It seemed kind of a long trek out to Arlington, in search of what one friend called “the best burger in town.”
The owners of Off the Hoof, Ron and Kathy Files, have certainly captured the loyalty of folks from all over town. He worked for about 20 years for restaurant chains. When the opportunity to open a restaurant of their own came along, they took it. It’s off the beaten path, but they have no trouble filling Off the Hoof in the evenings and on weekends.
So with the hope of a great burger, a group of us made the trip. We were warned that we should arrive early or risk waiting for a table, so we were dining earlier than our usual dinner hour. When we got there, there were plenty of empty tables, including one big enough for all eight of us. Part of the group was running a bit late, so we ordered a couple of appetizers: the Frickles, battered and deep-fried pickle slices, and the Bella Bites, battered and deep-fried chunks of Portobello mushrooms.
Both were obviously done to order, and obviously neither was made ahead since at the bottom of the basket there were lots of crunchy dribbles of the light but very crisp coating. One of the nice things about using portobello mushrooms rather than the more common button mushrooms is that they have less moisture, so there’s no unpleasant squirt of mushroom juice when bitten into, and the whole basket stayed crisp for the short time it took us to dip them into the ranch dressing and finish them off.
There are lots of choices besides burgers on the menu. One of our party ordered the Alaskan salmon burger. It was nicely browned, well-cooked but not dry, and very flavorful. It was served, as all the burgers are, with lettuce, a pale slice of winter tomato, rings of red onion and pickles. There is also a long list of toppings you can add to your burger of choice, including several cheeses, bacon, chili, coleslaw and more.
I ordered the Crabby Sliders, two plump little cakes on small buns. They were certainly not jumbo lump crab meat, and there was a good bit of filler, but they had a very good crab flavor, and were priced at only $5 for two.
Another person at the table ordered the Bologna Burger. It was a thick slab of real country bologna, the kind I remember my grandparents eating. Well-browned on the outside, but still juicy on the inside, and served on a kaiser roll, it was pronounced delicious.
But there’s no doubt that the beef burgers are the stars of the menu. My husband ordered the Pat LaFrieda Steak Burger. A mixture of ground round and ground boneless short rib, it was well-seasoned, and cooked perfectly to medium, crusty on the outside but nicely pink and juicy on the inside. And it came on an “81 layer all butter croissant roll.” I was able to talk him out of a bite and it certainly lived up to its top billing on the menu.
Two others ordered the Kobe burger, one with cheddar, one with blue cheese. Both were also perfectly cooked, and seasoned very well.
There are a number of interesting sides, and we got several of them. The Spicy Onion Straws were more like thin-cut onion rings, also dipped in the same light batter and deep-fried. They came with a sauce that complemented them nicely, and was reminiscent of the mustard-style barbecue sauce seen in states more to the east of us. They were wonderful.
The Swaffle Fries were deep-fried waffle-cut sweet potatoes, served with either cinnamon sugar or chipotle ranch dipping sauce. We asked for both on the side, and decided that dipping first in the ranch and then in the cinnamon sugar made for a great taste.
Both the Swaffle Fries and the Spicy Onion Straws were hot and crispy. The hand-cut fries, ordered both plain and as Freta Fries, topped with feta cheese and drizzled with a very hot buffalo sauce, were neither. In fact, the Freta Fries were so cool that they were sent back for a fresh order.
Part of that may have been a service issue. While our server was very pleasant, when it got crowded we saw very little of her. Some of the orders were brought a good bit before others, and it took more than a half-hour from the time we placed our orders for them to arrive at the table.
The dessert list was interesting, but we were all too full to order one. And besides, by that time, there was a great long line of people waiting for a table, all looking at our empty baskets and obviously hoping our chairs would be equally empty soon.
We went back another day, at lunch, and again there was a good crowd. Two different servers took our beverage order, but neither brought them until we flagged down one of them.
Since I’d missed out on the beef the first visit, I ordered the Kobe burger. Mine too was perfectly cooked, and very juicy and well-seasoned. My companion had the elk burger. Although it was cooked to medium-rare, it was so lean that there wasn’t nearly the flavor. He didn’t think elk would put beef out of business.
There are other burgers on the menu. One was an ostrich burger. Our server said she’d never tried it, but that it sold out early most of the time. There’s also a buffalo burger, a turkey burger, an Angus burger and a country-fried burger. If you are especially hungry, several giant burgers are available, up to a 4-pound one.
If you aren’t in the mood for a burger, there are also chicken sandwiches, portobello mushroom sandwiches and Nathan’s footlong hot dogs.
It’s definitely a family-friendly place, with a kid’s menu and a small area with a blackboard on the wall, where restless children might pass the time until their meal arrives. And the tables are spaced widely enough that even when the restaurant is packed, there’s not so much noise that you can’t talk to your table-mates.
This time we saved room for dessert, all of which are made in house. We had to try the fried Oreos. We got four, dipped, I’m pretty sure, in the same light and crispy batter as the appetizers and deep-fried. They were surprisingly good, and a great deal at four for $2. The Key Lime Mousse Cheesecake had a good crumb crust, and had two layers, both with a very pronounced lime flavor. The fudge pie was similar to the good one a friend of mine makes, but the texture was a bit grainy. We chose not to have ice cream with them, but the Oreos and fudge pie would have been enhanced by a scoop of vanilla.
Off the Hoof
Food: 2 1/2 Stars
Service: 1 1/2 Stars
Atmosphere: 1 1/2 Stars
Address: 12013 U.S. 70, Arlington
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Reviewer’s choice: Frickles ($4), Bella Bites ($5), Pat LaFrieda Chopped Steak ($10.99), Kobe Burger ($9), Spicy Onion Straws ($2), Swaffles ($3), Fried Oreos ($2), Key Lime Mousse Cheesecake ($4)