No one can live in the DC area for long without hearing about Ben’s Chili Bowl. In August, I attempted to patronize Ben’s Chili Bowl but the line wrapped half way around the block and I was hungry NOW so I passed the opportunity, hopeful to return at a time when it wasn’t so busy (if one such time actually existed). Now the weather is cold, my hopes of a lessened crowd were high so I decided to give Ben’s Chili Bowl another try. Luckily, there was no crowd outside of the iconic dive. I parked and hopped into the restaurant, only to find the same long line winding throughout the dining area instead of outside around the block. Considering the line’s length, it went rather quickly.
I marched by the grill and saw all the different types of sausages, hot dogs, and meat patties sizzling fragrantly and looked up at the overhead menu to decide what I wanted. I’m going to level with you here: I’m not a fan of chili dogs (messy!) but to avoid the chili selections here would be sacrilege. I ordered a Chili Half-Smoke ($5.45) and an order of French fries ($2.65). I tell you, it was the best chili dog I’ve ever had, not that I’ve had many. My first impression was how sloppy it looked. I have a bad habit of not being too careful as I eat and ended up with spatterings and smudges in some curious places (You should see me after a visit to Wing Supreme, spicy sauce smeared up my cheeks like circus clown smile). Luckily, I’m a proud owner of a completely wind proof and water proof coat, so even the worst of smears could be easily wiped off. I zipped up my protective coat and dug in.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been a huge fan of chili dogs. I’m quite particular about my chili and have never took a shine to any chili that wasn’t home made. Today was different. The mustard and finely chopped onions made the chili sauce taste better than any I’ve ever had previously. The spiciness of the sauce and the smoked sausage was at the perfect level: any spicier would have detracted from my enjoyment of the flavor all around. The side of fries was sizeable for the modest price. In the end this is one of the tastiest and filling meals I've found for a whopping $8.10 in the entire District.
Was it worth it? Definitely. They have free customer parking behind the building, so there’s no parking costs to consider when dining out with pocket change collected over time. I did go through a stack of napkins throughout my meal so my one suggestion to the proprietors is to offer wet naps to those of us who are less skilled at keeping a clean face.
If you’re visiting DC and are having trouble finding souvenirs (ha!), Ben’s Chili Bowl has a gift shop where you can immortalize your visit to this iconic cheap eatery that has been patronized by the likes of Bill Cosby, Barak Obama, and Russell Crowe. There are plenty of gifts for under $10 so you can pick up a memento for yourself or for a gift.