Funky and a Little Dated
Posted on 08 / 29 / 2011
This is a funky place. Old Town Fair Oaks is a ramshackle business district with undomesticated chickens wandering around. Then, this restaurant seeks to be the cost-effective vegetarian fast food mecca that we as vegetarians dream about. Most seating is outdoors, amidst the chickens, with unappetizing views of the parking lot baking in the hot Central Valley sun.
Sunflower Drive-in a holdover from the 1970s, and the menu mostly reflects a conception of vegetarianism from 4 decades ago. Their flagship item is a 1970s-style nutburger. Nutburgers have become trendy again, but their recipe is anything but trendy. The nutburger was the best thing we ordered, but it hardly compares with the veggie burgers at Mineral or Source or even Smart Alec's.
Other items were hit-and-miss. The falafel--which some people raved about at Yelp--was only vaguely reminiscent of a "real" falafel. I thought it was bland and uninspired. The kids' menu items were about what you'd expect--the burrito was lots of bean and cheese but not much else; the quesadilla was cheese and not much else. Chips and salsa were run-of-the-mill. The vegan potato salad was pretty good. Vegan cupcakes were as dry as you would expect. The root beer float was a rare overpriced item: $4 buys a paper cup, a dollop of ice cream and a can of off-the-shelf root beer.
As many other reviewers have noted, for a restaurant called a "drive-in" and hawking pseudo-fast food, they process orders at a maddeningly glacial speed. I don't know exactly why things take so long for what should be a well-oiled machine after decades of practice. We placed our order at 11:35 am and the bulk of the order took about 20 minutes on an ordinary workday. With properly calibrated expectations, this wait isn't insufferable; but compared to a place like Smart Alec's in Berkeley or Oreans in Pasadena where fantastic vegetarian food comes speedily, it's nevertheless baffling. I guess their method of operation works for them, but I imagine they could boost profits and throughput if they upgraded their operations.
Although I can't say the food rocked my world, we'll revisit Sunflower Drive-in when we go to visit my stepfather (now living in an assisted living facility just a couple miles away). It's cheap, filling and tasty enough to justify the small detour.