Go-go music, mumbo sauce, taxation without representation, and half-smokes are about as DC as it gets. And just like you can’t talk go-go without paying tribute to Chuck Brown, when the infamous sausage comes up, we always pay our respects to Ben’s Chili Bowl, even though the food here isn’t quite what it used to be (seriously, bring back the breakfast menu).
The U Street diner has been around since the ‘50s, and has served generations of Washingtonians and tourists. While Ben’s has expanded to Nats Park, H Street, and even has a little upscale situation happening at Ben’s Next Door, the OG location—easy to spot with the personalized panda in front—is the best of the bunch.
The menu is full of burgers, nachos, and chicken tenders, but we come here for one thing and one thing only: the spicy chili half-smoke (the original works, too, if your heartburn keeps you from eating fun things). Get it slathered in diced white onions, yellow mustard, and Ben’s chili—but remember to ask them to cut it in half and give it an extra burn on the grill.
DC’s half-smoke game has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 70 years, but Ben’s Chili Bowl still serves up a decent chili-covered sausage that is worth a stop for a quick bite whenever you’re on U Street. And while we prefer the sweet, yet slightly spicy meaty stew only on our sausage, taking a container to go is a solid option if you’re also not in the mood to cook dinner.
Go midday during the week to get in and out without too much of a wait, though you might struggle to find an open seat at the old-school counter or in the well-worn red plastic booths. And be prepared to wait in a line down the block on Friday and Saturday nights when Ben’s serves partiers until 4am.
Original Chili Half-Smoke
Where it all started. This juicy sausage is served with mustard, onions, and Ben’s signature beefy chili. Ask them to split it—and watch to make sure they sear the middle. Pair it with a side of fries.
Ben’s Famous Chili Bowl
This chili is a little spicy, a little sweet—a mix of flavors we’re fond of. While we tend to get ours on a half-smoke or slathered over crispy fries, eating it straight from the bowl isn’t a bad choice.
If you’re not in the mood for a whole meal, these chili fries let you mix the deliciousness of fries with Ben’s signature chili. They’re messy, so eat them with a fork, but the crunchy fries are the perfect bed for the aforementioned sweet, spicy chili.