On the Cowboy Cafe sign is a cowboy riding a bucking bronco. Beneath the silhouette is the phrase “great food and beer.” Chances are if you’re stopping by this longstanding Lee Highway establishment, you’re more focused on what’s in the trough than what’s in your feedbag, considering that craft beers flow from the tap during happy hour at $3.50 a pint. The discount brews and Southwest-inspired eats may be a more likely draw than the Cowboy kitsch, but the latter is still appreciated.
Outside, the bar is dotted in Texas Lone Stars. Inside, a statue of an American Indian in headdress greets guests. He’s standing behind a sign that invites patrons to seat themselves. If you don’t sidle up to the bar, you can have a seat in the dining room and take in a bit more of the cowboy decor. A landscape of cacti against rust-colored peaks and plateaus wraps around the dining room. There’s a bull’s head on one wall; his body is painted into the scene. Above the doorway there’s a deer’s head, but he doesn’t get the same treatment.
The Western motif runs through the restaurant’s menu, as well, from the Nacho Mountain appetizer and The Wrangler fish entree right down to the S’mores Pie dessert (because campfire goodies should be part of any cowpoke’s diet). But beyond the styled names are bar-grub dishes ideal for joining a pint. That Nacho Mountain ($8.50) is not just a clever name. It’s an appetizer made for sharing with a few friends over a few beers, and when you tack on some of the meaty and slightly sweet house chili for $2 more, you’ll run out of napkins before you run out of toppings. Here, tortilla chips are layered in chili, glued to their spot with melted cheddar and jack cheese, topped in salsa, sour cream, and some bright green raw jalapeno peppers. There are snack baskets aplenty among the appetizers, as well. For $5.50, you can have you pick of French fries, sweet potato fries, tater tots, or onion rings. You can also choose the Homemade Fried Pickles ($5.50). Indeed, the pickles here are made in-house, including those served at the sides of burgers and sandwiches. In this appetizer, pickle slices are dipped in a seasoned batter and fried for a wafer-thin shell, and served with creamy and potent chipotle dip that works well with the tangy pickle flavor.
Stop by this restaurant on a Tuesday and you’ll be taking part in the long-held tradition of half-price burger day here. On any other day, though, the burgers here are $10.50 and come with a towering stack of matchstick fries and a homemade pickle – except for The Barnyard (it costs $15, probably because it features more than a pound of meat). The Duke is a popular pick here, served with cheddar cheese, a few fatty bacon strips, lettuce, tomato, and some thick slices of onion teetering on a cooked-to-order beef patty.
Selections under the entrees menu section, for the most part, are meat-focused – ribeye, chicken, salmon, tilapia, barbecue brisket. But there are also two quesadillas, in keeping with the Southwestern style of the restaurant. The Smoked Chicken Quesadilla ($10.50) is loaded with gooey cheddar and jack cheese, with chicken, onion, and red pepper all packed between grill-scorched wheat tortillas. It’s served with sour cream, and with a bowl of beans as a side. Most entrees cost $12.95, the exceptions being the cheaper quesadillas and the more expensive 10-ounce ribeye.
Live music, brunch, special discounts – every night of the week, there’s an added incentive for a visit. But the dive-bar charm and promise of a good night’s eating and drinking are enough reason to visit. And if you dig cowboy culture, it’s all the better.
Cowboy Cafe is located at 4792 Lee Highway, Arlington. For more information, call 703-243-8010 or visit thecowboycafe.com. Restaurant hours are Monday – Friday: 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.; Saturday – Sunday: 9 a.m. – 2 a.m.