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Only one way to do this: sit at the counter, get a chili-dog and a milkshake, revel in the Black-American history (seriously, picture a black-owned restaurant 45 years ago, just 4 years after Brown vs. Board of Education), and treat it like Gault-Millau treats Paul Bocuse: beyond classification.

With respect and reverence,

Rocks.

P.S. Rudy Maxa on Ben's Chili Bowl here.

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I've always thought that Ben's worked better as a monument than as a restaurant.

One night I was out boozing it up with a friend and came home about midnight to find Mrs. B very pissed off that I hadn't called and, more importantly, in premature labor. We dashed off to Ben's for a couple chili dogs, dropped them off and -- in preparation for a long night at the hospital -- went around the corner for a couple of cups of coffee (anybody remember the name of that pioneering joint on 15th and U? It was owned by the same guy that owned 15 Minutes, I think). By the time we got back with the joe, the chili dogs had ended the labor and Mrs. B, because she is the best wife ever, sent my friend and I back out to continue our binge.

I still don't think the Ben's chili is very good. But The Force is strong within it.

Edited by Waitman
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I've always thought that Ben's worked better as a monument than as a restaurant. 

One night I was out boozing it up with a friend and came home about midnight to find Mrs. B very pissed off that I hadn't called and, more importantly, in premature labor.  We dashed off to Ben's for a couple chili dogs, dropped them off and -- in preparation for a long night at the hospital -- went around the corner for a couple of cups of coffee (anybody remember the name of that pioneering joint on 15th and U?  It was owned by the same guy that owned 15 Minutes, I think).  By the time we got back with the joe, the chili dogs had ended the labor and Mrs. B, because she is the best wife ever, sent my friend and I back out to continue our binge.

I still don't think the Ben's chili is very good.  But The Force is strong within it.

I'm a sucker for Ben's. It's always bumpin' in ways that most DC restaurants aren't. The jukebox helps. And I like that people are pretty cross-table chatty.I know, the food is. . .not spectacular. But, it fulfills the diner breakfast/cheese fries cravings.

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Chili dogs, cheese fries, half-smokes,

My pulse begins a new romance,

Coincidentally, I had my first ever chili half-smoke and cheese fries from Ben's yesterday for lunch. After reading dozens of "You need to go for the History, but not the food" comments over the years, I was pleasantly surprised.

The snap and spice of the half-smoke burst right through the thick, meaty chili. Maybe next time I'll get the fries with no cheese - the first dozen or so were good and hot and crisp, but by the end, they had succumbed under the weight of the cheese.

But the sausage and chili reminded me a bit of Tony Packo's in Toledo, another landmark spot. Hungarian-American, African-American. It's all good.

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I had the pleasure of a Ben's half-smoked chili dog and it kicks Cincinnati Chili dogs' arse. Next time, I want the chili cheese fries and a half-smoked. Now, I just have to figure out how to get there... from here....

(new to driving and DC) :blink:

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One picture saves me from typing a ton of characters:

PH2009011001126.jpg

Obama shakes hands with worker Bria Hillard at Ben's Chili Bowl Saturday. (Linda Davidson/Washington Post)

Posted at 2:53 PM ET, 01/10/2009

Obama Visits Ben's Chili Bowl

For years, a sign at U Street's landmark Ben's Chili Bowl carried this message:"Who eats free at Ben's: Bill Cosby. No one else."

During the 2008 race, they changed it: "Who eats free at Ben's: Bill Cosby. The Obama Family." And today, the president-elect finally investigated the offer.

Barack Obama arrived at the fast-food joint with D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty shortly before 1 p.m.. He posed with diners and staff, then returned to the counter to collect his order: a chili half smoke and sweet tea, plus cheese fries and water for the mayor. They dined together at a two-person table.

Asked by a member of the traveling press pool about the signficance of his visit, Obama said, "it means I'm going to get a hot dog."

And as for Ben's generous offer. . . As promised, they didn't try to charge him. Obama handed over a $20 bill anyway for what would have been a roughly $12 meal, reports our colleague N.C. Aizenman. Did he want change, the counterman asked. "No, we're straight," said the future prez.

Posted by The Reliable Source

Since there isn't much upthread about half-smokes and DC, here's an enlightening article from City Paper:
No politician has used chili dogs and half-smokes as shortcuts to D.C. accreditation quite like former Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Long accused of being aloof, overly academic, and insufficiently black, Williams compensated for his lack of common touch by associating himself with Ben's Chili Bowl at every possible turn. He mentioned the place in his inaugural address, and he made it his first stop after he won office in 1998, according to the Washington Post. In a January 2005 Q-and-A with the Post, Williams cited Ben's as the "restaurant where my constituents would most likely run into me." And when he was spotted eating a turkey chili dog there in the summer of the same year, some observers took it as a sign that he might actually seek a third term.

