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Ben's Chili Bowl

1213 U St. NW, Washington, DC - (202) 667-0909
Posted By David Dawson on 2/2/2011 3:37:00 PM
I've lived within a mile of Ben's for almost 20 years and am still bewildered at the attention that the food at this place gets. I get that it's a historical place and I do love that as well but I've never had anything that's better than agreeable. Fries are, well, fine.

The most recent visits were to eat breakfast with a group of friends. We chose Ben's for its proximity to the metro, because it happens to be a convenient place to meet. I'd like it a lot more if it were clean, had some signature dishes besides the mediocre dogs and chili... maybe some locally made pies and cakes. There are many, many things to showcase but Ben's misses every chance. (The Florida Ave Grill, also given a great review by Michael Stern, is just two blocks away. Frankly, that's not something to rave about either. Very similar ambiance to Ben's.)

A note about the service which is very odd: you are likely to be waited upon by the same person who cooks your food and also acts as the cashier. Not a problem in my book but it does make the organization seem rather clunky. They don't go into a kitchen, mind you, it's all open-air as a diner.

I get that it's historical, especially the fact that it's one of a few places on U Street, along with Lee's Flowers, that survived the 1968 riots. You will see the mayor and celebs there. I'm enthusiastic that U Street has come back. Anyone would be glad that Ben's, Bohemian Caverns, the Lincoln Theater, etc., are still there from a golden era in DC that still has significance today. But the food at Ben's? It's fast, it's open for extended hours. But meh. Meh. Mediocre.

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Scorecard

1 - Overall: Won't Eat Again
Overall: Won't Eat Again
Rate this place
Half smokes on the griddle await their buns and a blanket of chili.
"Half smokes on the griddle await their buns and a blanket of chili."
Michael Stern





This end-view of a chili dog shows the mustard that is customarily applied before the chili. The dog itself is excellent!
"This end-view of a chili dog shows the mustard that is customarily applied before the chili. The dog itself is excellent!"
Michael Stern


A half smoke blanketed with chili: it's definitely the way to go at Ben's, but the half-smoke all by itself is something special, too.
"A half smoke blanketed with chili: it's definitely the way to go at Ben's, but the half-smoke all by itself is something special, too."
Michael Stern


We were lucky enough to be sitting in a booth at Ben's when this sweet potato cake was brought out front, freshly cut. Wow, what a treat!
"We were lucky enough to be sitting in a booth at Ben's when this sweet potato cake was brought out front, freshly cut. Wow, what a treat!"
Michael Stern


Half-smokes and chili dogs are served with corrugated potato chips on the side. But we believe it's worth spending an extra $2.05 for a plate of Ben's French fries.
"Half-smokes and chili dogs are served with corrugated potato chips on the side. But we believe it's worth spending an extra $2.05 for a plate of Ben's French fries."
Michael Stern


Ben's serves one of the best sweet potato pies anywhere. It is so good that we plowed into the point of the wedge before I remembered to take a picture. That's why this photo shows only the outer edge. I cropped out the bite marks.
"Ben's serves one of the best sweet potato pies anywhere. It is so good that we plowed into the point of the wedge before I remembered to take a picture. That's why this photo shows only the outer edge. I cropped out the bite marks."
Michael Stern


Ben's tasty chili works equally well on their burgers.
"Ben's tasty chili works equally well on their burgers."
Cliff Strutz


A huge, sloppy and addictive plate of French fries topped with Ben's alluring dark chili and school-bus-orange cheese makes one heck of a naughty meal ... or a good side dish for two or three or four people to share with their half smokes.
"A huge, sloppy and addictive plate of French fries topped with Ben's alluring dark chili and school-bus-orange cheese makes one heck of a naughty meal ... or a good side dish for two or three or four people to share with their half smokes."
Michael Stern


The one dish unique to Washington, DC: a half-smoke. They are sold from street carts throughout the city, but there's none better than the one you get at Ben's. The sound of biting into one, as juices burst, is almost as good as the taste.
"The one dish unique to Washington, DC: a half-smoke. They are sold from street carts throughout the city, but there's none better than the one you get at Ben's. The sound of biting into one, as juices burst, is almost as good as the taste."
Michael Stern


Everyone at the table who sampled the moist strawberry cake declared it a winner!
"Everyone at the table who sampled the moist strawberry cake declared it a winner!"
Cliff Strutz


Ben's signature dish: a half-smoke topped with with chili in a steamed-soft bun. Below the chili and atop the sausage are mustard and onion, of course.
"Ben's signature dish: a half-smoke topped with with chili in a steamed-soft bun. Below the chili and atop the sausage are mustard and onion, of course."
Michael Stern


After finding Florida Avenue Grill not open for another hour, we headed over to Ben's for a half smoke breakfast, which includes eggs and your choice of home fries or grits. The chili does not come with it, but the friendly waitress was happy to include a generous portion on top of the half smoke.
"After finding Florida Avenue Grill not open for another hour, we headed over to Ben's for a half smoke breakfast, which includes eggs and your choice of home fries or grits. The chili does not come with it, but the friendly waitress was happy to include a generous portion on top of the half smoke."
Cliff Strutz


Ben Ali stands in front of the legendary restaurant he created ... that is now run by his sons. Mr. Ali passed away in 2009 at the age of 82.
"Ben Ali stands in front of the legendary restaurant he created ... that is now run by his sons. Mr. Ali passed away in 2009 at the age of 82."
Michael Stern



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