Niña Bonita Cantina – the true taste of Mexico
Inhaling the mouth-watering scent of spices in the air, sipping a delicious tamarind “agua fresca” and perusing a long list of exotic-sounding dishes, we could almost be in Mexico. And we’re about to try the food at Niña Bonita Cantina, one of the few restaurants in Malaga serving foreign food and one of the even fewer serving Mexico cuisine as it’s meant to taste.
Mexican food doesn’t get a very good press in most European cities. Tacobells and fast food burritos pop up all too often and aren’t much of an advertisement for the real thing. That’s what makes the experience at Niña Bonita Cantina so special and this is a venue where I can truly say my faith in Mexican food was well and truly restored.
What’s on the menu
In a nutshell, a succinct selection of Mexican dishes, all freshly prepared using local ingredients wherever possible and mostly cooked to order. I say mostly because several dishes take hours of preparation – the signature pork ribs are one example.
The starters run to 6 dishes including fried yucca, chicken croquettes and traditional guacamole. It was here that Niña Bonita Cantina made the first big impression. My fellow diner Elisa comes from Venezuela and knows her avocados. The instant she tasted the guacamole, she was in heaven. “Divine” was her actual adjective. The texture was varied, the tastes subtle and creamy, and the homemade nachos delicious.
Next up on the menu are “Antojitos y tacos” (little treats and tacos). Most of the items here come in pairs so great for sharing. And that goes for all the dishes at this Mexican restaurant in Malaga – everyone was sharing plates when we were there. We went for “gorditas”, one with meat, spicy tomato, guacamole and red sauce, and other with fresh cheese. The maize gorditas had just the right crispy and the filling came packed with flavour.
And then to the mains. Again, a short list of just 3 but all exquisitely prepared and brimming with flavour. I chose the house signature dish – pork rib basted in orange and sugar cane syrup (a nod to Malaga there) with a delicate tatemada green sauce. The meat was so tender you didn’t need to use a knife to cut it. My two tacos came in a cute “taco cosy” to keep them warm. Elisa went for a vegetarian seaweed taco, with a delicate taste of the sea and again, delicious.
By now, we were pretty full but decided to share the “tres leches”, a typical Latin American dessert. The Niña Bonita Cantina version comes with a salty caramel ice cream that paired perfectly with the orange-infused sponge cake.
Niña Bonita Cantina has a short wine list, all served by the glass (€2.50-€3) and it includes several local wines such as 2 reds from Ronda, both robust enough to accompany the abundance of Mexican chilies. There’s also a good selection of beers (2 Mexican) and a cocktail list that runs short but sweet.
The Niña Bonita Cantina philosophy
Owner and chef Reyna Traverso opened her Mexican restaurant in Malaga just over a year ago. Although she’s originally from Panama, her culinary training took place in Tijuana where she learnt all the secrets of the best Mexican cooking. Fresh ingredients take centre stage in all her dishes and she uses a total of 12 different chilies, 3 fresh and 9 dried, which explains the delicious layers of flavours in the dishes (and the gorgeous smell that greets you when you arrive).
Before she opened Niña Bonita Cantina, Reyna worked in a variety of restaurants including the Café des Artistes run by Thierry Blouet in Puerto Vallarta in Mexico before coming to Europe where she worked in El Lago, one of the Malaga restaurants with a Michelin star. Her mission is to be happy and help others be happy too. Judging by the contented looks on all the diners’ faces when we were there, she’s obviously achieving it!
Good for vegetarians?
Unlike many restaurants in Malaga the answer is yes. Just mention to Reyna that you don’t eat meat or fish and she conjures up good alternatives. Elisa was more than happy with her seaweed taco, one of the best she’d tasted. The restaurant can also cater for vegans.
In the heart of Soho, just a few metres from the port, so handy for the city centre or port if you’re in Malaga on a cruise.
Niña Bonita Cantina brings real Mexican cantine style to Malaga. The venue is small – just 7 tables in total – but intimate so you get a real feeling that the food is being cooked for you. Reyna adds to this by occasionally popping out from the kitchen to take orders or serve food. No outside terrace.
You get a small portion of frijoles negros (black beans) with nachos to nibble at while you’re deciding what to order. Unlike (too) many restaurants in Malaga, this venue doesn’t charge extra. Now that’s a refreshing change.
Excellent and always with a smile. Reyna’s cheerfulness is infectious and she obviously loves what she does. The waiter was also attentive and very professional. We got all our food in good time with just the right amount of ‘rest time’ between courses.
For the variety of flavours and the deliciousness, Niña Bonita Cantina is excellent value. Portions are a generous size and Reyna advises you on how much to order. Our bill came to less than €30 for 2 people and we couldn’t have eaten another thing.
- Starters and sharing plates €4.50-9.50
- Mains €12.50-14
- Desserts €4.50
Good for kids?
Unless they’re fans of Mexican food and don’t mind sitting quietly at the table, then yes. Otherwise, no. There’s no room for them to run around inside or out. Foodie teens, on the other hand, would love it.
No. There’s a step up to get in the restaurant plus another step to the cloakroom.
Why put Niña Bonita Cantina on your list of restaurants in Malaga
- Fragrant, flavour in all dishes.
- Mexican food as it should be.
- Delicious value for money.
PS we spotted 2 chefs from top restaurant in Malaga in Niña Bonita Cantina having lunch too so you know it must be good!
Mon-Sat 1 to 4pm and 8.30 to 11.30pm
Booking recommendable especially on Fridays and Saturdays.
Tel: 691 031 434