Ben's Chili Bowl has been an iconic part of the DC food landscape since first opening its doors in 1958. Its hot dogs, burgers, and subs are time-tested, Obama-approved classics. Of course, you're really there for the signature smoky chili, which tastes great in a bowl but even better atop a cheesy, onion-y hot dog. Ben's might be cramped, but the sizzling smell is too enticing to pass up.
Got a hankering for DC’s iconic halfsmoke? The good news is that Ben’s Chili Bowl stays open extra late on weekends, until 4 am on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s a sure bet for something greasy after a few too many at the bars and nightclubs on U Street. But don’t expect this place to go too late on weeknights—the shop closes promptly at 9 pm most other days of the week.
While the origin of DC’s iconic half-smoke is murky, Ben’s Chili Bowl is the de facto home of this city’s signature dish. This spot is known for serving up a half beef, half pork sausage that comes slathered in chili, cheese, and onions, but it also boasts a reputation for having an essence that mirrors the energy and vibrancy of its founder, 88-year-old Virginia Ali, the wife of this spot’s namesake. Over the years as the epicenter of U Street, Ben’s Chili Bowl has hosted former presidents, celebrities, comedians, and served as a meeting place for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights Movement leaders—and the restaurant commemorates those visits with a prominent mural on the building’s facade.
This spot has been a U Street staple since Virginia Ali first opened the doors with her late husband, Ben, in 1958. Now at 88 years old, Ali’s can still be seen behind the counter serving up food to tourists, locals, and celebrities alike. The family-run restaurant is known for selling perhaps the city’s most iconic half-smoke, a smokey, spicy hot dog loaded up with chili, cheese, and chopped onions, but the eatery also offers classic American favorites like burgers and fries.