This is the true definition of a hole-in-the wall eatery, hidden away in a nondescript strip mall stall near the Century Cinemas 16 movie theater. Despite its relatively un-charming location — it appears rather dull from the outside, and is next door to Subway — Sunny Bowl is an unusual Mountain View restaurant that should appeal to the area's many frugal and health-conscious food lovers.
For about a year, owner Daniel Choi has been serving up bibimbap, or "mixed rice" bowls, to patrons. These are the only entrees available, but the simplicity of Sunny Bowl's menu is consistent with its interior space — a tiny pastel-colored room with fewer than 10 tables — and the food served there.
The dining area's main attraction is a very large chalkboard listing the menu along with a detailed diagram of the bibimbap, which is a crucial help for first-timers.
Each bowl consists of steamed jasmine rice with a layer of freshly cut vegetables neatly organized on top. Green and red cabbage, cucumber, radish, carrot, romaine lettuce and scrambled egg are presented in a pinwheel-like display, along with choice of meat, chicken, fish or tofu and a small grape tomato for garnish. Each also comes with a side dish of kimchi, Korean pickled cabbage. Add a bowl of miso soup for 92 cents.
Most bibimbaps are in the $4 to $6 range for a regular-sized bowl, which is more than enough for an average appetite. Add 92 cents for a large bowl, except in the case of fish (add $1.84) or sashimi (add $2.76).
Those looking for a safe choice should stick with the chicken or beef bibimbap (both $5.50). Lightly marinated in a teriyaki-like sauce, the meats are served up steaming hot on the bed of vegetables, creating a satisfying mix of hot and cold, sweet and refreshing.
The egg-battered fish ($6.42) is a slightly more daring option. The thinly sliced white fish is moist and flavorful, with a crispy and light exterior and just enough crunchy batter to make the bowl substantive but not overly indulgent.
An absolute must-try for sushi lovers is Sunny Bowl's tuna sashimi bowl ($7.45). Seasoned with salt and pepper, the raw fish is flavored just enough. Served diced in sizeable squares, the tuna, mixed with the veggies and rice, makes for a thoughtful departure from Japanese nigiri-style tuna.
Vegetarians may choose from the asparagus bowl ($5.50) or tofu and broccoli ($4.54). Though a fellow vegetarian diner said he expected the tofu to have more distinct seasoning, he said the simplicity of the tofu and raw vegetables in his bibimbap worked nicely once they were combined with hot sauce and sesame oil (provided at every table).
Try one of Sunny Bowl's affordable appetizers to satisfy cravings for salt and oil. The chicken potstickers ($2.76) came four to an order, and arrived sizzling, with a thin, crispy casing and surprisingly flavorful filling. The kimchi pancake ($2.76) was sweeter than the typical pickled kimchi flavor. It was pan-fried though not overly heavy.
To sweeten the deal, Choi throws in a frozen-yogurt dessert with every bowl — the perfectly sweet, smooth finish to a lively meal.
Sunny Bowl provides cheap, convenient, high-quality food, without too many added calories. Its success lies in the simplicity of its bowls. This food cannot hide behind butter, oil or grease, and it doesn't need to. In the words of one diner: "I'm going back!"
1477 Plymouth St. #C, Mountain View
Weekdays 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat. noon-9 p.m.