Hard Times Cafe

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

The most citified Hard Times Cafe sits on a busy corner in Clarendon across from the Metro. (If you drive, there's free restaurant parking in a lot diagonally across the intersection.) The decor veers slightly toward elegant, with a beveled mirror on the side door and a ceiling that looks like pressed tin. The jukebox is the big news here. The titles on its 100 CDs literally overflow the box's flip pages, requiring that the remainder be plastered on nearby walls. One customer pronounced it the best jukebox he had ever seen. While the country, bluegrass and assorted heartbreak tunes easily outnumber any other category, if you look hard you can find sophisticated oldies and a polka or two. This Hard Times branch has also come up with an improvement on the already good wings (flavorful but not painfully hot): In addition to the regular fried wings on the menu, there is an unlisted grilled version. At first, these were prepared for the staff only, but now anyone in the know only has to ask.

-- Joanne Leonard