One of the key defining characteristics of most people-and by extension-businesses anywhere in the Central Valley is that most think and operate at one speed: very slow. I originally hail from Southern California and despite having more than four years residency here now, I have yet to get fully acclimated to the usual glacial pace of most peoples brains here. And this place was no exception.
This is the former Aero Dogs establishment, its main attraction being that it's converted from a WWII/Korea era Convair 240 airplane. It has a certain charm to it but after maybe thirty seconds, the charm and novelty wears off. Absent the airliner sans wings, engines, and a paint job, this place has nothing to offer whatsoever in terms of atmosphere, ambiance, or aesthetics. Most seating is limited to the twenty-five or so that can fit inside the airplane although there is some outdoor seating a-la park picnic tables. On a hot day, this makes for a miserable dining experience. Especially if you are dressed for work or are otherwise pressed for time.
This place by the way, is definitely in an out-of-the-way, off-the-beaten-path location. Most locals will find it but travelers might find its location on a small side street near Tulare's moribund Downtown district to be inconvenient and not all that appealing.
The menu here is largely summer barbecue fare: tri tp, hot dogs, hamburgers, hot links, etc. And the menu is written entirely on a dry erase board.
I ate here many times under its previous owners but had not been here since it reopened under the "Lunch Box" name. So after some time, I decided to give it a try.
I park in the lot and walk up the steps. I counted five people ahead of me: two couples and one other solo patron. My time from walk up to getting my order taken? Twelve minutes. The gal running the cashier seemed more interested in talking about her children and chit-chatting with the customers. That's fine for "service" and "camaraderie", but annoying as all get out for those who just want something to eat. Either I was visibly annoyed by the time it was my turn or else she sensed that I am not Central Valley born and raised. So her chatty demeanor dipped significantly. Having had plenty of time to peruse the menu while waiting, I immediately told her what I wanted. I wasn't particularly interested in her twenty questions of "do you want this, do you want that", etc. I counted no fewer than five other people working. Despite this, it still took her another three or four minutes to calculate my total and make change. I wouldn't recommend paying with any type of plastic here: she was doing payments from other customers with a skimmer attached directly to her SmartPhone and didn't seem particularly well versed on how to use it. I strongly recommend paying cash.
While standing in the line, I was wondering who was having who for lunch: I and everyone else were nearly eaten alive by flies. Although I know that the flies are out in full force this time of year, the absence of a fan did not imbue a sense of confidence; most of the food was being cooked and staged on a mesquite burning grill a few feet away. The cook carrying in the bread and some of the meat by hand also didn't make me all that comfortable. Add to that the small child-maybe six years old I saw working in the kitchen by carrying items, wiping down trays etc, also kind of gave me pause: this place is almost begging for a visit from OSHA, the Health department, etc.
But...whatever. Nothing I saw looked egregiously bad.
After another eighteen minute wait, my order was called out and ready. I ordered a hot link and barbecue tri-tip sandwich.
I have to say: both were excellent and tasty. The hot link was very hot and spicy. Just the way they are supposed to be. So many places that serve alleged hot links are anything but. These definitely bit back. I just should've requested a little extra sauce.
The tri-tip was equally tasty: flavorful, juicy, and very lean with just the right amount of fat. Not too much and not too little. Was cooked to perfection and the tangy sauce it's served with really gives it a good flavor. Both are highly recommended. I also overheard two other guys raving about the burgers. Next time, I'll have to try them. A good burger is so hard to come by here in the Tulare/Visalia area.
It's a bit on the pricey side: just the hot link, tri tip, and large drink without any sides set me back about $13. So it's not a "value" by any stretch of the imagination. But you do get what you pay for and that is: a very good quality meal. Unfortunately, that's about it.
So based on having those two items, I give the 'box very high marks for food. As I said, both items I tried were excellent. But I give them equally mediocre marks for service and atmosphere-or rather, the lack of them. This might be a good place to try if you are bored and looking for something to eat after lunch or before dinner. But I wouldn't recommend coming if you are pressed for time or on a hot day during lunch rush.
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