Hot dogs, chili and fries enough to give anyone heart burn but definitely worth the burn. I usually say that phrase when working out but seriously its good stuff. This is a landmark. Situated in the heart of the University district this place has seen the changing of the guard. From its roots in 1958 it was the center of the Civil Rights Movement. U Street was known as the Black Broadway. One of DC’s first Black Police Detectives converted this old theater into a pool hall. In 1958 Ben and Virginia Ali changed it into a little mom and pop restaurant serving smokies.
Back in its day you would not be surprised to be sitting next to Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald. Since that time other greats in history have graced its door including Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Cosby, Red Fox and President Obama. So what do they know that the rest of us do not? That not only is this little whole in the wall history itself it serves up a mean smoky.
During the turbulent time of the 1960’s leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assignation in 1968 Ben’s Chili Bowl was the only establishment allowed to stay open after curfew during the riots. It provided the needed shelter and warmth for firefighters, activists and public servants.
Looking from the outside this place looks “chancy” at best. Even walking through the front door might give you second thoughts to run for the door but I promise you it is a ray of sunshine.
Ben’s is known for its famous Original Chili Half-Smoke which has now been renamed to Bill Cosby’s Original Chili Half Smoke. As with the times Ben’s menu has changed to include Turkey Burgers, Veggie Dogs and Vegetarian Chili. I will say the vegetarian chili does have a kick to it. There is no disguising the flavor.
This place takes cash only but they do have an ATM machine for your convenience. Usually you can expect up to a 30 minute wait but don’t be dismayed because everyone waits for Ben’s. This place is deceiving as there is whole another room hidden behind the front of the house. If your looking for white linens and cloth napkins this is not the place but common on if the President can stuff his mouth with a chili dog can’t you? The Turkey Dogs are huge and the chili no matter with or without meat is scrumptious expealidious as Mary Poppins would say.
This place is 3.5 Forks Up. The atmosphere is beyond divvy, friendly service, and tasty dogs ok I admit I LOVED the chili. It’s also very clean. For dessert I recommend you walk three blocks to Love Cakes more about that later.
213 U Street NW, Washington District of Columbia 20009-444. Open Monday thru Thursday 6:00 am – 2:00 am; Friday and Saturday till 4am and Sunday 11am – 12pm. No breakfast on Sunday but please enjoy it the rest of the week.