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Ben's Chili Bowl


Holly Moore
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I think I get more requests to list Ben's Chili Bowl in DC on my site than any other place. I'm driving past DC on the Beltway in about a month and am planning on finally making it t, probably on a Saturday or Sunday.

I checked the website, so have a feel for the place. But, as it's in DC, I figure someone can provide good insider information/tips. Ben's has been around long enough to be set in its ways. What should I order and are there special ways to order - such as Philadelphia's wiz with? Any other tips on how to soak up the full Ben's Chili Bowl experience?

Thanks.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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There is a way to order but isn't being a newbie part of the fun? :biggrin:

You order from one of the gentlemen behind the counter. Then you sit down a he brings you your food. On the way out you pay him and don't forget to tip.

The half smoke is the DC tradition, covered in chili. I live nearby and love the place but the food is really not that great.

Edited by DCMark (log)
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When i get off work (at 1 am, typical server style) there is not much food to find for my dinner. (dinner at 1 am.... :sigh:). Ben's Chili Bowl is open til 2 on weekdays, 4 on weekends, (i think - feel free to correct me if i'm wrong) and has the best cheese fries ever. and David always recognizes me and doesn't make me wait in line, which is a plus. also, last time, he made a fresh batch of fries for me. yay! this is all a result of going a couple times and tipping well. if you do that enough, someone wil take you as their "regular" and start hooking you up. (waiting in line for 30-40 min can really suck after waiting tables all night long). i also like a chili cheese dog, split. (you can get them split in half if you want). supposedly they have good breakfasts too - even tho i live close by i never get up in time for breakfast or brunch... :smile:

Eat.Drink.DC.

...dining in the district...

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.

- Orson Welles

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its a last resort place to go at 2 or 3 am when drunk...nothing less, nothing more.

the actual hot dogs they serve are no better than your average stadium hot dog; the chili they serve with it is not good. the locale and history behind it are sadly so much better than the food.

tastee diner in silver spring/bethesda is far superior. so are the most other late night dining options.

Nothing quite like a meal with my beautiful wife.

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Only one way to do this: sit at the counter, get a chili-dog and a milkshake, revel in the Black-American history (seriously, picture a black-owned restaurant 45 years ago, just 4 years after Brown vs. Board of Education), and treat it like Gault-Millau treats Paul Bocuse: beyond classification.

With respect and reverence,

Rocks.

P.S. Rudy Maxa on Ben's Chili Bowl here.

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Sit at the counter. Half Smoke with everything. Cheese fries are passable. Simply put, DC is not a good sandwich town. If you give it more than three grease stains for the food, I will be surprised. Maybe four, if you take into account the ambience/history angle. Let me know when you're coming by, maybe we'll come and meet you.

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For whatever reason Ben's Chili Bowl has received something of a national reputation primarily for its half smoke. Having been born in D. C. 57 years ago I can hoestly state that hundreds of places sold half smoked sausages in the '50's-before Ben's opened in 1958. One of these is a newsstand at Georgia Avenue and Eastern which I drove by last week for the first time in years. I remember first stopping there with my parents in elementary school and having a half smoke. It was really good. Ben's I went to in the early '60's when I worked at a Safeway at 14th and U and didn't want wings with Mambo Sauce. Ben's, then, was not a D. C. institution. Rather, it was cheap and decent. I think that Ben's today profits from so few remaining places that sell half smokes. Forty five years ago it was just one of many. I can tell you this though, Holly. In the early '60's when I first went to The Block and East Baltimore Street, Polock Johnny's blew up any D. C. halfsmoke!

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I have always meant to make Ben's for breakfast--they have things like salmon cakes and fried apples on the menu--but have never been. I'm pleased to hear it passes muster with a few eGulleteers.

You may not know this, but Ben's makes a respectable vegetarian burger. I also like their vegetarian chili. When I was a vegetarian I used to get their veg burgers "with everything" which included an application of vegetarian chili. Good, sloppy eatin'.

Has anyone ever had pie or cake there? They're always lined up in plastic coffins by the register but I've never seen somebody buy one.

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One more thought: have you been to Jerry's Seafood in Lanham? Nondescript, buried in a small strip shopping center with no personality and absolutely no character this neighborhood dump is arguably Maryland's best seafood restaurant. It's not my favorite for a variety of reasons, all that have to do with ambience and setting, none that have anything to do with what they serve. Their $32.00 10 ounce lump crab bombe is extraordinary as are their exemplery crab cakes, cream of crab soup, homemade thick chop, creamy cole slaw, stewed tomatoes, serious in house coconut cake.

