Ben’s Chili Bowl

Chili Parlor | Hamburgers | Hot Dog | Soul Food
One of the best

Ben’s is a landmark, a tourist attraction, and a place former President Obama was known to go when Michelle wasn’t looking. We hold none of that against what is, in fact, a terrific chili-dog parlor in the nation’s capital.

When you stroll in, you will see a griddle on the right, lined up with hot dogs and half-smoke sausages, sizzling hot and ready to be bunned, dressed, and topped with chili. We recommend both the regular chili dog and the chili smoke, the latter made with the half-smoke sausage that is unique to the area around DC. It is a taut-skinned smoky link bigger than most hot dogs, firm-fleshed with an unbelievably luscious character. It is especially good blanketed with Ben’s chili, which is thick, peppery, full-flavored and positively addictive. The whole package – sausage, mustard and onions, and a heap of chili all piled into a tender bun – is extremely unwieldy, impossible to eat without lots of spillage; but that’s ok. Dripping and licking is part of the dining experience.

The regular hot dog has plenty of character too. No bland tube steak here; it is hot and spicy and a fine balance for the chili. As for dessert, there are fine cakes, served in thick layered slices with plenty of frosting. We love the sweet potato cake, which is moist and spicy.

As for Ben’s history, there’s a whole fact sheet on the counter to take and read (or the historical information is available at Ben’s web site). The basic story is that U Street was once known as Black Broadway for all the musical talent that used to perform in clubs along the way. Since its founding in 1958, Ben’s has survived the neighborhood’s ups and downs, and in 2001, its founders, Ben and Virginia Ali, were inducted into the Washington, D.C., Hall of Fame. (Mr. Ali passed away in October, 2009.)

What to Eat
Ben’s Chili Bowl, Chili Dog
Chili Dog
This end-view of a chili dog shows the mustard that is customarily applied before the chili. The dog itself is excellent!
Ben’s Chili Bowl, Chili Smoke
Chili Smoke
A half smoke blanketed with chili: it's definitely the way to go at Ben's, but the half-smoke all by itself is something special, too.
Ben’s Chili Bowl, Half-Smoke
Half smokes on the griddle await their buns and a blanket of chili.
Ben’s Chili Bowl, Sweet Potato Pie
Sweet Potato Pie
Ben's serves one of the best sweet potato pies anywhere. It is so good that we plowed into the point of the wedge before I remembered to take a picture. That's why this photo shows only the outer edge. I cropped out the bite marks.
Ben’s Chili Bowl, Chili Cheese Fries
Chili Cheese Fries
A huge, sloppy and addictive plate of French fries topped with Ben's alluring dark chili and school-bus-orange cheese makes one heck of a naughty meal ... or a good side dish for two or three or four people to share with their half smokes.
Ben’s Chili Bowl, French Fries
French Fries
Half-smokes and chili dogs are served with corrugated potato chips on the side. But we believe it's worth spending extra for a plate of Ben's French fries.
Ben’s Chili Bowl, Strawberry Cake
Strawberry Cake
Everyone at the table who sampled the moist strawberry cake declared it a winner!
Directions and Hours
closed now
Sunday11 am - 12 am
Monday6 am - 2 am
Tuesday6 am - 2 am
Wednesday6 am - 2 am
Thursday6 am - 2 am
Friday6 am - 4 am
Saturday7 am - 4 am
Open Year Round
Meals Served
Breakfast, Lunch, Late Night
Credit Cards Accepted
Alcohol Served
Outdoor Seating

Other Nearby Restaurants

  • Hoehn’s Bakery

    Baltimore, Maryland

    Hoehn’s Bakery is home to such Baltimore favorites as seasonal peach cake, marshmallow donuts, and an unusual bakery version of smearcase.

  • Horace & Dickie’s

    Washington, District of Columbia

    Expertly fried seafood stars on a menu that includes southern-style vegetables, banana pudding & sweet potato pie. Horace & Dickie’s is a DC best!

  • Broom’s Bloom Dairy

    Bel Air, Maryland

    Ice cream stars at Broom’s Bloom Dairy; lunch is great, too, especially gooey grilled cheese and smoky mac n cheese made with cheddar and gouda.

  • Universal Doughnuts

    Washington, District of Columbia

    Forget doughnuts. It is Universal Doughnuts’ breakfast sandwiches that put the little urban snack shop on the DC eats map.

  • G&M Restaurant and Lounge

    Linthicum Heights, Maryland

    G&M’s jumbo lump crab meat is the height of luxury — in the form of magnificent crab cakes or the deluxe stuffing for shrimp or flounder.

  • Mason Social

    Alexandria, Virginia

    Tender fried chicken, sweet-and-crunchy Brussels sprouts, & half-off-wine Wednesdays keep locals and visitors coming back to Mason Social.