Monday, February 19, 2024

Eating on the road: Food with a history at Ben's Chili Bowl

 When researching places I had to eat in Washington, DC, one that kept coming up was Ben's Chili Bowl. A DC staple since 1958, Ben's holds a special place in the city's African American community and the civil rights movement.

The original location is on U street, in a traditionally African American community that is changing with gentrification. Ben's donated food to MLK's March on Washington in 1963 and stayed open during the DC riots of 1969 serving food to everyone. It's been visited by many famous faces -- I sat at the Obama table.

They have a few locations now, but I went to the original on U Street which is thankfully Metro-adjacent. It certainly has that old, historic diner feel. You order at the counter and then they bring it to your table.

In addition to chili, Ben's is also known for the half smoke. According to Wikipedia, it's a DC regional hot dog (I love regional hot dog specialties) that is "Larger, spicier, and with more coarsely-ground meat than a regular hot dog, the sausage is often half-pork and half-beef, smoked." 

Definitely sounded better to me than a Seattle dog...

I ordered a small bowl of chili con carne, with sour cream, onion and cheddar cheese, as well as a half smoke chili dog and a soda. This came, to my surprise when they brought it to me, with a bag of chips -- I dipped them in the chili which was probably the idea.

The chili was excellent and I could easily see why it's renowned. Rich, flavourful, complex, meaty -- I could easily have eaten a large. But I wanted to save space for my chili half smoke. It was good, but it was hard to judge the uniqueness of the hot dog when it's smothered in chili.

Glad I got to try this DC landmark and would definitely go back. Chili to warm the soul.

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