Hard Times Cafe is a local restaurant chain that specializes in chili. But you should definitely visit for the wings! On my latest quest to find the best chicken wings in the DC area, I swung by the Hard Times Cafe original location in Old Town Alexandria which has been serving patrons since 1980. They offer their wings either grilled or boneless, and are available in Texas style, chili lime, honey bbq, old bay, sweet red chile, and teriyaki. Though the menu doesn’t list Buffalo wings, I’m told that “Texas Style” is essentially the same thing.
The chili lime wings piqued my interest. I figured it’d be a great flavor to try grilled. I was not disappointed. In fact, these wings land among my favorites! There’s just something about grilled meat over an open flame that alters the flavor in a way no other cooking method can replicate. I’m very curious to go back at some point and give the Texas style a try.
How they rate: Hard Times Cafe, Chili Lime Wings Review
The chili lime chicken wings delivered almost exactly what I look for in the texture of grilled wings. Charred bits of skin from contact with the grill crisp up the skin nicely. There were a couple of wings on the plate that got a little extra char on them, but not enough to consider it burned. But these wings illustrate why I love grilled wings. There’s no other way to replicate the texture.
The Hard Times wikipedia page claims that they were the first DC area sports bar to grill their wings after being sauced, “locking the flavor in and at the same time making it a bit cleaner to eat.” And that’s my one and only complaint with these wings. While the grilling adds a wonderful texture, I still wanted more sauce on them. I’m not sure why Hard Times is concerned with cleanliness. We know from my all-time favorite chicken wings that you can still get a good bit of char while having plenty of sauce on the wing.
I would describe my heat tolerance as average, and these wings came in right at the top of my range. I loved that for once a wing with a title that indicated heat actually brought it. There was a great balance between the two main flavors of chili and lime, both prevalent on each bite. The citrus from the lime brought a bit of freshness to lighten them up a touch, without cutting the heat.
From Start to Finish:
A friend pointed out about half way through the dish that I was sweating. But I loved every bite from the first to the last. Though powerful, the heat never overwhelmed my palate.
Classic = 100%. Plenty of celery and a chunky blue cheese were exactly what I needed at times to give my mouth a bit of cool relief. This is exactly how it should be.
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Hard Times Cafe
Sun-Thursday: 11am-11pm Fri & Sat: 11am-Midnight
$10.49 for 1lb (8 wings) | $1.31/wing (Prices vary by location)