Hard Times Cafe

Written by on June 21, 2012 in I Eat America, I Eat...Out with 0 Comments

(hardtimes.com) – Clarendon neighborhood, Arlington, Virginia

How I heard of this place: While I had seen it on walks, it wasn’t until Eamon recommended the boneless wings and sent out an email invitation for several friends to join him on Thursday night! Yay, Eamon!

Type of cuisine: “An American Chili Parlor”, the establishment focuses on hearty, meaty chili, on top of almost anything (salad, noodles, tater tots, fries, burgers, hot dogs, cornbread, and more). “The beloved cowboy philosopher Will Rogers said he always judged a town by the quality of its Chili. He liked to hang out at chili parlors where he took the pulse of the nation for his syndicated column in the 1920’s. During the Great Depression chili parlors supplied an inexpensive and nourishing meal for million’s of Americans. A newspaper man at the time was quoted as saying that during those hard times chili saved more lives than the Red Cross. Meat rationing during WWII forced the closing of many chili parlors and although many restaurants today offer chili on their menus, few authentic chili parlors remain. The mission of the Hard Times is to maintain this unique American culinary institution.”


Ambiance: From the Western font to the interior, Hard Times Cafe boasts all things from the Wild West. Wooden flats on the walls, wooden floorboards and rustic everything else. While unassuming from the outside, the inside is quite large, with ample seating – both upstairs and down. Windows face out onto the bustling Clarendon streets, allowing for natural light to stream in until late in the summer evenings. Large tables with seating enough for eight (or more) make up the booths, where we took our spots to peruse the menu.

What I ordered: I sat down, took a quick glance at the menu and immediately knew I had to sample the four types of chili.  And, sure enough, they were well-prepared! The Hard Times recipes “are authentic and historically correct versions of the Chili created on the turn-of-the-century cattle drives of the South- west and in the Cincinnati Chili parlors of the Midwest.” The four options include: Texas Chili: Coarse ground beef cooked in its own juice, using an authen- tic turn of the century family spice blend and recipe. Cincinnati Chili: Introduced in 1922 by Greek immigrants, it is a fine grind of beef with a tomato base and sweeter spices including cinnamon. Terlingua Red: A tribute to the Texas ghost town that hosted the first Chili cook-off. A redder color and spicy kick of championship chilies. Vegetarian Chili: Soy flakes cooked in a tomato base with fresh mushrooms, onions, green peppers, jalapenos & peanuts. After sampling, and remembering that we were invited to Hard Times to partake of the Thursday Boneless Wings special, we opted for three orders of eight ($4 for each plate of eight, with celery and blue cheese or ranch on the side) boneless wings. The three flavors we selected: Original Texas, Honey BBQ, and Teriyaki. Another dining companion chose two order of boneless wings with Honey BBQ and Chili Lime. Our final dining companion ordered what Hard Times is known for: Chili Mac ($7.79) for his choice of Chili (Cincinatti) over spaghetti.

Boneless Wings

What I loved: Favorite chili: Terlingua, followed by the Vegetarian. Favorite wings: Honey BBQ and Chili Lime, in that order.

Why I loved it: Simple menu, with only a smattering of options, all available with chili, making it easier to decide what to eat, and how many items of which to partake! Yum.

Cost: Low ($7.79 – $12.99 per entree)

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