¡Que Delicioso!

Local dining landmark is transformed into an upscale Mexican joint  
by Virginia Chamlee  //  photos by agnes lopez
flying-iguana-swordfishSun Dog Diner was a fixture on the Neptune Beach dining scene for decades so, when the venerable eatery announced it was closing its doors, many locals were greatly disappointed. Since then, the space was bought by Al Mansur (the restaurateur behind Al’s Pizza), completely renovated and transformed into a taqueria and tequila bar. Sun Dog may be missed, but diners are lining up all the same.
Flying Iguana still pays homage to the space’s former tenant—the Sun Dog logo is displayed on the back wall—and the ambiance is fairly similar, thanks to a laid-back atmosphere and live music on weekends. But the food is altogether different. The emphasis now is, of course, on the tacos and the margaritas.
The prices are reasonable (the most expensive taco on the menu is $4) and the portions are larger than you might expect. Unlike many taco joints, which offer tacos that can be eaten in three or four bites, Flying Iguana’s are heftier, and often packed with unusual fillings.
The meat and potatoes taco (which includes spicy ground beef, red potatoes, grilled corn and chihuahua cheese) has already developed a cult-like following among locals but my money’s on the blackened shrimp taco, complete with ginger purple cabbage slaw, chipotle aioli, mango pico de gallo and fresh cilantro. It’s lighter than some of the other options (like pork belly or beer battered cod) and makes good use of one of Northeast Florida’s great ingredients, Mayport shrimp.
If you’re feeling especially hungry, there’s a selection of platos fuertes (entrées to us gringos) from which to choose. The Peruvian rotisserie chicken (a slow-roasted, whole chicken) is served family style, and comes with four sides and aji sauces, $22. Or try the habañero mango-glazed swordfish, with fried green tomatoes, sweet potato purée and garlicky spinach, $22.
If you haven’t filled up on appetizers and tacos, Flying Iguana also offers a selection of Latin desserts. The plantains Foster is an interesting take on the classic bananas Foster, and includes sweet plantains sautéed with spiced rum, pecan praline, topped with vanilla ice cream.
Of course, a trip south of the border wouldn’t be complete without a margarita, and there are plenty of variations served on the rocks or frozen. Those craving a little heat will enjoy the Spice of Life, a mixture of jalapeño-infused tequila, triple sec, fresh lime juice, agave nectar and sour mix. The Floral Arrangement, which combines St. Germain Elderflower, agave nectar, lime, blanco tequila and an edible hibiscus flower is another unique option. Tequila aficionados will appreciate the extensive list of reposado, blanco and anejo varieties—each of which can be added to a cocktail or, if you’re especially curious, served on its own.
Flying Iguana
207 Atlantic Blvd., Neptune Beach • 853-5680; flyingiguana.com
Hours: 11 AM-midnight, Sunday-Thursday; 11 AM-1:30 AM, Friday-Saturday
Late-Night Munchies: Flying Iguana offers a limited menu of late night “Moonbites,” including Southwest poutine, smoked chicken quesadillas, and carnitas tacos.
Hurry Up and Wait: If you do have to wait for a table to open up, just give the host or hostess your name and cell phone number. They’ll text you when your table is ready (so you can grab a cocktail at a nearby bar or restaurant, or even walk to the beach).
Tap Your Toes: Local bands play Thursday-Saturday at 10 PM, and every Sunday at 8:30 PM.
Drink Up: The restaurant serves daily drink specials from 9 PM to close, Sunday-Wednesday. Selections include $5 house margaritas, $4 fireball shots and $2 Bud Light draughts.