1213 U Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
Ever since it first opened its doors in 1958, Ben’s chili bowl has just gotten more and more famous in Washington DC suburbs. Presidents! Celebrities! Talk show hosts! A great many famous people have stepped foot in this little chili-serving dive. Inside, it feels a lot more like an old fashion diner in spite of the many modern amenities that have sprung up on U Street. It’s all about the chili here, be it the “half smoke” chili dogs, chili cheese fries or chili burgers. It’s a step back in time and an unforgettable one at that.
The short and sweet menu is all about chili. Some of the very memorable things to try:
- Chili: The star of the show is this wonderful, meaty concoction heavy with chili spices but not too hot. It’s a natural with cheese of course but the stuff is thick like a stew and doesn’t have distracting beans or too much of the other distractions. End result is this wonderful, thick concoction with a soft heat to it.
- Chili cheese burger: It would be impossible to describe how wonderful it is to have chili on top of a cheeseburger this good. In the old fashion, a griddle cooked burger topped with a little bit of cheese and just enough chili to add some accent into it. Flatly about the most simple burger you’ll find in the district.
- Cheese fries: probably the other thing on the menu you have to get in a first visit here. Thick-cut french fries with a mountain of chili on top. You get a fork to manage all of it, and make no mistake, you need it or you’ll have a mess on your hands.
When I say the place is a little bit lost in time, I do mean that it definitely operates like an old-school diner. You head to a front desk and order and if you dine in, they’ll then ask you to take a seat. Transparently, this does mean sometimes things are a little bit disorganized, especially during lunchtime when there is a lot of people coming and going from the restaurant. You will occasionally find a little bit of a wait for a check, or your order getting lost. None of these things are too severe of a problem by themselves, we just need to know that going in, and be willing to be patient. Sometimes just enjoy a little bit of an old-fashioned experience is best.
There is a good reason that this place is a legend in the district. It’s just so good, and has remained so consistent despite all of the changing times, it just has to be a place that you visit. Worth a special trip.
- The smoked hot links are a must try the first time you visit. If not, go for a chili burger.
- There is a vegan chili option too.
- Table service is just for groups of five or more.