There is one problem: they get really long lines that start at 4 in the afternoon on weekends. It is known and generally thought of as Prince Georges County's best overall restaurant despite its setting and "personality."

If you haven't been this should actually be the purpose, if you will, of your trip. It's that good.

On your way back to Philly, go across the Bay Bridge and have a crab cake at the Narrows. (Maryland's best) Then continue up 301 towards Wilmington with a slight detour (50 miles round trip) to Rock Hall and Waterman's Crabhouse. This is Maryland's best overall crab house. Serious. More so than Cantler's, Popes Creek, any of them. Even named this by Chesapeake Living magazine something like ten years in a row. Worth the trip.

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Has anyone ever had pie or cake there? They're always lined up in plastic coffins by the register but I've never seen somebody buy one.

:biggrin: A friend of mine swears by the yellow cake. Can't get enough of it. Then again, I don't think he's ever bought it while sober. Last time in there, he bought three pieces to take home! It's a mystery to me, as I've tasted it and couldn't see anything special about it, but it seems to certainly fulfill some drunken need for him, though. He's the only person I've ever seen buy it.

Chris Sadler

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Has anyone ever had pie or cake there? They're always lined up in plastic coffins by the register but I've never seen somebody buy one.

:biggrin: A friend of mine swears by the yellow cake.

The CIA swears by the yellow cake too. Or at least they used to.

:laugh:

peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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the actual hot dogs they serve are no better than your average stadium hot dog; the chili they serve with it is not good. the locale and history behind it are sadly so much better than the food.

I couldn't agree more. I'd rather have a chile dog from 7-11.

But, try it your self and form your own opinion. Many people swear by Ben's.

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What memories. Back in 1990, I worked for a short time at 11th and T. (I think.) The U street subway was still just a dream and the road was completely ripped up. The only business activity were street vendors selling t-shirts of Marion Barry shouting "The Got-Damned Bitch Set Me Up" (aaahh, remember the fun days in the murder capital of the country) and Ben's Chilli Bowl. Glad to know it's survived the urban renaisance.

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  • 2 weeks later...

it's like being in (the self-empowering community part of) a spike lee movie. great atmosphere. egg sandwich...with sausage. yum. definitely sit at the counter and watch the magic happen.

from overheard in new york:

Kid #1: Paper beats rock. BAM! Your rock is blowed up!

Kid #2: "Bam" doesn't blow up, "bam" makes it spicy. Now I got a SPICY ROCK! You can't defeat that!

--6 Train

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There is a way to order but isn't being a newbie part of the fun?  :biggrin:

You order from one of the gentlemen behind the counter.  Then you sit down a he brings you your food.  On the way out you pay him and don't forget to tip.

The half smoke is the DC tradition, covered in chili.  I live nearby and love the place but the food is really not that great.

I'm witchu Mark. Ben's is overrated to me not to mention a lil steep for a dog. Ell, half smokes n leftover chili from Super Sunday at my house is the best chilidog I have ever eaten.

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One more thought:  have you been to Jerry's Seafood in Lanham?  Nondescript, buried in a small strip shopping center with no personality and absolutely no character this neighborhood dump is arguably Maryland's best seafood restaurant.  It's not my favorite for a variety of reasons, all that have to do with ambience and setting, none that have anything to do with what they serve.  Their $32.00 10 ounce lump crab bombe is extraordinary as are their exemplery crab cakes, cream of crab soup, homemade thick chop, creamy cole slaw, stewed tomatoes, serious in house coconut cake. 

There is one problem:  they get really long lines that start at 4 in the afternoon on weekends.  It is known and generally thought of as Prince Georges County's best overall restaurant despite its setting and "personality."

If you haven't been this should actually be the purpose, if you will, of your trip.  It's that good.

On your way back to Philly, go across the Bay Bridge and have a crab cake at the Narrows.  (Maryland's best) Then continue up 301 towards Wilmington with a slight detour (50 miles round trip) to Rock Hall and Waterman's Crabhouse.  This is Maryland's best overall crab house.  Serious.  More so than Cantler's, Popes Creek, any of them.  Even named this by Chesapeake Living magazine something like ten years in a row.  Worth the trip.

Everything Joe said, however Jerry's is only open on the weekends, which adds to the few negatives already mentioned.

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  • 1 month later...
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