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Pink Flamingos

Sunny Daze offers a respite in the tropics--along with good, cheap food

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As I walked toward the Sunny Daze Café for the first time, I was greeted by a sign just outside the door that proclaimed, "Now try our ocean-view patio!"

Cute. The last thing one would expect to find on the corner of Campbell Avenue and Irvington Road in a dank shopping center--highlighted by a Walgreens and a vacant spot that used to house a Food City--is a sign touting an ocean-view patio.

That ocean view is depicted on a painted wall on the back patio at Sunny Daze, a charming, decorated-to-the-hilt tropical-themed diner that serves tasty, inexpensive food--and doesn't seem to be getting anywhere near the amount of business that it deserves: For my lunch visit, I arrived about 1 p.m., when only three other parties were dining at the small, square-shaped restaurant.

Sunny Daze is one of the cleanest-looking, best-decorated small restaurants I've ever seen. The décor may best be described as "faux beach/leisure chic," with tan-colored, textured walls; a fake straw ceiling; fake palm trees; framed black-and-white beach images; and tons of bird figurines--including lots of pink flamingos--looking down on diners from atop booth dividers. The lighting comes from lamps fashioned out of upside-down buckets, and a ships' wheel hangs on a wall. There are even checkerboards built into each of the tables, to extend the leisure theme a bit.

The menu includes all of the diner standards--lots and lots of breakfasts, burgers, sandwiches and a handful of entrées including the requisite chicken fried steak ($6.99)--along with a kids' menu and some specialties like soft tacos. A banner outside the restaurant proudly proclaims that breakfast is available all day, so I decided to celebrate that fact during my lunch visit with an order of huevos rancheros, Mexican-style ($6.29). The menu also commands: "Try our sunny puffs." So I did, requesting a half-order of the dessert described as "special dough deep-fried and topped with powdered sugar" (10 for $3; a full order of 20 costs $4.50), to go.

Within about five minutes, the pleasant server delivered the huevos rancheros: three corn tortillas covered with refried beans, cheese and three eggs prepared as requested (sunny-side up), with a small cup of salsa (offering a Pace-like flavor) on the side. No surprises here; it tasted just like I expected, and I enjoyed it.

I received the order of sunny puffs, paid my bill and headed back to the office, where I shared the puffs with my colleagues. They were simple yet delicious--how can you go wrong with warm fried dough smothered in powdered sugar?

I returned for an earlyish dinner later that week, this time with Garrett. Other than six people at one large table (and they had some sort of relation to management), we had the restaurant to ourselves when we arrived. Garrett and I both had trouble deciding what to order--the seasoned pulled pork ($6.89) was tempting, as was the 1-pound T-bone special ($13.99) and the flamingo burger ($5.79), which features diced onion mixed in with the meat--but I ultimately decided on the SD Cali chicken sandwich ($6.59) with a cup of the tortilla soup ($2.99), while Garrett picked the steak tacos ($5.69) and a house salad ($2.69).

After the server brought us each a complimentary sunny puff to try--a nice surprise--our starters arrived. Garrett's salad was, like the huevos rancheros on my previous visit, simple--tomato, croutons and lettuce with blue cheese dressing on the side--but enjoyable. The chicken tortilla soup was delicious, with the chicken, peppers and cheese melding nicely.

We finished the soup and salad, and our entrées arrived within moments. My sandwich, again, came exactly as advertised on the menu--a moist chicken breast was adorned with avocado, bacon, Swiss cheese, pickles, tomato and lettuce (I asked for mayo on the side, but none showed up, which was no big loss)--and it hit the spot. I especially savored the accompanying seasoned fries.

The meal's highlight came in the form of the steak tacos. The two tacos included the usual vegetables joined with steak inside tortillas--again, no surprises. What made these tacos better than expected was the flavor of the charbroiled cubes of steak. They didn't skimp on the steak, either; for $5.69, these were quite a deal. The tacos came with beans (which were only so-so) and salsa; and Garrett ordered sides of sour cream and guacamole (99 cents each, although I don't think we were charged). The guacamole was delicious and appeared to be freshly made, and helped make the already-delicious tacos even better.

Look, folks: Times are tough. What better time is there to support an inexpensive, small, locally-owned restaurant--that's not getting the business it deserves--like Sunny Daze? Check it out; remember, Sunny Daze even offers an ocean-view patio.

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