Ben's Chili Bowl
 Washington D.C.      Date of Visit  08/06/12

We are in Washington D.C. for the serious business of remembering the many debts we owe for all we have and to remember one in particular in 1st Lieutenant Neil Keltner, recipient of The Distinguished Service Cross and two Purple Hearts, as he is laid to rest in the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. While this little project is all about food it would be remiss and disingenuous to not realize or mention how insignificant this all is compared to the sacrifices represented by the monuments in our Nationís Capitol. Think what you want of war, or politics past and present; walk past the names on the Viet Nam Wall, the fountains and stars of the World War II Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknowns or any of the other touchstones and you realize how often and selflessly our fellow citizens have put boots to ground to allow our lives to include things like this silly website. To those who have served, my sincere gratitude. There, I feel better.




How many times have I seen Benís Chili Bowl on T.V.? It seems to be a rite of passage for hosts of food shows and knowing some of the history holds itís place in the fabric of Washington for a reason. Already established Benís served as a refuge for all in a time of intense strife. Now it is associated with a string of presidents, local dignitaries, and Hollywood in addition to the locals. We got to the counter and ordered a couple of the original chili half-smokes, a half-smoke with ketchup and mustard, a chili dog, cheese fries, chili cheese fries, cole slaw, potato salad, chili and a vanilla milk shake. While you order at the counter they deliver your order to whatever table you can find. The servers and cooks and counter folk all feel very familyesqe and it doesnít take much to imagine yourself a distant relative at a cookout. One of my favorite moments was when one of the servers paraded his mother through the dining room asking people to tell her he was their friendÖ ďI want her to know I have lots of them.Ē Öhe said laughing.

Everywhere You Look...

...There Are Familiar Smiling Faces

The Simple Bounty...

May Always Bring The Lines

While sitting with people shod from wingtips to sandals two trays arrived carrying Benís Bounty. I will be up front and honest in saying the chili doesnít make the top of my list. It is unapologetically spicy (which I appreciate) beaned blend that has an oily sheen from fresh peppers and heavy spices. Itís distinctive and good. It pairs well with the mustard and onion. There are just several others I would prefer. The half-smoke itself was much better, a smoked 50/50 split of beef and pork, the sausage has a light kielbasa spice profile, light snap and is sufficiently juicy. The all beef hotdog was also really good and both managed to stand up to the serious chili. Once again I found myself preferring the mustard ketchup combo on the half smoke by a small margin over the houses more famous topping. I understand Mr. Cosbyís fondness for this place. I was instantly fond of it myself. For all that it represents, it also delivers solid food. Just like Jib Jab, if I had grown up with it, it would probably be my favorite taste in the world.


All Beef Dawg And Spicy Chili

Chililess Half Smoke Let Sausage Shine

The Cosby Classic

Juicy And Forward Flavors

The fries were tasty! The nacho cheese looked spectacular in all of itís bright orange glory, cascading down the potato planks. It promised gooey saltiness which it didnít quite deliver. The gooeyness was perfect the salt or other flavor just didnít materialize. The chili helped deliver a punch to the cheese in the other boat. The menu says this about the homemade coleslaw and potato saladÖďWould we spend time making it from scratch if it wasnít good?Ē The potato salad is incredibly good, refreshingly simple with a light dressing more just announcing the potato rather than smothering it. The coleslaw was less successful but still pretty good with a dose of celery seed and some unknown addition resulting in a idiosyncratic flavor.

The Bowl. Good, But Won't Be Dreaming Of It.

Saturated With Cheese...If Only There Was More To The Cheese

Some Chili Helped

Whoda Thunk It? Vanilla Rules!

What was really superior, to my surprise, was the vanilla shake. This creamy and powerfully vanilla treat was up there with some of the best I have had, sitting in itís little paper cup. In some ways it is representative of the place overall. The quality of the people, interested in their community as much as the bottom line, provide something all the fancy trappings of three Michelin stars couldnít hope to accomplish. Worthy people, serious eats, the weight of history, Iím actually a little proud to have patronized the place, but will still be honest about my impressions. I would like to return, if I get a chance I will. Iím curious how I would feel about the chili on a Benís Chili Burger Sub.




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