How did Ben's and the half-smoke become such icons of Washington culture? "As I think about it, I often wonder if Bill Cosby didn't play a major role," says Virginia Ali, who co-owns the Chili Bowl with her husband Ben. The story goes that Cosby first came across the half-smoke when he was in the Navy and stationed at Quantico in the 1960s.

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I also just heard Bill Cosby on WTOP - he said that in 1958, he used to go to Ben's and get SIX half-smokes, with mustard, one tablespoon of chili, and onions.

Cheers,

Rocks.

In the interview, it was entertaining when he was feigning disappointment that Obama hasn't earned the right to eat free at Ben's like he had. You can listen to and watch parts of the interview on the WTOP web site.

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In the interview, it was entertaining when he was feigning disappointment that Obama hasn't earned the right to eat free at Ben's like he had. You can listen to and watch parts of the interview on the WTOP web site.

Cos repeated this on Meet the Press this morning, perhaps also as a result of Obama asking "What's a half-smoke?" after he entered Ben's.

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Cos repeated this on Meet the Press this morning, perhaps also as a result of Obama asking "What's a half-smoke?" after he entered Ben's.

Sad to say, this pretty much establishes that Obama is no foodie; he lived in DC for how long as a senator, and never had a half-smoke, or even found out what one is? That's what happens when you eat too much organic food. Addles the food receptor parts of the brain.

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In the interview, it was entertaining when he was feigning disappointment that Obama hasn't earned the right to eat free at Ben's like he had. You can listen to and watch parts of the interview on the WTOP web site.

Really? 'Cause the sign up when I was finally taken there a week or two ago said that the Obama family eats for free as well as Bill Cosby...

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I also just heard Bill Cosby on WTOP - he said that in 1958, he used to go to Ben's and get SIX half-smokes, with mustard, one tablespoon of chili, and onions.

Cheers,

Rocks.

I worked at the Safeway at 14th and U in 1963 when I had just turned 16 and was going to Blair in Silver Spring. It was a very different world then. I know that excepting the manager (a separate story) I was the only white who worked at that store. I also know that I was sort of a "curiosity" on my first visits to Ben's and Wings and Things across the street. Living in the suburbs only added to my seeming to not fit in.

Over time I was accepted, over time I became good friends with a student who then was in his first or second year at Howard. Because of my friendship with him I felt comfortable going to Ben's once every couple of weeks as well as the Howard Theatre. At some point I bought a car and usually parked next to a club called "The Spa" at 14th and Swann. At the time the neighborhood had begun to acquire a reputation, at least with the D. C. police who regularly busted working girls who strolled next to where I would park.

I thought about all of this last Monday when I walked on the Mall, the day before Obama's inauguration. I thought about this when I watched CNN replay Martin Luther King's speech. In 45 years this really is a different world. Ben's is still there. The place had great character, great personality in the early '60's. And a mediocre halfsmoke with what has always tasted like canned or, at best, cheap chili. But Ben's was never about that. It was about stopping in after a visit to the Howard or Bohemian Caverns or the Republic theater. At one in the morning or later. There was a time, after '68, that I couldn't do this. Nor could I have worked at that Safeway which eventually was torn down.

While the restaurant really hasn't changed there has been an education outside it's door. While, for me, Ben's food has never got any better D. C.-and much of America-have taken small but positive steps. There is so much that I can say, so much that I still remember. But I doubt if many really understand what Martin Luther King meant then. What it meant when he was killed. What it meant when so much of America burned after. Few of us then really understood. I think even fewer today have any idea. Working at that Safeway was, for me, my own education.

Ben's Chili Bowl is testimony to a different time in this city when many in Hybla Valley and Woodbridge had a Southern tinged accent almost fifty years ago and temporary buildings lined the Mall left over from World War II. It is a great restaurant, a landmark but not because of its food. Rather because of what it meant for the community then and its role today.

President Obama will find a better hot dog in Chicago but at Ben's it's really not about a half smoke or chili.

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I am going through the latest Bon Appetit that just arrived and they have a list of their (written by Andrew Knowlton) Top 10 chili joints and they have Ben's as #1. Um, ok, not sure what that says for the other 9 on the list.

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I wonder if Mr. Ali ever thought they'd be writing about him in England when he passed away.

Under appreciated -- breakfast at Ben's.

Thanks for the head's up Waitman.

