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Jul 28, 2011 03:58 PM

Best chili in NOVA/DC?

I am looking for a good bowl of chili in NOVA or DC. It really doesn't matter what type of food they serve as long as the chili is good. I'd prefer a sit down restaurant, but I'll take whatever suggestions you have. Thanks!

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  1. The only place I can think of that specializes in chili is Hard Times. They serve several varieties so you might find something you enjoy. There are a few, one in Clarendon, one in Alexandria (Old Town), one in Rockville, and I'm not sure where else.

    But you know, don't you, that asking about good chili around here is like asking about good barbecue. You might have started a war.

    6 Replies
    1. re: MikeR

      I think Hard Times' Terlingua Red chili is their best, and it's pretty good, though not great.

      But I can't say that I've had better than "decent" chili anywhere in the area. And Hard Times uses ground beef, rather than cooking down chuck, I guess to save time in the cooking process.

      Mostly, I just make it myself.

      1. re: DanielK

        I have never even thought of going out for chili in NOVA. Hard Times is ok, but it isn't something I would go out specifically for. My office has chili cook offs and usually the top two or three are better than anything hard times can make. Heck, even the chili at Giant is better than what you get at hard times. But they do have beer and I think this week is hot dog week at hard times, buy anything and they throw in a hot dog, maybe they will upgrade that to a chili dog for free as well?
        I guess we can safely add chili to the list of other foods (i.e. good BBQ or tacos) that you just can't buy close to or inside the belt way...
        There was a place on 29 in Falls Church that was just seedy enough that it might have the real deal but I have not heard it mentioned even once. It was by the quarry oppo the Elevation Burger. I think it got torn down.

        1. re: Ziv

          At least Hard Times knows that chili doesn't have beans as an essential ingredient. You can get it with beans, or with beans on the side ("If you know beans about chili, you know chili has no beans"). And you can get Cincinnati chili with spaghetti.

          The place on Lee Highway you're thinking of was the Texas Chili Parlor, a dumpy bar that served terrible chili with a lot of atmosphere. The building now houses an auto repair shop. There was probably enough grease left from the bar to get them started greasing cars if they could only get it into the grease gun. ;)

          1. re: MikeR

            Mike, I had to laugh at your quote, "If you know beans about chili..."
            I have to admit I may be in the minority on this one, especially when my chili cooking friends are from Texas or thereabouts, but chili without beans doesn't taste like chili to me. I think it is all what you grow up with, much like the Great Pizza Debate.
            I learned to enjoy chili from my grandfather's cooking. Though I never got a recipe from him, I just saw him make it and there were a lot of beans. His opinion of chili was that it was a cheap way for a cattleman to feed a bunch of people, which kind of explains the inclusion of the beans I guess. We had it at roundups, family get togethers and before rodeos. The rest of the year grandma would be the one cooking.
            Side comment about chili at Hard Times, I was at Pikes Place Market eating chili at a cafe and the owner asked me how I liked it. I said it was good (slight promotion due to me talking to the owner) and that it reminded me of Hard Times in Virginia. The owner got a little angry, and said something like, "No surprise there, he stole my recipe from when he worked for me!" Not sure if it is true, but the guy did seem a bit peeved about it.

            1. re: Ziv

              I went to high school (Wakefield) with Fred Parker, who started, and I believe still owns, Hard Times. I'm sure that cooks take recipes with them from wherever they work, and adapt them to their own taste and style.

              Go there again some time when he's not likely to remember you and make the same comment only mention another restaurant. See if he gives the same response. ;)

              As for the beans, I don't mind beans in my chili, in fact I make it like that sometimes. That quote (not original with me) is just a chili snob's saying. But yeah, one of chili's characteristics is that it's cheap to feed a lot of people. You can stretch it with beans. Another way is to use cheap meat and cook it until it's tender enough to chew, and when you do that, you almost always cook the beans separately. It's up to the server or the eater whether to mix them in or eat them as a side dish. One "classic" (and I don't know what class it comes from but I think it's cool) way to serve Texas chili is with a row of chopped onions across the diameter of a plate with the meat on one side and beans on the other side of the onions.

          2. re: Ziv

            That was the P&P Chili Lounge. Mostly, it was a beer/bookie joint. The "chili" was mostly a prop. I don't think it was ever intended for human consumption.

      2. i am really not a fan of hard times' chili. it's dry, greasy, their burgers and wings, but never understood how chili became their thing.

        i love lost dog's chili.

        3 Replies
        1. re: littlew1ng

          You can't always get what you want good chili in the DMV is one of those things.

          1. re: littlew1ng

            I also like Lost Dog's but overall prefer Clyde's at Tysons chili. They do a pretty good chili and you can get it by the cup (vs. a big bowl) as a starter. I am not fond of Hard Times but the Cincy chili over spaghetti is the one that I used to order with soaks up much of the grease and eases the blandness.

            Lost Dog Cafe
            5876 Washington Blvd, Arlington, VA 22205

            1. re: littlew1ng

              Gotta agree that the chili at Hard Times is wildly inconsistent (but exudes the prettiest thermonuclear orange grease I've ever seen), but the burgers and wings are better than bar food average.

              Given that chili in the area is typically considered to be a dish of spicy tomato sauce with kidney beans, HTC is at least aiming in the right direction.

              I love the bean debate. In 2005 I was in Texas to cook at the world championship chili cook off and asked every native I met about whether or not there should be beans in chili. Everyone I asked looked at me like I was an imbecile Yankee. Every Texan I spoke to assumed beans to be an integral part of the dish.

            2. Hard Times is pretty good for what it is. If you're gonna be picky, then you'll be like the BBQ aficionados who expect the stuff they buy around here to compare with the stuff they bought at a little roadside shack in the deep south. Same with NY pizza, same with chili. HT is perfectly acceptable. If your standards are higher, then you need to go to the region of the country that serves the chili of your choice.

              2 Replies
              1. re: MsDiPesto

                Chili, to me, is one of those "if you want something done right, do it yourself" deals. So that's what I do. If I find myself in Texas or New Mexico, different story. The DC area is not the place to expect a decent bowl of chili. "Hard Times" is aptly named. I've had better chili in elementary school cafeterias.

                1. re: flavrmeistr

                  we like the terlingua chili at hard times, but we usually make our own chili.

              2. Try Urban BBQ, Tim Carman raved about it last winter.

                1. What about Ben's?
                  I've only had their half smoke with chili once, so I can't speak to how good the chili is.
                  I like Hard Times chili, mainly when I make it myself. I stock up on their mixes, which I think are very good and a quick short cut to getting deeply-flavored chili on the table quickly.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: monavano

                    Chili at Ben's is only ok as a topping. Would never consider getting it straight up.

                    1. re: Steve

                      That's what I thought. I had the half smoke at a Potomac Natiionals game ;-)