As soon as we booked our flight to DC I started looking for places to eat. At the top of my list was the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl. During our first four days in the city we did not get anywhere near the restaurant, and I was worried I would miss out on a delicious half-smoke. Thankfully thing fell in line on the afternoon of our departure, and we made the trip from the National Mall to the diner on the air conditioned yellow line.
Ben’s is across the street from the U-Street Metro stop in an eye catching red and white painted building. The restaurant opened in 1958 and proudly declares itself a Washington landmark. We entered the door and were greeted by a line of people that stretched down from the cash register. I took a place in line while Becky and the kids scouted for a table.
Behind the counter a collection of employees raced about fixing orders, taking money, and bringing food out to the tables of hungry customers. In addition to half-smokes Ben’s serves burgers, tuna sandwiches, and salads (why?). When it was my turn I ordered a pair of half-smoked chili dogs, an order of chili cheese fries, two plain dogs for the kiddos, a chocolate milk shake to share, and fountain drinks. The grand total was a shade over $40.
I located the fam at a pair of rickety formica tables towards the back of the restaurant. James Brown played in the background and Miss Julia got down to Augusta, Georgia’s own while waiting for our lunches to arrive. Following a short wait a friendly waitress brought the food to our table and it was time to see if Ben’s lived up to the hype.
A mound of hot French fries was piled on top of wax paper and covered in bright yellow melted cheese and a helping of Ben’s chili. Normally I shy away from cheese wiz-type products, but this tasted amazing. With each bite I could feel my cholesterol rise. It was delicious and I made sure to sop the bottom of the basket to make sure no artificial cheese or smear of chili was wasted.
The famed half-smoke, Bill Cosby’s favorite, was grilled on a flat top and slid into a fresh bun. Coarsely ground pork and beef (50/50 of each) are stuffed into a casing and then smoked to perfection. Topped with Ben’s tasty chili, it was one fine dog. A handful of Lutz potato chips completed the half smoke basket, but after eating more chili than I should have before a plane ride, I left them alone.
Mason and Miss Julia enjoyed their hot dogs and then fought over the chocolate shake. Becky and I stepped in and took our share from the bottom of the cup before returning a lighter, and therefore more suitable for tiny hands, cup to our chocoholics.
Ben’s was a great experience and before departing I made sure to get a t-shirt from the gift shop located in the adjacent building. The diner is open Monday – Thursday 6 am – 2 am, Friday 6 am – 4 am, Saturday 7 am – 4 am, and on Sunday from 11 am – 11 pm. Ben’s can be found online at benschilibowl.com, Facebook, and on Twitter @benschilibowl. The restaurant can be contacted by telephone at (202) 667-0909.