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Ben’s Chili Bowl
1213 U St., NW (U Street/Shaw)
(1) 202-667-0909 | www.benschilibowl.com
HOURSMon.-Thurs.: 6:00am-2:00am; Fri.: 6:00am-4:00am; Sat.: 7:00am-4:00am; Sun.: 11:00am-12:00am
BEST FORLunch; dinner; late-night dining
RESERVATIONSOnly for parties of six or more
PRICE (CHILI DOG; CHILI BURGER)USD 4.20; USD 5.40
FAMOUS PLATESChili half smokes; beef chili; veggie chili; chili cheese fries
DRINKS AND WINEMilkshakes; soft drinks
# OF SEATS100-125
PRIVATE ROOM AVAILABLE?Yes, for 40-50 people
When Ben and Virginia Ali opened their U Street chili joint in 1958, this happening DC neighborhood was known as “Black Broadway,” and the likes of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole were known to stop by for a bite. Fast forward more than five decades and, thanks to some killer chili, Ben’s is still standing and the celebs keep coming. Obama popped by ten days before his inauguration, the vacationing Sarkozy family stopped in for a snack, and Bill Cosby (who started coming in the 1960s while courting his wife, Camille), is a regular. The Formica counter, swivel stools, and booths are originals; the calorific eats are whipped up by hardnosed line cooks straight out of a greasy spoon cliché; and the to-die-for chili is still made using Ben’s secret recipe.
Anyone and everyone! Presidents, students, chili fanatics, locals, tourists…
WHAT WE WOULD WEAR
It’s really casual–dress for the weather (since the line’s often out the door), and make sure you wear something you don’t mind slopping chili on.
GO HERE WITH
Chili fans; friends; family; out-of-towners
WHY WE LIKE IT
The chili dogs (or “half smokes” in Ben’s lingo). The chili cheese fries and thick shakes are pretty swell too. Even if you’re not big on chili, it’s worth coming for the experience.
WHAT WE WOULD CHANGE
The long lines. But, don’t fret: the service is quick and the food comes out pretty quickly considering the crowds. (Seats can be tough to come by, though.)
GOOD TO KNOW
Ben’s is supposedly cash only, but we were able to get the friendly counter staff to run our card through (and don’t worry, there is an ATM on premises). They have a breakfast menu, but chili is actually served all day, so you can start the day with half smokes, if you so desire. Seating is first come, first served on a seat-yourself basis. Tables in the back can be reserved and are only available for parties of six or more. Ben’s also has a gift shop and online store which sell memorabilia (t-shirts, ball caps, etc.) as well as those legendary chili products. For a different take on Ben’s, sister restaurant Ben’s Next Door offers spins on soul food and a full bar. A parking lot is available behind the restaurant (turn at the alley off U Street, Ben Ali Way). Finally, one for the eco-focused: the restaurant is 100% wind-powered.
Washington Nationals Stadium (Washington, DC); FedEx Field (Landover, MD); Ben’s Next Door, U Street/Shaw (Washington, DC)
All information within this website was checked for accuracy at the time of publication. But since the world moves quickly, things may have changed. Pardon us for any errors as we strive to give you the most up-to-the-minute details!