This morning, a Federal Holiday morning, I was heading into the office for "extra innings" and decided to try Ben's. The parking's free today and U Street was empty.

Opening the door, I was hit by the jukebox's wall of Marley sound. Everyone was keeping the beat. Great vibe. OK food - on par with the dining facility here, but they're way cooler [even cooler than my past fav off-beat place - Scholl's Cafeteria].

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I was coming from a different direction.  I don't believe there was ever a discussion of how Hellburger could have closed given its success and associated publicity.   It seemed that it had become a landmark and too significant, too "known" to be anywhere else. That a way should have been found, must have been found to resolve whatever issues were outstanding between simply, the "landlord" and the "tenant."  Regardless, I miss Hellburger.

Having said this, I don't think there are an awful lot of places that could have filled Hellburger's "shoes" in this location but Ben's Chili Bowl is one of the very few.  I first went to their U street original in 1962 before a Howard show and despite living in the suburbs have made annual pilgramages ever since. I also worked a couple of blocks down the street from it in the Safeway at 14th and U and stopped in, then, at least once a week.  It had its own great character that nowhere else had.

I look forward to their opening in Arlington and wish them the absolute best.  I applaud their decision to open in this location!  I also hope that they outfit the new restaurant to recapture some of "magic" of the original.  I believe it is a building and a room that will lend itself to this.

Ben's will be a huge plus to that area of Arlington.

I also hope that one day Michael ressurects Hellburger in another location of great "character."

At the risk of trying to intiate too many new threads I would really like to see one where a number of us point out available locations that we feel would be appropriate for the new and Flagship Hellburger.  Perhaps with enough interest from passionate members of this board we might attract his attention and indirectly stoke a seed of interest in returning to open a new Hell Burger.

Worth a thought.

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At the risk of trying to intiate too many new threads I would really like to see one where a number of us point out available locations that we feel would be appropriate for the new and Flagship Hellburger.  Perhaps with enough interest from passionate members of this board we might attract his attention and indirectly stoke a seed of interest in returning to open a new Hell Burger.

Worth a thought.

Crystal City has a captive lunchtime audience and plenty of foot traffic. Hellburger could thrive there amidst the chains.

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With the exception of Five Guys, is there any local chain more undeservedly famous than Ben's?

OK, I love the the original Ben's for its fortitude at being the only viable commercial enterprise for about six blocks of U Street during Metro construction (when I lived right around the corner from the place); it's history/general funkiness and the fact that its chili dogs caused my wife's premature labor to subside.

But really, beyond a certain beer-sponging practicality to the food, it really doesn't offer much.  In particular, the chili is awful.

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In particular, the chili is awful.

That's because it's more a condiment than actual chili.  Eating a whole bowl of it is about the same as eating a bowl of ketchup, but I guess people do.  It's not bad for its intended purpose, though.  And Ben's half smoke is a decent, if pedestrian, sausage.  I look forward to a half smoke "all the way" when I head to Nat's games.

Actually, you know what Ben's chili reminds me of?  A spiced version of the stuff that's left over in a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli after you eat the raviolis.  Kind-of a tomato sauce with little bits of meat.  The fact that I do not have children, yet know this, is causing me to regret some recent nutritional choices.

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That's because it's more a condiment than actual chili.  Eating a whole bowl of it is about the same as eating a bowl of ketchup, but I guess people do.  It's not bad for its intended purpose, though.  And Ben's half smoke is a decent, if pedestrian, sausage.  I look forward to a half smoke "all the way" when I head to Nat's games.

Actually, you know what Ben's chili reminds me of?  A spiced version of the stuff that's left over in a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli after you eat the raviolis.  Kind-of a tomato sauce with little bits of meat.  The fact that I do not have children, yet know this, is causing me to regret some recent nutritional choices.

I think you just confirmed Waitman's point, which I agree with.

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Bill Cosby at the opening of Ben's in Arlington:

For everything that was posted on this board for the last 8 or 9 years i can't help but think that Michael landrum really blew it giving up this location.  I don't care about the reason.  Obama ate there twice.  Once with Putin.

Just don't believe he walked out on this place.

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For everything that was posted on this board for the last 8 or 9 years i can't help but think that Michael landrum really blew it giving up this location.  I don't care about the reason.  Obama ate there twice.  Once with Putin.

Just don't believe he walked out on this place.

Although I do not know the backstory (and I really don't), I wouldn't make any assumptions about why the lease fell through.

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Don, all that I am saying is that Michael should have found a way to stay there.  It was a landmark, a nationally known destination for steak, for hamburgers.  And a one of a kind that won't be replaced.

I watched the Bill Cosby interview today and felt queasy.

Michael, where are you?

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