Before departing on our trip to Washington, I sought advice on where we should eat from fellow blogger, and D.C. resident, Mary over at Girl Meets Food. She passed along several great suggestions, but her claim for one place in particular caught my eye. I've learned over time that when a fellow foodie claims that "No trip to D.C. is complete without a visit here," then it's probably best to take their advice. And so it was that we found ourselves at an icon of Washington D.C.....Ben's Chili Bowl.
We arrived around 1:30 pm thinking that most of the lunch crowd would have already come through, however the place was packed and we faced a line 25 people deep. Ben's is an "every man for himself" sort of place when it comes to seating, so when a booth opened while we were in line, my wife dove in like Michael Phelps in the 200 meter butterfly. I maintained our place in line, and spent the next 10 minutes stressed out about how I'd manage to get the food back to our table. Thankfully, once our order was all together, the gentleman offered to bring it to our booth, making the few bucks I gave him in thanks the best money spent in D.C.
The menu at Ben's is pretty simple...Dogs, "Half Smokes," Hamburgers, and Fries. Oh and of course chili...it comes on everything, so if you don't like chili, then you may as well stay home. Forgetting that Mary had all but insisted I get a "Half Smoke" (pork and beef sausage), I went with a traditional chili dog and fries. My wife was a little less hungry, so she opted for the chili cheese fries, which can also be made by taking a regular order of fries and lapping up the excess chili from your plate. After a long, hot morning of sightseeing, this meal was absolute heaven.
A few things worth noting about Ben's. First, they are a cash only establishment. If you're like me and your wallet hasn't seen cash in about 7 years, not to worry, there is an ATM machine conveniently located at the start of the line. Also, if you're driving to Ben's, there is parking available at the restaurant, which would have been useful information to several of the people I became friends with in line. Finally, if you're coming to Ben's expecting a nice air-conditioned and relaxing lunch, think again. There is a small, slightly cooler dining room in the back, but most of the seating is in the main area by the grill. This combined with a front door which always remains open, makes for a pretty warm environment. To me, this was simply part of the atmosphere and wasn't an issue, but I'm sure not everyone sees it that way.
Now that I've experienced it for myself, I can honestly say that Mary was right...No trip to D.C. is complete without a visit to Ben's Chili Bowl. It's an icon of the city, with a food and atmosphere that simply says "America." While I will always be partial to The Varsity, I would certainly put Ben's in the same league. So if you're in the D.C. area, grab a pack of Rolaid's and take the Metro up to U Street...you won't be disappointed.
Enjoy Your Stay