

The Sydney CBD has its small bars, but so too it seems, does Manly. We walk right past Chica Bonita at first, eventually doubling back and taking a hunch by walking down an unposted arcade. Its hidden location may stump the blow-ins, but locals have already discovered this week-old Mexican joint, and at 6pm on a Friday we score the last table in this tiny 20-seater.

Mates Luke and Sean are behind Chica Bonita - two lads who have always wanted to run their own taco place. Chica Bonita means pretty lady in Spanish. Tonight we're here primarily to support friend and fellow food blogger Lex, running the kitchen in his first head chef gig (Hai Lex!).

tortilla chips and guacamole at chica bonita manly
Chips and guac $6

There's a hip and happening buzz to the place, fitted out in a stylised urban grunge that is de rigeur. Many of the furnishings have come straight from Tijuana, Mexico, like the star lights that hang from the ceiling, the rainbow blankets to keep customers warm at night and the striking ceramic sink in the bathroom. There are a few young families in the early evening but by nighttime it's hipster city, swelling to the point where customers stand three deep at the bar, or hover awkwardly with tacos over a chairless table in the arcade corridor.

ginger margarita at chica bonita manly
Ginger margaritas $10.50

The drinks list is all about the margarita, served in handled jam jars that are crusted perhaps a little too enthusiastically with salt. The watermelon margarita is refreshing and the ginger margarita is warm without being overly spicy. There's not much kick to the jalapeno with orange margarita but it's the cheekily named rim job cocktail that ahem, proves to be the crowd favourite - and the source of limitless joking with waitstaff.

ceviche at chica bonita manly
Alex's ceviche $6

We start with the guac and chips, the tortilla chips piled into a brown paper bag artfully folded down and served on a chopping board. Everything seems to be served on a chopping board, so much so that occasionally we have to relinquish boards on our table because they're running out in the kitchen.

The guacamole is vibrant with fresh avocado but a little heavy on the red onion. The ceviche of ling fish is a tasty combination with the tortilla chips, even if it is a little difficult to dig out of the pot. It's a generous portion too for only $6.

huitlacoche at chica bonita manly
Corn truffle quesadilla $7

We have no illusions about the corn truffle quesadilla, well aware that the use of the word "truffle" is really a euphemism for the fungi that grows on corn creating the Mexican delicacy "huitlacoche". It lends a smoky richness to the corn, although it's not so discernible here with the addition of mushroom. It's also a little messy to eat, especially with the tomato salsa strewn artfully across the top.

chimichanga at chica bonita manly
Chimichanga $10

The chimichanga is a blackboard special for the day, not quite as crunchy as a spring roll but deep-fried to a gentle crisp. One contains pulled pork, the other holds a huddle of black beans with cheese. It's more delicate than you'd expect, punctuated with acidity from the tomato salsa.

street corn at chica bonita manly
Olivera street corn $4

The Olivera street corn arrives with promising scorch marks from the grill and a sprinkle of queso fresco fresh cheese and coriander. A tiny wedge of lime adds freshness but it's not quite enough to resurrect the slightly soggy kernels that taste more akin to frozen cobs of corn.

pulled pork taco at chica bonita manly
Cochinita pibil taco $5

We move onto the taco section of the menu, each served in its own little boat for easy handling. The cochinita pibil taco is a trail of saucy pulled pork topped with pickled onions, black beans and coriander. Lex brings over three sauce bottles - all made inhouse - which we use for extra flavour. The smoked chipotle and the salsa verde are my favourites, and we quickly learn to use the habanero sauce with caution.

grilled steak taco at chica bonita manly
Tama asada taco $5

The tama asada taco has plenty of texture, chopped pieces of grilled steak mixed with sweet corn kernels, coriander and slivers of crunchy cabbage. Our only gripe is we can't find any of the promised housemade queso fresco on the tama asada tacos.

baja fish taco at chica bonita manly
Baja fish taco $5

The surprising hit of the night is the Baja fish taco, three battered fish balls that look more like pomme noisettes. It's all about the crunch of the batter against creamy crisp coleslaw, like a fish burger in taco form.

