'Ben's Chili Bowl' on Serious Eats

Ben Ali of Ben's Chili Bowl Dies at 82

It's a sad day for D.C. residents and half-smoke lovers everywhere: Ben Ali, co-founder of landmark greasy spoon Ben's Chili Bowl, passed away last night. As DCist points out, "the chili, half-smokes, cheese fries and shakes that have made Ben's Chili Bowl famous since it opened in 1958 are still prepared the same way today as they were when Ben first started."... More

Hot Dog of the Week: Half-Smoke

"No matter if you wait in line at Ben's or just grab a half-smoke from a street cart, it would be a shame to visit D.C. without tasting one." [Art and photographs: Hawk Krall] The half-smoke is Washington D.C.'s signature street food, but nearly impossible to find outside of the D.C. area. By some definitions, it's not technically a hot dog. Otherwise, it has all the traits of a historically significant, regional variation of tubular meat on a bun. It involves a mildly smoked, natural casing beef and pork sausage. The meat is coarsely ground and spicier than a standard frankfurter. At Ben's Chili Bowl, a D.C. landmark and the most well-known place for a half-smoke, they are grilled on... More

Future Plans for Ben's Chili Bowl

Photograph by James Calder Ben's Chili Bowl, the D.C. landmark for half-smokes, which became even more landmarkish when Barack Obama stopped by during Inauguration week, is doing alright. Still on a the-president-visited-us high, this is their second season in concession stand form at Nationals Park, and they even make a cameo in the new State of Play flick. You would think it's time to go even bigger? Not really. Ben’s Chili Bowl oozes character, which is found not just on the walls covered with grip-and-grin celebrity snapshots. It’s also found on the griddle next to the front window where blackened sausages have been glistening with grease for decades. It’s found behind the white counter where employees in Chili Bowl... More

Beaker the Muppet Visits Ben's Chili Bowl

A Beaker internet meme is a pretty good meme. The hapless lab assistant, famous for speaking the language of mee-mee-meee, has been keeping busy in D.C., riding public transportation, busting former mayor Marion Barry in his hotel room, hugging the Obama girls, and getting his half-smoke on at Ben's Chili Bowl. Related What's a Half-Smoke? In Videos: Barack Obama Doesn't Know What a Half-Smoke Is Where Did the Swedish Chef Muppet Come From?... More

What's a Half-Smoke?

Chili Half-Smoke from Ben's Chili Bowl. Photograph from Josh Thompson on Flickr On Saturday, President-elect Barack Obama asked, "What's a half-smoke?" at Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C. To answer your question, Mr. President-elect, a half-smoke is basically a processed meat tube that's a lot plumper than your average hot dog (about twice the girth) with more of a spicy kick (look for the red pepper flakes inside). Where does the "half" come from? A few theories exist, as explored in a comprehensive article from the Washington City Paper in 2007. It's only smoked halfway. It's cut in half when on the grill. It's often made from equal portions of beef and pork. Ben's signature half-smoke comes smothered with... More

Obama Family Makes the 'Eat Free' List at Ben's Chili Bowl

From left: Photograph from aliciagriffin on Flickr; Photograph from Travlr on Flickr For years, only Bill Cosby made "the list" of who eats free at Ben's Chili Bowl, the District's greasy spoon institution on U Street. A few days before the election, the management printed out a new copy of the A-list, this time with the Obamas included. The first family-elect have yet to cash in on their gratis hot dog dripping with beans, but surely if you camp out during inauguration week long enough, you might spot them. Cosby's patronage dates back to the 1960s, when he used to take his future wife to Ben's on dates. In 1985, he held a press conference at the diner to... More

Ben's Chili Bowl in D.C. Celebrates 50 Years

August 22, 1958, marks a big day in the District's history: the birth of Ben’s Chili Bowl's famous chili dog and chili half-smoke, considered some of the city's only indigenous foods. Why does the beans-topped tubular meat deserve a 50th birthday bash this weekend, complete with visits from Bill Cosby, Roberta Flack, and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty? Ben’s is one of the few culinary landmarks in this town not associated with JFK trying to shtup some bimbo, it remains a steadfast supporter of its Shaw neighborhood, and it still serves the best half-smoke around. That's how Washington City Paper food columnist Tim Carman described the institution to Anthony Bourdain when the No Reservations host was in town recently to... More

The New Nationals Dog: Washington D.C.'s Half Smoke

Photograph from dbking on Flickr Fenway has Fenway Franks, the Dodgers have Dodger Dogs and over the weekend, Washington defined its regional frank at the National's Opening Day game. The stadium's official dog, the half smoke, supplied by local institution Ben's Chili Bowl, has been characterized one of Washington's only real trademark foods. Yet the backstory of this special rod of pork remains an enigma.... More

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