Where: 18 Sydney Road, Manly 2095
Opening Hours: Tue - Sun 6pm - late
Phone: 0451 186 781
Something about Cantinero feels a little bit... illegal. It could be the fact that this is a coffee house by day, occupied by this underground crowd only in the late hours. Or it might be the makeshift film projector, which shows Mexican gangsters flickering across the back wall. Either way, we like it. The bunker atmosphere and a relaxed courtyard combine into something that feels like an Alice in Wonderland-style rabbit hole in the Manly landscape.
That said, there's no chance of wandering in by accident. While Cantinero lies on the main strip, you need to know what you're looking for to find this dimly lit restaurant slash bar. And once you do, there's no going back.
While Mexican food is undoubtedly enjoying a revival right now, chef Lupita Manzo Moreno is the real deal. It's hard to find a bad option amongst the Tacos ($5 each), so take a group and try as many as you can. Out favourite was the Carnitas, with slow roasted Achiote pork, apple and jicama slaw, and chipotle crema. It's worth striking out into the Botanas also. The Roasted Corn ($7) with queso fresco, ancho mayo, lime and Tajin comes highly recommended, and we're planning a return trip to try the Baby Back Ribs ($15 for 6), with Trombo agave and smoked Tabasco glaze.
A pairing of the Miss Marley's team with Tromba Tequila ensures that the bar half of the project is banging. To fit in with the mood, try a Calderero ($12): a shot of Tromba Blanco paired with a Coronita - yes, that's right, a baby Corona. Tequila afficionados also have seven select shots to choose from, ranging between $8 and $35 at the top end. Alternatively, try a classic Tommy's Margarita, with Tromba Blanco, pressed lime and agave nectar. If you're in for the long haul, invest in a Cantinero Longball ($25), a litre of Tromba Blanco, elderflower, apple, mint and lychee.
Luckily, Cantinero is still a bit of a secret. All the more reason to get in quick.
A selection of Tacos, Calderero
Good For Groups: