Washington DC: Ben’s Chili Bowl


Despite the name of this post, nope, this is not about my recipe. This is about an unpretentious eating place which had turned out to be a Washington DC landmark and had been here since 1958.

We went to Ben’s Chili Bowl right after our visit to the Library of Congress. We had actually wanted to also visit the US Mint too but … oh wow … those guys at the US Mint did not allow anyone who has a camera in. They don’t care if you put it in your bag, or even take out the batteries but if you have a camera, they won’t let you in. They don’t even have lockers for you to lock up your camera. Ooops … I digressed … back to food.

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Sorry if I don’t understand food like hot dogs and sausages. What amazes me is how a place like Ben’s Chili Bowl had become such a landmark of a national capital. If I am not mistaken, I recall someone (Jason?) remarked on chowtimes that the food here is over-rated. I think that observation is right. But then it is still a great place to grab a quick bite.

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Judging from the looks of the place, this is certainly a local favourite. Lots of people for sure but the place is larger than the looks from the outside and the table turnaround is very quick. I see quite a lot of office workers (or at least they look like office workers) here.

I read that Ben’s Chili Bowl had always looked the same right down to the furnitures, menu and look for the past 50 years.

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Bill Cosby made Ben’s Chili Bowl famous around the world. Story has that this cheap guy brought his future wife to Ben’s Chili Bowl on dates. And that is dates with a “s”. He had also often had press conferences at this restaurant. That is why there is a posted sign here that says here a list of customers who can eat here for free … and that list has two lines: “Bill Cosby” and in capitals “NO ONE ELSE”.

Oh I went into their washroom and guess what I found. They actually provide chalks and encourage customers to draw graffiti on their walls!

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The above is the food that makes Ben’s Chili Bowl famous — the Chili Half Smoke. I am not sure why they called it a half smoke as I can clearly see they grill the sausages. Anyway, a Half Smoke is basically a larger, meaner, coarser version of a sausage with more spices.

It is topped with chili con carne and diced onions … lots and lots of it. It came with sides of potato chips which I wished was fries. The above costs $4.95.

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Eating this is messy — really messy. They gave us an unbelievable number of serviettes. It’s like they gave us a stack of four or five for each order item we had. The Chili Half Smoke is impossible to be eaten by hands. You really want to use the fork and knife they provide.

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We also ordered the $4.95 Chili Cheese Fries. This is the most wicked looking fries. You can just get your arteries blocked just by looking at it. But they were absolutely delicous. Again, you need the fork for this. You can use your hands but it will be like eating, say, gumbo with your hands. LOL!

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The above Chili Cheeseburger was my order … $5. Again it came with plastic knife and fork. It certainly had lots of meat in here. What I like best about the food here is the chili corn carne used as they made them more moist and juicier (I hate dry looking burgers and hotdogs).

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We washed, or at least tried to wash it down with their famous Milkshake. It was awfully thick but noticed that it was not too sweet — ah, at least they have one healthy item on their menu. LOL!

On a side note … what do you guys think of the new chowtimes look? I had been playing around with this new template the entire weekend and I like it — clean lines and I could now change the colors with just a click! (OK, I admit I am a sucker for things like this).

And, could you please take a second or two to respond to the poll on the sidebar? I wanted to take a temperature check on what I should do with this Travel series. Cheers!

Ben's Chili Bowl on Urbanspoon

8 thoughts on “Washington DC: Ben’s Chili Bowl

  1. Hi Ben,
    great series so far. I’ve been to Ben’s Chili and I must say their food is nothing to brag about. For a quick fix here, in Vancouver/Richmond, I just go to 7-11 and buy two hotdogs and load them up with onions, chili and cheese sauce. It’s actually not too bad because you don’t expect much from a place like 7-11 and you won’t have to deal with all the hype from a place like Ben’s Chili, only to be disappointed.

  2. yeah this place isn’t really known for it’s food, just its history and maybe that it’s pretty cheap. As a local, I wouldn’t go here unless maybe I was in the area and needed something affordable and quick. Certainly wouldn’t go out of my way, and few do, except to maybe say they have tried it once.

  3. Hi KimHo:
    Oh … I had always thought that it was Bill Crosby. I stand corrected and will update the post with the correct spelling. I must have mixed up Bing Crosby with Bill Cosby. And thanks for the feedback for the new look. As for the comments, I am afraid it will have to stay where it is for now while I figure out the priority. For sure, I am obligated to show foodbuzz “above the fold”. Perhaps I’ll move the announcement and poll further down. I’ll think about it but thanks for the suggestions. Now … as for the food … he he he … Suanne and I have absolutely no guilt over not having veggies at all!!!
    Cheers! Ben.

  4. Hi Ben,

    I like the new look – it has a leaner feeling. An additional comment: If possible, I would prefer the recent comments widget to be closer to the top (or all to the bottom as it used to be). It is a bit difficult to look for that particular widget as I would have to scroll halfway and see if it is there, if not scroll up or down and so.

    Now, back to the food: Out of curiosity, did you and/or Suanne felt guilty for not having a side of veggies after this meal? ^_^;;

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