We had the curious fortune to find ourselves looking for a meal this (Sunday) midafternoon in Madera, California, one of the most unpromising venues in the whole vast swath that is the San Joaquin Valley. Following Tyler's rule that you find good food in grungy places, we passed up the superabundance of chain offerings and betook ourself to a mom-and-popish (perhaps better a momish) little Mexican outlet, holding forth in the ruins of what I suspect was once a more pretentious operation.
At first blush, you might say that Tyler's principle was disconfirmed: this was lunch at its most elementary, down real close to "gimme a pound of food." The chicken quesadilla was exactly that: a bit of shredded chicken breast on a bit of melted cheese inside a tortilla. The chicken tacos were a smidgen more upscale: a bit of chicken and iceberg lettuce inside a soft taco shell, with three half lemons to squeeze out for flavor.
But here's the thing: the chicken was actually pretty good. Which is more than you're going to say about the chicken in virtually any chain restaurant, even the most formidable. Consider: mass-produced chicken almost always runs to soft and watery. Too many chain places will fob you off with commercial-grade product: "government inspected," an old Army buddy of mine once said, "didn't say whether it passed or not."
But this stuff was none of that: it was a bit on the tough and stringy side, but it delivered an extraordinary quantum of actual flavor. The words "free range" waddled through my mind; I wondered if, at the very least, I was dining ut of the proprietor's back yard. So, not a five-star, not even by counter-culture standards. But so much better than what you would have got at the chains, it made the day worthwhile.