carne asada fries at chica bonita manly
Carne asada fries $12

We weren't sure about the carne asada fries on the menu, but when they arrive we pounce on it like hungry vultures. It's the antithesis of fancy food - a mountain of shoestring fries jumbled with strips of steak, fresh salsa, gaucamole and lashings of melted cheese. It's the ultimate carb-laden, protein-spiked cheesy hangover meal - messy but recklessly satisfying.

pork crackling chicharron sopa at chica bonita manly
Chicharron sopa $4.50

I've saved the best for the last. The chicharron sopa is so good we end up ordering another round. If you like pork crackling - and who doesn't - then this is the taco of your dreams. Lex uses his own dry rub on the pork skin before roasting it in the oven until the crackling blisters.

There's a heart-jolting crunch when you bite into this tiny taco, smithereens of pork rind hitting the back of your throat on a river of guacamole. It's an eye-closing moment. Trust me.

tres leches cake at chica bonita manly
Tres leches cake $6

The tres leches cake is another blackboard special, a doorstop of sponge cake bathed in a pool of evaporated milk, condensed milk and cream. A quenelle of chilli chocolate ganache on top isn't really traditional, but I'm too busy drinking up the cinnamon-dusted cream.

rum and raisin cremita at chica bonita manly
Rosalina's rum and raisin cremita $4

Rosalina is Lex's sous chef, and her rum and raisin cremita is perfect for boozers. Plump rum-soaked raisins are like alcoholic grenades on top of the cooked cream pudding splashed with extra rum.

chica bonita manly
Head chef Lex Wong

We've barely stood up from our table when another group swoops in. There are few things that will get me on the ferry to Manly but that crackling taco might well be one of them.

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Chica Bonita on Urbanspoon

Chica Bonita
7 The Corso, Manly, Sydney
Tel: +61 (0)450 612 896

Opening hours

Tuesday to Sunday 10.30am-12midnight (kitchen closes 10pm)
Closed Mondays

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
32 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/16/2012 02:20:00 am


  • At 7/16/2012 2:32 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    oh man how good was that crackling?? dear lex, a bucket of crackling next time please!

  • At 7/16/2012 7:41 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Wah all of those tacos, FRIES, chimichanga look so good! Actually I just want everything now lol

  • At 7/16/2012 8:36 am, Anonymous Tina @ bitemeshowme said…

    I love the name of this place.. chica bonita... I'm emphasisng the "a" at the end and it makes me want to move my hips.. haha. The food looks bloody awesome. Congrats to your mate lex. Can't wait to see what else is to come :D

  • At 7/16/2012 9:04 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Dunno about another "hipster city" but those Carne asada fries sure look good!

  • At 7/16/2012 9:05 am, Anonymous Mary @ beyondjelly said…

    I'm happy to get on the ferry to Manly anytime... so pork crackling taco just means that it needs to be soon!

  • At 7/16/2012 9:25 am, Blogger Mel said…

    Wow...I love all of the Mexican food that is happening around Sydney. I like fish tacos, and the pork crackling taco sounds like pure genius!

  • At 7/16/2012 10:06 am, Anonymous gastronomous anonymous said…

    love the name of this place! have been stalking the head chef on instragram and the photos look amazing! will have to check it out!

  • At 7/16/2012 10:17 am, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    Hi Lex! Oh my, pork crackling taco has my name on it!

  • At 7/16/2012 10:59 am, Anonymous Kiki @ simplykiki said…

    I love the decor and how the food is served!! :D Definitely my type of bar! and the fries.... OMG!

  • At 7/16/2012 1:52 pm, Anonymous Trini said…

    I would love to try the Tama asada taco $5 and the crackling... the photos were awesome...!

  • At 7/16/2012 6:09 pm, Blogger Jacq said…

    that crackling taco was so damn good!

  • At 7/17/2012 12:14 am, Anonymous Lex said…

    Thanks so much for the support! Means a lot - always fun feeding you guys; will let you know when I'm staffed up and have time to make you a chicharron burrito stuffed with fries, cheese, guac and salsa muhaha

  • At 7/17/2012 8:51 pm, Anonymous Chicco @ Chomps and Noms said…

    Wow another great place for Mexican! hope to try it soon! Mexican is my favourite!

