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.
And I liked the behind the scenes look at watching the cooks do their thing while I was waiting in line. I could totally watch that for hours.