A Washington D.C. Landmark – Ben’s Chili Bowl

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Every city’s got one.

An iconic diner or dive that’s charmingly distinct in identity, historically preserved in its menu offerings (and decor) and beloved by locals and visitors alike.

For D.C. area? It’s Ben’s Chili Bowl located in the heart of the U St. Corridor.

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Established in 1958, Ben’s has withstood the test of time.

It survived the race riots of the 1960’s that took place in response to MLK, Jr.’s assassination and maintained business during the 70’s and 80’s when D.C. was known as the “murder capital of America.”

With the city’s revitalization efforts in the 90’s that restored and transformed the U St. Corridor into an area known for its intimate music venues and growing foodie and nightclub scene, business is popping for Ben’s and there are no signs of it slowing down.

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Despite the fact that I grew up in D.C. (Columbia Heights represent!), I must confess I’ve only been to Ben’s Chili Bowl once in my whole life.

Correction: Two times now considering Charles and I stopped by Ben’s this past weekend for a little “snack” to help feed liquor after a night out on the town in honor of my sister in law’s birthday.

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So what is Ben’s known for, do you ask?

Allow me to introduce you to their “Chili Half Smoked”, a combination half beef and half pork smoked sausage, grilled to order, topped with onions, mustard, and their signature spicy chili sauce.

The chili sauce, in particular, is typically poured on generously. Perfect to use as a dipping sauce for the side of chips that come with the order.

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At about $6 a pop, there are some who consider it an overpriced hot dog. I personally think it’s still much cheaper and more filling than paying a typical $10-15 for an alcoholic drink in D.C. #justsayin

And to be clear, this isn’t your average hot dog. It’s a big half smoked sausage and combined with their special chili… Got damn, it’s good.

Especially at 1:30am on a weekend night, when the line for Ben’s usually out the door as a result of the lack of late night food options available to the club goers on U St.

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^^ Making the proper introductions… Half Smoked. Meet my mouth. Mouth… Meet Half Smoked.

Also, this is me in classic grub form. Whether in public or private, I always put my hair up before I eat so I don’t have to worry about my hair getting in the way of my mouth and food. It’s something I’ve been doing since I can remember. Charles always jokes about my “food prep ritual” but I don’t care. I take my food seriously and preferably with no distractions in the form of hair lol.

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Similar to the fact that the decor of Ben’s hasn’t been touched since it opened in 1958, neither has its menu of simple but very tasty offerings. The booths, stools and bar are all the original and they still serve the same signature chili sauce they’ve been preparing since day one.

In the past 10 years, Ben’s has branched out and opened 7 additional locations in the DMV (DC, Maryland & Virginia) area that all seem to be doing well. But no matter what, the original location on U St. will always hold a special place in my heart… And mouth…

With that said, I wish you a Happy Friday! May your weekend be filled with happy moments and yummy food!

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BEN’S CHILI BOWL
1213 U St. NW
Washington, D.C. 2009

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  • This place is great! I remember the first time I ate there. Glad you did a write up on it!

    • Thank you Mary! I wasn’t sure if I should even blog about Ben’s Chili Bowl since it’s already pretty well known and gets a lot of media coverage but I figured why not? It’s still an experience I wanted to share :) Wishing you a wonderful weekend! xo

  • This looks so naughty and wonderful. I’ve never heard of it though, and $6 IS a pretty penny to pay for a hot dog! Or maybe I just have cheap taste buds.

    • Haha, it is sooo naughty in the most savory way. And I totally feel ya about the $6. A visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl is definitely a once in a long while, special occasion kind of deal.

  • Totally need to visit, I’m crazy for having never heard of this place!

    • OMG, yes. You have to visit at least once to say you went! It’s smack in the middle of where everything is on U St., next to the Lincoln Theater, and it’s one the more brightly lit buildings on the street so you can’t miss it :)