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Cuisine Scene: Manly Mexican

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Cuisine Scene: Manly Mexican

It’s that time of year again - the days are drawing in and as daylight savings waves goodbye this weekend, we bid farewell to sunny summer days and hunker down for the dreary winter. They do say the grass is always greener on the other side though, and in this case the other side is just a ferry ride away, Manly Beach, where every day seems like a Corona commercial, and the locals are obscenely attractive.

Sex-wax and peroxide blond once reined supreme here and your go-to meal was a box of fish and chips on the beach, but it seems Manly has turned over a new leaf with countless cantinas popping up left-right-and-centre. Standing on Manly Corso you are never more than 100m from another tiny-taqueria, but those in the know really know where the goods are, which is why we suggest you book ahead to sample Manly’s fresh new Mexican delights. 

Chica Bonita is nestled away in a dingy little arcade on the out-skirts of Manly Corso, but you certainly won’t miss it; the queues often go so far out the door they loop around the corner. If you are lucky enough to score a seat amidst the masses of melting candles and the sea of skulls, a welcome margarita and a couple of corn cobs slathered in chipotle cream are a must; and for a classic eight-bucks a margy, it’s a total steal. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous though, try their Jalapeno and Orange number - it’s sure to put hairs on your chest. The beer and tequila menus are second to none around these parts; just ask the attractive barman, it seems to be ever changing.

The food menu is fairly straightforward despite a generous offering of daily specials. This isn’t your standard Mex-fare though, this is gour-Mexican (see what we did there?) and these guys are intent on taking it to new heights with delights like lamb and beetroot nachos and tequila and chilli rubbed fish popping up on the board. You can’t go past the Carne Asada fries either, they are out of this world, and dare we say, Chica Bonita wins the award for the best fish-taco on the beaches, with perfectly battered fish fillets. Unfortunately though, due to its teensy-weensy premises, it’s not the kind of place you settle in for the night; the hoards of eagre patrons eyeing your table don’t make for such a relaxing meal. Get in early and get out before the party people arrive!

If you’re after a little more tender love and care, look no further than The Troubadour. Now technically The Troubadour isn’t quite in the heart of Manly, but that’s all part of its charm. Take refuge from the throngs of revellers and tourists down the northern end of the beach. It’s a homely little joint, where the smiley waitresses instantly feel like friends and the mish-mash of old theatre chairs and hodgepodge pictures on the walls feel like your Granny’s lounge room (the nice one you actually enjoyed visiting). After you’ve spent the night in the leafy candle-lit courtyard, you’ll leave full of simple and traditional Mexican fare with enough cash left over to return for breakfast in the morning.

You really can’t go wrong with $3 Taco Tuesday, and these ones are filled to the brim with fresh salsa and the juiciest slow cooked meats you’ve ever tasted. With a recently revamped menu, make sure you try the chipotle-marinated prawn taco with spiced aioli and a healthy serve of guacamole on the side. Here the tacos are served in soft shell flour tortillas, infinitely trumping the cardboard-y-corn tacos we’ve been seeing around town (sorry Celiac, they do still offer GF though).

If you’re hankering for something a little heavier, opt for a Troubadour Burrito- word on the street is they’re the best in town- oozing with cheesy, beany goodness and toasted to perfection- not too crisp, not too soft. To wash it all down, the sassy chica at the bar - who is so committed to the cause she has a giant Frida Kahlo inked to her leg - suggests the guava mojito, which is delicately balanced with sweet and sour and goes down a treat. Oh, and you’d be a mad man to leave without sampling the Churros, which are slathered in sugar and served up with warm chocolate sauce or a shot of espresso patron if you’re game.

If you’ve not quite made it that far along the beachfront, or you’ve been pipped to the post for a table at Chica Bonita, fear not! Manly’s latest Mexican offering on the wharf can sort you out just before you jump ship, and you really can’t beat the brand spanking new Guzman y Gomez for their fast and furious approach to the drunken-burrito feast, and hey, now that their licensed you can keep the buzz going all the way back across the harbour.

- Hannah Darling