Chica Bonita is another reason to head north. Translated to 'pretty lady' in Spanish, local friends Sean and Luke Miller have created their own casual hangout in a back arcade of Manly. It might seem an unlikely location, but it's the perfect spot to get away from the crowds that lurk around the corso and beachside haunts.
Although away from the crowds, it's jam packed and you'll be lucky to get a seat, but once you do, you'll be rewarded with well priced Mexican and Baja California street cuisine and drinks to match.
There's a choice of seating at the colourful tiled bar, or at one of the cosy tables. Surrounded by exposed brick walls, Mexican paraphernalia (think Dia de los Muertos skeletal dolls), a Frida Khalo portrait, the romantic flickering of candles, exposed beams and just a touch of graffiti, it's easy to forget you're in Manly.
Although there's the option of beer or tequila, it's all about the margaritas, served in salt-crusted jam jars with handles. The hard part is deciding whether to go with watermelon, ginger, jalapeno or orange (all $8).
When it comes time to ordering some food, start off with some tasty chips and guac ($6). Filled with earthy mushrooms and corn truffle the corn truffle quesadillas ($7) are a must order. The gooey cheese that holds them together contrasts perfectly to the crunch of the toppings: onions, tomato and coriander.
How head chef Alex Wong (ex China Beach) manages to create anything in the tiny kitchen is something to ponder as you road test the baja fish tacos, which are filled with nuggets of battered fish, shredded cabbage and slightly spicy baja creme. Also worth trying are the tama asada (tacos) that come with lashings of fried corn on top of succulent grilled steak, and a house-made queso fresco (all soft shell tacos $5 each).
It's also worth noting that you can up the hot factor on any of the meals with a selection of sizzling homemade sauces (salsa verde, chipotle and habanero). A word of advice? Definitely try before you go douse crazy.
For those who are not driving and still have room for dessert, Rosalina's rum & raisin cremita ($4) is a good creamy finish to the meal. It's a rum-heavy panna cotta-like concoction.
With oodles of of atmosphere, $8 margaritas and affordable street style Mexican cuisine, it's worth checking this pretty lady out when you're next around the Manly traps.