When the kids and I were making plans to visit Washington DC last summer, I did a little bit of online research to make sure we hit a few highlights beyond the monuments and memorials. Google was my bestie. And I did like any good foodie would do. I researched what is a “must eat” in the area.
Ben’s Chili Bowl kept coming up. My friend Chris knew exactly where it was, and after we did all the monument sight-seeing that Saturday morning, we pulled up right in front for a little snack to take the edge off. Given its popularity, I wasn’t expecting we’d get lucky with on-street parking.
Originally established in 1958, Bill Cosby and President Obama (watch one of his visits here) have named Ben’s Chili Bowl their favorite go-to spot for chili (and Miles Davis, Martin Luther King Jr, and Ella Fitzgerald, among other luminaries, were all known to frequent Ben’s), and it’s been featured on many food-centered tv shows, and even non-food-centered ones. Mystic just mentioned this weekend that he saw it on Larry the Cable Guy (and Ben’s Chili Bowl mentioned that themselves here).
The place is small. You go straight to the back of the restaurant and get in a single file line that snakes up to the front, where you order (and can catch glimpses of the cooks hard at work on the flat-top), and then you progress towards the back again, where you finally pick up your order.
To me, the set-up is a little weird (enter in front, get in line in back, walk to front to order, pick up order in back and exit front). But that’s just me. And probably doesn’t operate like that when it’s less busy, if there is such a time.
While you’re in the line, it’s a good opportunity to check out the menu. Lots of good stuff besides chili. Fries. Cheese fries (personal weakness, thank you), hot dogs, burgers, shakes, grilled cheese … you know, healthy stuff.
Chris was waiting outside with the kids, and I was up to my own devices to decide what to order. As when Sarah and I did our food-hop trip last May in Seattle, it was already after lunch time and there was still more to eat in Washington, so I wanted a taste, not a meal.
I settled on chili for Chris and I, cheese fries for all four of us to split, dogs for the kids, and soda.
The line, although overwhelming at first glance, moved fairly quickly. There were 27 people in front of me, and it took about 15 minutes to get from start to finish.
Not too bad. Not too bad at all.
The table space inside is at a premium (and they were also doing a book signing for a local author that day as well), so we ended up getting our food to go and eating in the car (while we attempted an unsuccessful try at getting cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake; line way too long for just a cupcake, I don’t care how famous they are, so we ended up at Cake Love instead).
I brought back chili for both my Dad (who loves the stuff) and Mystic, even buying a cooler at a local CVS and ice so I could bring it home safely. I made the mistake of telling my Dad it was a little spicy, at which point it was thrown away without ever being tried. Unfortunately I didn’t find out until after the fact.
That was a sad moment.
We should pause for a moment of silence.
Mystic, however, loved his.
And the fact that I bought a cooler and ice and brought it back for him during a five hour road trip home might have cemented the fact that “this girl has a thing for food.”
Upstairs from Ben’s Chili Bowl is a very quiet, small gift shop where you can buy postcards, t-shirts, mugs, key chains and what have you. The kids bought a key chain and a postcard. A perfect little memento of our stop at the place where the President likes to go.
If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a stop. And if you’re not in the area, they’ll even ship you their chili. If we ever go back, I’m totally getting one of their dogs. Because that picture is seriously killing me right now.
Ben’s Chili Bowl
1213 U Street, NW between 12th and 13th streets
Follow them on twitter @benschilibowl