There aren’t many better ways to start a day than with a “hotsy” from Chicken Joe’s in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich.

From the outside, it might look like an ordinary breakfast sandwich, but when you bite into it, the mixture of bacon, eggs, cheese, chili and hash browns is so spicy and so delicious that you will probably swear off Egg McMuffins forever. The taste explosion might remind you of huevos rancheros or some other tangy Southwestern breakfast specialty, but the hotsy is a Fairfield County original that helps to explain why the snug little restaurant has been thriving on East Putnam Avenue for 23 years.

To be honest, the place would win no awards for decor. The very narrow space consists of little more than a counter customers line up along and a couple of stools for those who can’t wait to get home or to their office before tearing into Joe Marini’s breakfast and lunch offerings.

Chicken Joe’s is a classic locals place, where the customers all seem to know each other, and the staff is on a first-name basis with everyone. Facebook was roundly dissed during a recent visit, and that’s understandable. Why would these people bother with virtual reality when they can do their own daily status updates in person?

“It’s all about having a variety of great stuff,” owner-operator Joe Marini says. “And everything is as fresh as possible.”

Keeping a restaurant popular for more than two decades is a major accomplishment in a business known for its high rate of first-year failures.

“It’s easy to get a customer to come in, but it’s hard to keep them coming back,” Marini says. “To me, it’s all about doing the right thing, so that most of my customers are like family to me.”

It only takes a few minutes at Chicken Joe’s to see that Marini is telling the truth about the close bond between him and his customers. “They’ll call me for favors and vice versa. It’s a great relationship. I hang out with them, go to their homes for dinner. But when you make a living from people, you’ve got to give back,” he says of the many charity events Chicken Joe’s caters and supports each year.

While the breakfast crowd tends to be older, Chicken Joe’s gets mobbed with students in the afternoon, most of whom are there for the “High School Special,” which consists of a bag of Joe’s freshly made chicken nuggets, french fries and a soda. “It was $5 when we started, now it’s $8,” he says. (Or take home a pound of the nuggets on their own for $11.99.) The chicken pieces are all made on the premises, and are 100 percent chicken (unlike the same item at some fast-food chains we won’t mention).

In the spring and fall, Marini makes it easier for students to get their chicken nugget fix from a Chicken Joe’s truck that makes after-school stops and regular football game visits.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Marini says. “I didn’t think I would stay at it for more than 15 years. But I love this town and the people who live in it. I’m very lucky and very grateful to be in a place where if you shout out that you need something, a lot of people will come to your rescue.”

P.S. Try the great iced coffee, too. (Starbucks, eat your heart out.);

Twitter: @joesview