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Is Ben's Chili Bowl worth a visit?

WineCounselor Nov 21, 2012 09:59 AM

Is this icon worth the trip? Thanks.

  1. d
    DCDOLL Jan 15, 2013 09:46 AM

    Just go to a Nats game in the spring and get one...if you can stand the line that is...

    1. thelittlemiller Dec 31, 2012 09:40 PM

      It's kind of a running joke among my friends that though we've been living in DC for 3.5 years, we've never seen Ben's in daylight. Only after alcohol-sodden evenings on U St. It's a great place to end a night, IMO (and from what I can remember). The late-night crowd is a lot of fun.

      5 Replies
      1. re: thelittlemiller
        drewpbalzac Jan 1, 2013 03:23 AM

        If you think the crowd is fun now you should have seen it late night pre-gentrification. Punks, pimps, cops, and junkies . . . That was a fun crowd!

        1. re: drewpbalzac
          Steve Jan 1, 2013 06:30 AM

          Your characterization is awful. I worked at Source Theatre on 14th st in its heydey (circa 1982), when we had 3 spaces operating and I was striking stets and installing scenery past midnight. The crowd at ben's back then was a mix of all kinds of people who worked late and might be in that neighborhood. Howard University Hospital is not that far, for example.

          Before it got late I would not go to Ben's because I had a plethora of soul food joints to visit closer to the theatre, even next door where the Standard is now, and another right across the street.

          1. re: Steve
            drewpbalzac Jan 1, 2013 11:18 AM

            What's awfulness about it - it was great . . . . We loved it!

            Like hanging out with the working girls and cross-dressers at the Sip and Bite in Baltimore . . . . The scene, was what it was, and we loved it.

            1. re: drewpbalzac
              Steve Jan 2, 2013 05:51 AM

              "Ah, the sweet used-to-be."

              Tennessee Williams.

              1. re: Steve
                drewpbalzac Jan 2, 2013 08:28 PM

                "You want that with chili - mustard - and onions?"
                Counter person at Ben's last week.

                "Yes please, on both of them!"

      2. p
        pgm123 Dec 30, 2012 04:11 PM

        Yeah. Go at least once. You probably won't go again, but it's worth the visit the first time. The half smokes are great and the chili is mediocre. It's also not cheap for a sausage/big hot dog.

        1. s
          souvac Nov 27, 2012 08:56 PM

          Definitely go for the vibe and lower your expectations on the food. It's quite fun around 2AM.

          1 Reply
          1. re: souvac
            monkeyrotica Nov 28, 2012 03:39 AM

            Agreed. Like Papaya King in NYC. For most tourists, one visit and a photo in front and you're done.

          2. a
            ajyi2012 Nov 26, 2012 11:57 AM

            As others have mentioned, the main reason to come here is after a late show at the 9:30 Club or Black Cat. You should be drunk enough that you can barely walk straight. It's at moments like these that a chili half smoke tastes divine, and the reason why Ben's is still populated by locals.

            I would not come here without getting drunk first.

            1. hill food Nov 23, 2012 04:45 PM

              as others have said, worth a special trip? no. if it's late and you've had a few belts and are in the neighborhood anyway? why the hell not.

              but you may want to stop off for a roll of tums after.

              1. d
                drewpbalzac Nov 22, 2012 04:52 PM

                Yes - Bens is great if you want a chili half-smoke with mustard and onions. It hasn't changed in years and those of us who grew up here eating there still love the place.

                We do not reject our favorites places because they have become popularized by TV shows or dismiss them as touristy.

                But it is a greasey spoon - don't expect anything else. If you want a something more, leave it to the rest of us. . .

                1 Reply
                1. re: drewpbalzac
                  law_doc89 Nov 24, 2012 01:48 PM


                2. ipsedixit Nov 21, 2012 07:40 PM

                  Yes, if you're drunk and hungry past midnight.

                  I'm actually a sucker for the potato salad.