  • At 7/17/2012 9:19 pm, Anonymous JasmyneTea said…

    I love taking the ferry to Manly; visiting Chica Bonita would be an added bonus!

  • At 7/18/2012 10:54 am, Anonymous SarahKate (Mi Casa-Su Casa) said…

    I will now be dreaming about that chicharonn sopa. How am I to be expected to get anything done today when I know that there's a taco filled with crackling out there that I haven't eaten??

  • At 7/18/2012 11:03 am, Anonymous The Food Sage said…

    You had me at chips & guac, Helen. Great post & excellent photos. Which is your favourite Sydney Mexican restaurant? I'm putting one on this weekend's social calendar.

  • At 7/18/2012 11:05 am, Anonymous bella said…

    Looks like the Manly hipsters are taking over! looks like a great place... did u see my blog on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico? http://www.sammyandbella.com/?p=970

  • At 7/18/2012 11:45 am, Anonymous Michelle said…

    I tend to be nervous eating Mexican food so far away from Mexico (had a bad experience in France) But, quite frankly Chica Bonita's food looks delicious! You can't beat pork cracklings

  • At 7/18/2012 12:51 pm, Anonymous Sara - Belly Rumbles said…

    Looks like Lex is serving up some very tasty morsels. Will have to brave the harbour and head over, is always a fun adventure eating in Manly.

  • At 7/19/2012 3:05 pm, Blogger sugarpuffi said…

    sooo many mexican goodness! really want to try the tama asada taco

  • At 7/19/2012 4:52 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Lex - Thanks for the top nosh, and even though you were down a waiter, it was cool to see you juggling the pass with the floor :) We are holding you to that chicharron burrito!

    Hi The Food Sage - The chicharron taco here was pretty amazing but I also love the surprise tacos at El Loco :)

    Hi Bella - Very envious of your trip. Would love to go to Mexico and have real Mexican street food one day!

  • At 7/19/2012 9:44 pm, Anonymous Sophie @ Delivery Hero Blog said…

    I should NOT have looked at this post hungry! Those tacos, that guac... I agree with MisssPiggy, it's great that Mexican food is here to stay, because it's frikin' delicious! Yum, thanks for sharing :)

  • At 7/19/2012 9:52 pm, Anonymous gastronomous anonymous said…

    wow food looks good here! will definitely check it out!

  • At 7/19/2012 11:15 pm, Anonymous jenny (minibites) said…

    ooo this looks like my type of grub! it's a shame it's a trek to Manly but I guess all the new bars can make it a good night out!

  • At 7/22/2012 9:14 am, Anonymous Gareth said…

    The tacos do look good, just the thing for a winters day. Don't often see chimichanga on the menu. I feel rather hungry now and this is perfect hangover food. How was it drinking from jars? I'm not a huge fan, it looks cool but feels too thick against your lips.

  • At 7/22/2012 10:01 pm, Anonymous Vivian - vxdollface said…

    ooh yeah that carne asada fries look real good! hang over meal indeed :) hehe liking Lex's Obey cap ^^

  • At 7/24/2012 1:19 pm, Anonymous artificial lawn said…

    Wow! Those food looks good. Got to drop by and check the place out.

  • At 7/24/2012 5:58 pm, Blogger Christina | The Hungry Australian said…

    I want to eat your entire meal now. Mmmm - lovely food shots, Helen!!

  • At 7/25/2012 11:48 am, Anonymous All About Food said…

    I have to agree with the poster above (Christina)... makes me really wanna try them all, especially the Ginger Margarita!!

  • At 7/26/2012 9:35 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Clearly it's the chicharron sopa for the win!

  • At 8/04/2012 8:05 pm, Blogger Stephen said…

    Been here a dozon times - it's great

  • At 11/09/2012 11:03 am, Anonymous Steph F said…

    oh my goodness! THOSE CARNE ASADA FRIES. This is definitely something that Californians love; funny that a food blog in Australia could make me miss California so much ;)


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