Name: Fred and Jim Parker
Business Name: Hard Times Cafe
Address: 1404 King Street, Alexandria, Virginia
What is your claim to fame?
We opened a little chili parlor on undeveloped upper King Street back in 1980 and although we may not be fine dining we have earned an international reputation for our specialty.
What makes you original and unique?
We have created a southwestern Depression era chili parlor and serve four distinctive chilis in different combinations. There are also burgers, ribs, chicken and salads on the menu but our chili is unique. We make an authentic Cincinnati 5-Way and the Texas chili recipe comes from our Grandfather, a Texas trail drive cowboy back in 1898. The décor consists of family photos of a 1926 working ranch in Wyoming and as a contrast we display Hollywood cowboy movie posters and other memorabilia.
Who or what inspired you to come to Alexandria?
We grew up in Northern Virginia in the 1950s and as teenagers Old Town Alexandria was a weekend hangout. After working in other cities we decided to come back to Alexandria and start a family business and become part of this historic seaport community.
What is your secret to success?
We made it our slogan: Great food, good people and cheap prices.
What is your proudest achievement?
Being named by USA Today as one of the 10 best places in the country for a bowl of chili and one of the 5 best family restaurants in the DC metro area.
Do you have a favorite Alexandria travel tip and or a favorite recipe you are willing to share?
The Terlinqua Red recipe is an adaptation of my competition recipe - the one that won 8th place in 1994 in the "superbowl" of chili cook-offs held every year.
We sell our chili spice mix and the recipe is printed on the back of the box. For more information see our Youtube commercial:
For a travel tip I'd say bring comfortable shoes because Old Town is great for walking. Wonderful stores and restaurants on King Street and side streets all the way down to the Potomac River.
Best date idea in Alexandria?
For the Hard Times date we start at the Masonic Temple for an 11:00 am tour and a great view of Old Town. Then walk the three blocks to the Hard Times for lunch. Have something light like a chili dog and walk if off by visiting the shops along King Street as you stroll down to the river. Be sure to go through the Torpedo Factory Art Center and enjoy the street musicians on the dock. You've seen the city from up on the hill now see it from the river with the Seaport Cruise on the Admiral Tilp tour boat. There are many restaurants to choose from for dinner. Not a bad one in the bunch. They're all excellent but if you can't make up your mind then hop on the free trolley back to the Hard Times. We would suggest you start with an order of our home made beer batter onion rings and a Hard Times Select Lager. Then order a couple of Texas 5-way chili macs (dry) with pink beans, parmesan cheese, chopped onions and diced jalapenos. Take that bottle of chili vinegar on your table and give your mac several good squirts. (That's homemade cornbread that comes with all the chili.)
Favorite places to go for brunch, happy hour, dinner under the stars, lunch deals, and places to take your dog?
One of our favorites for dinner is the Majestic Restaurant. Besides great food it has its original Art Deco façade and neon sign. Gadsby's Tavern has been around for over 200 years and is a must for out of town guests.The city also offers three great Irish Pubs and many restaurants have patio dining.
If you had friends visiting Alexandria what would you tell them to do and see during their visit?
Plan to be in town for the nations largest George Washington Birthday Parade in February and the Saint Patrick's Day Parade in March. We drive our antique 1941 Chevy pickup truck in both parades and the truck sits in front of the Hard Times in the evenings and most weekends. Also be sure to check the visitor's center for some great tours. Or just walk the streets yourself and look at the beautifully restored houses. For a big night out make reservations for Restaurant Eve or Jackson 20.
Check out what other travelers say about Alexandria tourism on TripAdvisor.