Restaurant Review: Ben’s Chili Bowl

July 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ben’s Chili Bowl is a D.C. icon. It’s a greasy, no-frills diner that specializes in hot dogs and chili, but some of its most famous patrons include Bill Cosby and Barack Obama. Indeed, these two distinguished figures are the only guests allowed to eat for free, proclaims a sign next to the menu board.

My friend and I ventured up to U Street on a muggy summer evening to experience the legendary food in its original location. When we arrived at around 7PM, there was a long line at the counter. We studied our menu options and observed the sizzling hot dogs as we waited for our turn to order. Most reviews say that you have to try the original chili half-smoke, which is a half-beef and half-pork sausage on a hotdog bun, topped with mustard, onions, and the famous chili. They also serve burgers, fries, and some vegetarian options as well.

I decided to go for the half-smoke. We got our food at the counter and went into the back seating area to eat. The establishment is a bit crowdy and messy, but then again we didn’t come here for the fine dining experience. The food was deliciously messy and greasy. The sausage had a great bite to it. It was meaty and I could only detect a little bit of spice. The chili was a bit spicy and had a runny consistency. The chili used to top the dogs doesn’t contain beans as does the chili you get when you order a bowl.

The half-smoke cost $5.70, a bit pricey for a small hot dog, but I guess it’s worth it for the experience. Plus they give you a side of ruffled chips! The service was terrific, unexpected for a place with only counter service. The employees are very helpful and one asked me if I would like a refill of my soda as I was walking out the door.

Ben’s Chili Bowl is such a local legend that one simply has to visit in order to have a complete culinary tour of D.C. There is a lot of history behind the place and its role during the Civil Rights movement. I don’t think I’ll come back again, just because it’s a little out of the way from Foggy Bottom, but I’m definitely glad to have checked an item off my bucket list! And I can’t deny that sometimes a hearty, greasy, fulfilling meal is just what is needed.


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