If the spirit of Frida Kahlo descended onto the Gold Coast, I am sure that she would come to rest in Bonita Bonita. Besides being kindred Mexican spirits with their own unique artistic styles, Bonita’s owner/chef Morgan Walsh (ex Commune) bears a striking resemblance to the famous Mexican artist (minus the monobrow)!
By day the façade of the restaurant is unimpressive; just another shopfront tucked away in an uneasy L-shaped backwash off the highway on the ‘wrong side’ of Mermaid Beach. Another wall and doorway, a reasonably ordinary façade, how exciting could this taqueria and bar possibly be?
Our first visit to Bonita Bonita proved how wrong we were to judge by appearances. Arriving very early on a mid-week night, we barely scrape a one hour spot on the verandah. The restaurant is a hive of activity, literally buzzing, and fully booked. We order a jug of sangria to quell the nerves. Deadly!
“We could drink gallons of this (if we’d take the time to book a table),” I slurp between sips.
“Or you could bathe in it!” says the Main Squeeze. I’m finally calming down. Hugely excited, but too near a miss!
We’re soon to see what all the fuss is about.
Although compact, the menu’s full of treasure. Divided into five sections (Empezar – To Begin, Especialidades – House Specialties, Lados – Sides, Tacos and Postre – Dessert), it’s a feast of choices meant to be shared.
Dish by dish, the parade begins, some of the best modern Mexican cuisine that we’d had in years! No refried beans, yellow rice and puddle of mince under a hood of melting cheese here! Each dish brings fresh clean tastes: a rich almost smoky snapper and scallop ceviche bathed in chillied coconut milk accompanied by excellent tortilla chips, Leek quesadillas with a modern twist of beetroot and slivers of fennel, Tacos filled with Crispy snapper or Pulled pork topped with slaw and fresh salsa, and two soft Chorizo croquettes on a bed of lettuce. Bite by bite we’re led through the senses, with contrast of texture and colour, temperature and flavour. There’s a tang of chilli on each dish, plenty more in the tiny bottles of Cholula and Bufalo on the table if you want to ramp up the heat! With dishes ranging between $9 and $15, it’s affordably close to an authentic street food experience.
A look at the wine list shows us the choices for next time: some excellent craft beers (locals from Burleigh Brewing and Stone & Wood; Dos Equis, Doss Blockos and Sol), cocktails, as well as wines from Chile, Spain, Argentina and Australia.
I sneak off for a wander to take a few snaps. We know it’s been a communal decorating effort, with local artists pitching in to complete the murals, and by night the interior is awe-inspiring! As the sun sets, the rouge of tealights bounce off the blonde wood tables. It’s Day of the Dead meets a Latino shrine. No, we’re not in a converted church! The only homage here is to the fresh street food, inspired by the spirit of Mexico, adapted to this Gold Coast locale.
Bonita Bonita is in many ways far too interesting to be ‘cute’ or ‘pretty’ (as its name implies). Instead, it reminds us of a Frida Kahlo painting: Que bonita es la vida… How beautiful is life! There’s a surprise around every corner.
2460 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach, Ph: 07 5575 2669
Open: Mon – Sun 5pm – 12 midnight
NOTE: This review has also been published on Blank Gold Coast.