Food & Drink

Beyond Ben's Chili Bowl: 7 great DC half smokes

Published On 01/22/2014 Published On 01/22/2014
Best Half Smokes DC
Laura Hayes

Sure, Ben’s Chili Bowl gets most of the hype when it comes to half smokes, the porky, beefy, smoky sausage treats that call DC home. And to be sure, Ben's has soaked up enough late-night booze on U Street to have thoroughly earned its place in DC's heart and arteries. But it's good to broaden your horizons, especially if said broadening leads to the consumption of more encased meats. Here are seven other takes worth your attention... including one you can drink!

John Sonderman

Weenie Beenie
Shirlington, VA
This VA roadside gem has the buns to say they’re home to the original half smoke. This is no hollow claim -- Weenie Beenie has a few years on Ben’s Chili Bowl. Not only is WB older and wiser, but cheaper too. A fully loaded half smoke topped with a runny egg runs $1.46 less than a Ben’s original -- even eggified. That Foo Fighters’ jam “Weenie Beenie”, is no coincidence -- Dave Grohl used to call Alexandria home. Tear it off, but not a lot.

Laura Hayes

The Passenger
Mt. Vernon Square
The Passenger's best known as a cocktail haven, but don't skip the food menu. Their bun-busting half smoke comes fully loaded, not unlike certain talking cars. Lose yourself in the deep mahogany of their rich chili, then gawk at the onions. They’re diced so small it MUST have been the work of a ninja. Are there ninjas hiding in there? Just keep eating. It'll calm your nerves.

Laura Hayes

Churchkey
Logan Circle
No chili on top? What kind of fancypants does this half smoke think it is?! The delicious kind, OKAY? Everything from the Old Bay pork rinds on the side to the spicy pickles to the half smoke itself are made in house. The link itself has great texture -- it's not pulverized and you can actually see pork fat and beef commingling before they start commingling with your belly fat.

Laura Hayes

Bold Bite
Union Station
I hate guacamole… said no one ever. That’s why Bold Bite’s DC Guac half smoke was born. It also comes with pico de gallo, cilantro lime sauce, Monterey Jack cheese, and crispy tortilla strips. Prefer to go East instead of South of the border? Try the DC Asian with slaw, Hot & Bold sauce, and toasted sesame seeds. Note: both of these ethnic adventures cost less than a Ben’s original.

DC-3

DC-3
Capitol Hill
Another option for the chili averse, the DC Hot Half Smoke at DC-3 keeps it exceedingly simple with onions, relish, and yellow mustard. While it's clear that DC-3 was named for "The Plane That Changed the World", we prefer to think it means you can’t exit until you’ve downed three dogs and attained at least three mustard stains.

Laura Hayes

Boundary Stone
Bloomingdale
Gone are the days of washing down a half smoke with a cold beer. Okay, those days probably aren't actually gone, but Boundary Stone has another fine suggestion. Try their chili cheese half smoke with one of 105 different whiskeys. If you want to stay on-theme, get the High West Campfire or Whistlepig "Bosshog" 12yr. As for the sausage itself, it hails from 13th St Meats and is topped with house-made chili and aged Vermont cheddar cheese.

Laura Hayes

Bluejacket
Navy Yard
On a liquid diet but still want a half smoke? Bluejacket, that Navy Yard brewery that gets seriously creative with their brews, pours The Butcher on draft. The dunkles doppelbock is not only brewed with 10% Red Apron-smoked malt, but it's also seasoned with Red Apron half smoke spice mix. It's the most important pork-influenced beverage since hot ham water.

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1. Bold Bite 50 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002 (Union Station)

Bold Bite houses burgers, dogs, and an array of awesome DC Half-Smokes. Get weird and try the DC Asian with Asian slaw, Hot & Bold sauce, and toasted sesame seeds.

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2. Weenie Beenie 2680 S Shirlington Rd, Arlington, VA 22206 (Arlington)

Still standing after roughly 60 years, the Weenie Beenie (self-proclaimed home of the original half smoke) serves cheap but delicious roadside grub.

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3. The Passenger 1539 7th St NW, Washington, 20001 (Mount Vernon Sq)

When the original Passenger closed at the end of 2014, it felt like losing a loved one. Thankfully, the endearing, unpretentious cocktail joint returned at a new location not too far up 7th Street, where it still encourages patrons to chat with bartenders about what flavors, spirits, or ingredients they’re in the mood to drink, and let the experts take it from there. But don't worry, there’s a chalkboard menu with four or five rotating cocktail options if you’re feeling anti-social. The space also retains its worn-in vibe with carryovers from the old Passenger (church pew booths, a Steve McQueen mural) and vestiges from other DC hotspots (Liv’s old disco ball, leopard-print chairs from the defunct Millie and Al's). It’s still the bar that sells tallboys of Schlitz and makes world-class cocktails -- only now it has Chartreuse on tap and a concert stage upstairs, too.

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4. Birch & Barley 1337 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005 (Logan Circle)

Birch & Barley is the restaurant located below infamous beer bar ChurchKey in Logan Circle. It serves a simple and elegant menu of seasonal American food, but its claim to fame is the 500-plus beer list that rivals anything in the area (except of course, its upstairs sibling). The upscale restaurant serves a multi-course tasting menu with an optional beer pairing, but you can also order à la carte. Brunch rocks too, especially the freshly-fried donut holes.

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5. DC-3 423 8th St SE , Washington, 20003 (Barracks Row)

Named for and decorated after "The Plane That Changed the World", 3's rocking a wall mounted propeller, aluminum tables, and benches with legs modeled after air traffic control towers, and's serving a quirky, hotdog-only menu with highlights like "Qâ€

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6. Boundary Stone 116 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Shaw)

Named for the mile markers that once shaped the city, Boundary Stone encapsulates DC style with exposed brick, original tin ceilings, oak bars, and even a stained glass DC flag. The Bloomingdale American restaurant boasts a menu of snacks, appetizers, sandwiches, and entrees, with favorites including daily changing deviled eggs and the honey hot chicken with honey hot sauce, bleu cheese, lettuce, and fries. Try one of the eight drafts on tap as you slide into one of the rustic, charcoal-colored wooden booths.

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7. Bluejacket 300 Tingey St SE, Washington, DC 20003 (Navy Yardnear Se)

With 20 beers on draught and another five cask beers, Bluejacket ought to be able to satisfy even the pickiest of your beer-drinking friends. Enjoy some snacks at the bar or save some room and wait until 5:30pm for short ribs or sweet potato gnocchi from Arsenal -- Bluejacket's in-house restaurant.

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