I met a man, here at the Marina, about our third day in Washington. Schooner had taken me out for a walk, which required exiting the dock area, so we were walking along the waist high, chain-link fence that separates the “boardwalk” (it’s really cement) from the water. I noticed Walker standing at the fence, repeatedly casting his line into the marina water. Being the shy person that I am, walked over to him and asked what kind of fish he was fishing for along the water’s edge. Then he told me that he was fishing for large-mouth bass, but it was so warm, they weren’t doing much in the way of biting.
As we both stood there chatting about fishing, boats and Schooner, we introduced ourselves and continued with our conversation. As it turns out, Walker is a pharmaceutical rep for a major drug manufacturer, grew up near Washington in Virginia and lives nearby the marina. Our conversation went from catching fish, to fixing fish, to eating fish and progressed on to restaurants. Learning that I liked local places and wasn’t particular about how classy a place was, Walker recommended some places that are mostly frequented by DC locals and are off of the tourist charts. And that’s how we learned about Ben’s Chili Bowl.
To get to Ben’s, we took the Green Line METRO, going north. Per Walker’s instructions, we got off at the ‘U’ St./African American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo stop and when we went up the escalator to the street, there it was; Ben’s Chili Bowl Restaurant, a Washington tradition since 1958.
Ben’s has survived some rough times. It was started when most new ventures suffered a 60% failure rate. It survived the Washington riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the deterioration of the city in the 1970’s and early 80’s. But all that not withstanding, Ben’s survived and kept cranking out its unique menu of hotdogs, sausage and fries (available with cheese or chili and cheese.) Today, the neighborhood is clean and vibrant and Ben’s Chili Bowl is still there, taking care of the never ending line of customers that crowds the door from the time they open until closing.
Kim and I arrived around 1:30 pm and took our place at the end of a line of about 25 people. In a matter of 10 or 12 minutes, however, we were inside and placing our order. Kim ordered a chili-cheese dog (all pork, no fillers) with onions and mustard and I got a “Bill Cosby,” (he courted his wife, Camille, here in the early 60’s) which is a 1/4lb. half pork-half beef smoked sausage on a warm steamed bun, topped with cheese, mustard, onions and Ben’s spicy homemade chili sauce. Then, to make sure our arteries were completely clogged, we split an order of Ben’s famous cheese fries; crisp fries slathered with a ton of thick, spicy cheddar cheese sauce.
We took a seat at an empty table and within 5 minutes, a waitress brought our order, freshly made and piping hot. And the taste…it was fantastic. We ate slow and enjoyed every single bite as we watched the constant flow of customers entering, ordering, eating and leaving satisfied. Believe you me, this is real comfort food.
We had just finished eating and preparing to leave, when I looked up and saw none other than Walker, ordering lunch. I hollered at Walker and he came over to our table, where I introduced him to Kim, and he laughingly told us that after telling me about Ben’s Chili Bowl the other day, he couldn’t stop thinking about it and had dropped in between appointments. Since his order was just about up, Walker went on to his table and Kim and I left to walk a bit before taking the METRO home. Boy were our bellies full!
So, in closing, if you ever come to DC, be sure to make Ben’s Chili Bowl a “Must” on your list of places to visit. We guarantee that you’ll leave there full and satisfied with the food and the service.