If any Sydney suburb is going to have a diner that unites fish’n’chips and tacos in the one dish, it has to be Bondi, home to the city’s most iconic beach. Enter Calita – a diminutive new eatery tucked between Porch & Parlour and Sean’s Panaroma – where you can grab tortillas piled with battered flathead, shoestring fries and tartare salsa.
“I love eating fish’n’chips,” co-owner and chef Pablo Galindo Vargas tells Broadsheet. “I love the simplicity of it, I love how democratic it is. Every time I’d eat fish’n’chips I’d say, ‘We should have this in a taco’. I’m Mexican. I want to put everything in a tortilla.”
Calita (Spanish for “tiny beach”) is the latest venue from Milpa Collective, the team behind Mexican hotspots Taqiza, Carbon and Sonora, and the Caribbean-inspired La Palma. Owners and chefs Liber Osorio and Vargas have become well-known in the industry for their earnest approach to Mexican food, with a focus on using fair-trade, sustainable and mostly small producers.
Calita is inspired by Baja California, fish markets, laid-back Mexican beaches and the vibrancy of Bondi. The 26-seat space has spectacular views of Bondi Beach and the ocean beyond, and was collaboratively designed by Abraham Lule and Frankly Interior Design. “We want people to feel transported to a beachfront chiringuito [small bar] in the middle of the Baja Peninsula, where desert and sea meet in a solitary beach,” say Osorio and Vargas.
The space is white-washed and rustic, with pottery dotted within wall niches, and decor and furniture from local designers (including cushions by Lucy Montgomery, ceramics by Natalie Rosin, and chairs by MCM House and Contempo & Co).
Not that Calita relies on decor to lure people in – the menu is a knockout. Mexico City-born head chef Jorge Alcala has worked in a range of establishments in Mexico City (ranging from street stalls to Gabriela Cámara’s renowned seafood restaurant, Contramar) as well as the Hotel San Cristobal in Baja California. Here, he uses his knowledge and expertise to cook what the team calls “the authentic flavours of a Mexican grandma”.
The menu is anchored by locally and sustainably sourced seafood, and revolves around the catch of the day. There’s a ceviche of kingfish, pineapple and crispy corn; blue swimmer crab tostadas with mango, habanero and avocado; and camarones a la diabla – grilled jumbo tiger prawns marinated in a salsa of five different chillies.
Those recovering from too many drinks the night before can revive their wretched selves with the Vuelve a la Vida (“return to life”), a shellfish cocktail with clamato juice and saladitas crackers that’s a classic Mexican hangover cure.
The tacos also don’t disappoint. In addition to the fish’n’chip extravaganza, there’s one with tofu-skin chicharrones, corn and huitlacoche salsa; another with smoked trout and green mango; and a riff on the classic tacos gobernador with XO prawns, Oaxaca cheese and salsa poblano. And you’ll find a few popular Taqiza tacos – slow-cooked octopus taco, adobo chicken, and soft-shell crab in squid-ink batter – on the menu here too.
Raphael Redant (Sonora, La Palma, Stitch) is behind the bar, which has a selection of family-owned artisanal tequilas (such as Fortaleza); an excellent range of mezcals; and some rare agaves (some of which can only be found in Australia at Milpa venues).
There four kinds of Margaritas (classic, Tommy’s, jalapeno and mango), plus two seasonal fruity frozen margs that change every day. The Bloody’s (Redant’s twist on the Bloody Mary) comes your choice of liquor – and there’s an upgrade option (“make it royal”) with a grilled king prawn and a champagne cleanser. The wine list, curated in collaboration with Mike Bennie from P&V Merchants, includes some skin contact and natural drops.
“We want to create the experience of the real Mexico,” Vargas says. “So that people can see it through our eyes.”
266 Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach
(02) 7227 6262
Tue to Thur 3pm–10pm
Fri & Sat 11am–10pm