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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Casual restaurant

Mon–Fri 11:00am–11:00pm
Sat–Sun 10:30am–11:00pm

Features Kid-friendly, outdoor dining
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Not accepted


Nationals Park
1500 S. Capital St. SE
Washington, DC

Arlington, VA
3028 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA
(703) 528-2233
Sun–Mon 11:00am–1:00am
Tue–Wed 11:00am–2:00am
Thu–Sat 11:00am–3:00am

Alexandria Old Town
1404 King St.
Alexandria, VA
(703) 837-0050

Hard Times Café
A gimmicky franchise that celebrates America: land of cheese and meat and cheese. And meat.

Hard Times Café advertises “world famous chili and other American favorites” like wings, burgers, and barbecue ribs with such hokey theatrics that you hear a Hollywoodish cowboy voice-over in your head as you read the menu. The décor is of that kitschy, corporate-conceived ilk: out-of-date knick-knacks and vintage country music posters hang next to Bud and Miller ad campaigns. (And you can hardly swing a lasso anywhere in the tri-state area without hitting one of these.)

Chili comes in four varieties. The quality varies with the type. “Original Texas Chili” looks glum, with meat that’s so finely chopped that the texture is dry and uniform, and with no vegetables to provide any textural counterpoint. Don’t Texans love chilies? Where are those?

Another Texas take, “Terlingua Red,” is a better option. A tomato base renders the chili softer and more liquid, and the spices used in this version make for a sweeter stew. Even the vibrant red color is more visually pleasing. If you throw in some jalapeños and onions (both finely diced) for crunch, it gets even better.

All chili is served with cornbread (standard issue, on the dry side), but you can purchase it with several “others”: over spaghetti, in a bowl with corn bread, in a tortilla, or (most arrestingly) over a bowl of Fritos. You may be tempted to try some of crazy combinations. You would do best to stay away from the “Chili Mac,” in which a scoop of chili is unceremoniously dumped on a plate of gummy spaghetti. It seems like an homage to Cincinnati, where chili is served over spaghetti, too, but there, it’s like a bolognese, and it actually works. Here, you’re looking at something that resembles your worst middle school cafeteria experience.

Other offerings at Hard Times are just as discouraging. Wings, also in four flavors, don’t quite manage to convey as much flavor as their name suggests. Even burgers look hastily made. On the other hand, you can get pretty full for only $10, so maybe a trip to Hard Times is only rewarding when you’ve fallen on them.

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