                  1. Dennis S Nov 21, 2012 10:42 AM

                    Yes. Stop on the sidewalk and have a companion take a picture, then move on. Oohs and Aahs I second. Florida Ave Grill is also iconic. Okay food (also soul food), though it's been years since I've been.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Dennis S
                      Steve Nov 21, 2012 02:19 PM

                      I was at Florida Ave Grill recently. It's a decent place to go, but not for the half-smoke which is more like a kielbasa.

                      1. re: Steve
                        monkeyrotica Nov 22, 2012 04:56 AM

                        The only places that I know of that sell the coarse-grind Mangers halfsmokes from Baltimore are Bens and Canales Meats in Eastern Market. At the latter, you can buy them hot off the roller for a couple bucks or by the pound, mild or spicy. I prefer the spicy. Everybody else's "halfsmokes" are just big, caseless hotdogs.

                        1. re: monkeyrotica
                          Steve Nov 22, 2012 06:58 AM

                          No doubt the very best way to eat a half smoke is to get the spicy version from Canales in Eastern Market and blacken it yourself in a pan. A 5-star chowhound delight. I also really like the ground chuck at Canales, 85% lean, my favorite in the area.

                          1. re: Steve
                            WineCounselor Nov 22, 2012 08:27 AM

                            You seem to really be on top of things. Any suggestions for Italian food that allows corkage fees instead of, or in the alternative to overpriced wine lists?


                            1. re: WineCounselor
                              Steve Nov 22, 2012 11:10 PM

                              This is not my area of specialty, but I think most places allow corkage, with a fee. The question is: what kind of place are you looking for?

                              Fanciest: Fiola (risotto excels here), Tosca.
                              Some really outstanding dishes with lower cost, Bibiana.
                              SImpler homemade pasta dishes, also outstanding, Siroc

                              1. re: WineCounselor
                                lcool Nov 23, 2012 01:30 PM

                                some ideas here for Italian food and wine
                                DC by law allows corkage but it isn't universal at restaurants

                                1. re: WineCounselor
                                  dinwiddie Nov 28, 2012 05:37 AM

                                  Dino permits corkage, and in fact has free corkage Monday thru Wednesday. However, it also has a huge Italian wine list and is extremely well priced.

                              2. re: monkeyrotica
                                drewpbalzac Nov 25, 2012 03:54 AM

                                I have been remiss in not getting to the market for a while - but the last time I was there - Union Meats had the rollers with hot dogs and half-smokes. Has the elder Canales brother added a machine to his stall as well?

                          2. d
                            dinwiddie Nov 21, 2012 10:05 AM

                            Only if you are into DC political theater. It is iconic only because it survived through the riots, the METRO construction, and because anyone who is anyone in the political scene in DC eats there at least once. One of Bill Cosby's favorite places, but he'll eat anything. Only he and President Obama can eat free there.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: dinwiddie
                              WineCounselor Nov 21, 2012 10:11 AM

                              Wow- not exactly enthusiastic reviews!

                              1. re: WineCounselor
                                GraydonCarter Nov 21, 2012 06:53 PM

                                It's a tough crowd.

                              2. re: dinwiddie
                                monkeyrotica Nov 21, 2012 10:42 AM

                                Interesting that you don't see those two around there very often. Not reall a ringing endorsement.

                              3. monkeyrotica Nov 21, 2012 10:03 AM

                                If you're into the halfsmokes and history and tourist thing, yes. Just lower your expectations accordingly. The chili is pretty bland.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: monkeyrotica
                                  Bob W Nov 21, 2012 10:02 AM

                                  Totally agree. It's a place to go once.

                                  1. re: Bob W
                                    reiflame Nov 21, 2012 10:32 AM

                                    I disagree; it's a place to go several times but only after you've drunk 6 beers at the 9:30 Club.

                                2. s
                                  Steve Nov 21, 2012 10:02 AM

                                  No. If you are going to be in the hood, then go to Oohs And Aahs instead. Get the shrimp and grits.

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