When you’re driving through Bonita Springs you can’t help but notice the ugly neon green building on the southeast corner of Tamiami Trail and Bonita Beach Road. The sign, in the shape of a cactus, reads “Iguana Mia, Mexican Restaurant,” and the building itself is so tacky there’s something almost viscerally intriguing about it. I simply can’t resist the temptation: I have to add Iguana Mia to Coastalbeat’s array of $15 and under restaurants.
My dining companion and I show up at Iguana Mia for lunch on a scorching hot Monday afternoon, and as soon as we walk into the restaurant I feel grateful for the dim lighting and powerfully refreshing air conditioning. The whole restaurant is decorated in a playful kitsch style, walls painted in slightly too bright hues and Christmas lights permanently illuminating the tables. To our request the host seats us in one of the many booths, right under a big Coronita metal plaque.
As Mexican eateries go, Iguana Mia has quite an extensive menu. For lunch everything ranges between $8 and $15, which makes this funny looking restaurant perfect for dining out on a budget. As we browse through the appetizers and entrees our waiter plops down a humongous basket of tortilla chips accompanied by two salsas: a chunky mild one and a smoother looking one that is extra spicy. They are so good – especially when mixed together – that we decide not to order an appetizer, knowing that we will be feasting on the complimentary snack until our appetites are almost sated.
As we wash down the tortilla chips with our Coronas we debate what to order. Mulling over burritos ($8.99) served with a choice of two sides, quesadillas ($7.99), chimichangas ($8.99) and fajita skillets, we settle on fajitas ($10.99) for me a sour cream chicken chimichanga with Spanish red rice and black beans for my friend. The fajitas can be made with a wide range of meats and seafood such as flank steak, shrimp, classic chicken, cilantro chicken, chicken and steak combo, tuna, tilapia, and blackened, chili rubbed chicken or steak. I choose the grilled tilapia and we do our best not to scarf down all the chips in front of us while we wait for lunch.
Within five minutes our waiter shows up with our entrees. My tilapia is served in a sizzling hot skillet with onions and green peppers, steamed tortillas, and a plate offering every topping you can imagine folding between the two sides of a tortilla: grated white and yellow cheese, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sour cream, hot salsa and salsa verde. For me, part of the fun of eating fajitas is the opportunity to build your own ultimate culinary masterpiece. Eating with your hands, with food falling all over your face and probably shirt, is an activity in itself.
I pack my tortilla with lots of hot sauce, tilapia, veggies, cheese and a generous tablespoon of the salsa verde. and with my first bite I decide what really makes the fajitas wonderful: the mysterious green sauce. The blend of herbs, avocado and olive oil, gives a delightful salty tang to the fish, a condiment par excellence.
My dinner companion seems to be enjoying his chimichangas as well: the chicken is spiced up and cooked in a velvety sour cream sauce, then wrapped in a flour tortilla with tomatoes, onions, refried beans and cheese. The whole contraption is then topped with melted cheese and green onions and, per my friend’s request, with a little bit of enchilada sauce. The result, he says, is to die for.
While he effortlessly finishes his dish I have to give up half way through mine: even the lunch portion of the fajitas is so big I can only eat two out of four stuffed tortillas. As much as I like fried ice cream, one of Iguana Mia’s specialties, I have to turn it down and ask for the check. The bill comes at $32.39, slightly over budget because of the usual extra beer. We leave the restaurant so full I feel like running around the block a few times to digest, but tnstead I opt for a cat-nap on the couch and drift off to sleep, dreaming of sizzling fajitas and cold cervezas.