food&wine RESTAURANT SCOUT

Hard Times Cafe

3028 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201
703-528-2233
www.hardtimes.com

CUISINE American, Bar/Pub Grub

PRICE Under $12

HOURS Open for lunch, dinner and late-night dining daily.

DELIVERY Yes

TAKEOUT No

NVM AWARDS Best Bargain Restaurant 2007
Best Bargain Restaurant 2008

NEARBY METRO Orange(Clarendon)

SPECIAL FEATURES

Lunch
Dinner
Happy Hour
Kids Menu
Late Night Dinner
Outdoor Dining
Delivery
Accepts Credit Cards



Write a Review

NVM Review

(April 2010)

By Warren Rojas

It used to be that any after-hour, half-smoke cravings—that iconic half-pork, half-beef link—meant battling your way to the urban grill Ben Ali made famous.

No longer.

Hard Times Café is now courting the half-smoke faithful with a quarter-pound sausage (same supplier as Ben’s Chili Bowl) that’s plump as all get out and gratifyingly spicy.

Look, Ma, no multijurisdictional DUI hassles.

(October 2010)

By Warren Rojas

This year marks 30 years of operation for Hard Times Café, a milestone that means a lot to co-founder Fred Parker—less so for the fiscal implications than the perseverance of good, old fashioned comfort food.

“Not bad for a little chili joint on upper King Street,” Parker says of his pearl anniversary, adding, “Real chili parlors [are] an endangered institution and we do our best to maintain the tradition.”

And you best believe at least part of their dining legacy hangs on their ability to weave together a wondrous foot-long, chili-cheese dog.

Parker says his homegrown chainlet packs their buns with Berks® beef franks, alternating between the 4-ounce dogs for their twin, Coney Island-style platter and the plumper 8-ounce franks for the extended eating that is the big dog.

All in-store dogs are grilled to order, while boiling is the preparation method de rigueur utilized by Hard Times vendors servicing community festivals and local sporting events.

Parker ballparks he sells around 250,000 franks per year across his Hard Times empire, pegging the Springfield location as the most prolific dog slinger—the Clarendon store, however, “is close behind,” he notes—and summertime as prime franks- flinging season.

According to Parker, adults tend to gravitate toward the standard chili dog: all-beef frank, your choice of chili—Cincinnati (meaty but sweet), Texas (extra beefy), Terlingua Red (bonus hot peppers) or Vegetarian (packed with peppers, ‘shrooms and peanuts)—diced white onions and an avalanche of shredded cheddar. Children, on the other hand, like to go to extremes, dipping their toes into the chili dog pool by nibbling on the nascent sliders (Vienna sausage-sized servings of their fabled fare) or going whole hog and attacking the lengthy and fully loaded foot-long iteration.

Out of the mouths of babes.

And directly into mine.

The house foot-long is far from flawless, but exploits to the utmost degree its well-choreographed charms. Key selling points include: the overabundance of hot, lusty chili—which, ironically, also produced its greatest flaw: the structurally-unsound-due-to-a-deluge-of-chili-juices-and-molten-cheese bun—the snap of the crisp, juicy frank, the zesty kick from a hail of minced onions and the abject richness of the lava-like cheddar.

It’s exactly the type of dog you dream of getting at the stadium (any stadium): Hot. Hearty. And absolutely dripping with personality.

Sadly, Parker projects that the foot-long option will be completely phased out during the next menu overhaul, destined to be replaced by a more hometown-friendly half-smoke.

(May 2008)

By Warren Rojas

Hard Times wings ($8.29) soar after a brief visit to the grill, where they develop an attractive sear on top of their tantalizing sauces (lip-smacking chili-lime rocks; honey barbecue brings the sweet). A bowl of Terlingua Red five-way chili mac ($8.19) beats back hunger with a mountain of noodles, spicy chili, beans, cheese and onions.

(June/July 2007)

By Warren Rojas

Chili lovers prone to crumbling crackers into their brew will appreciate the salty snap of the Frito chili pie ($7.89), heaping your choice of chili (color mine Terlingua red), diced tomatoes, shredded cheddar and a dapper dab of cool sour cream atop a nest of the familiar baked corn curls.

Texas Chili - Honarable Mention

(June/July 2006)

By Warren Rojas

Another regional chain, the Hard Times version of this culinary scorcher is the beefiest of the bunch, bearing spoonful after spoonful of coarse ground beef soaked in a cumin-laden tomato broth. No beans, no veggies-just oil and meat. And a brick of the homemade corn bread (fantastic).

Build an even heartier bowl by adding in extras like fresh tomatoes or chopped jalapenos.

Restaurant Scout