I had just finished eating my chili fries when I saw the blue raincoat. “Oh my god.” I said to my sister. “Danny’s here.” I shouldn’t have been surprised by Danny’s arrival, after all he’d only been talking about a half-smoke since … Bolivia.
You probably have a food or a restaurant that reminds you of home. It might not be the food, but it’s the booth, the atmosphere or the surly waitress. For D.C. it has always meant Ben’s Chili Bowl and the chili half-smoke. Delicious and messy, their half-smoke smothered in chili might give you indigestion, and you might have to wait for a table but it will be worth every greasy minute.
Those of you not familiar with DC’s half-smoke are probably looking at this picture with chili running down Danny’s hand and are thinking “gross!”. A 100% spiced beef sausage, a half smoke is perhaps the only original DC food. You can’t go to Washington and not try one. For us, chili half-smokes have always been a part of our DC lives. They’re found all over the city from hot dog vendors on the national mall to the ballpark, but there is only one true place for the chili half-smoke: Ben’s. They’ve got the best chili half-smoke, and even sell a delicious vegetarian chili and veggie burger. But if you order that, well… we need to talk.
For more than fifty years Ben’s has been a Washington institution, a gathering place of people from all walks of life without the politics. Trust me, that’s rare in D.C. It’s served protesters and police at the same time for god knows how many protests over the years. At this point the restaurant is practically a pilgrimage site in DC, so much so that Danny has forced all of his cousin’s to go there when they come for a visit. In our own lives, it’s been witness to numerous nights out, several dates, and even one friend’s birthday, year after year after year.
So there we were, me sitting back with my Thanksgiving full like feel and Danny waiting in line for his first half-smoke in nine months. As I said hello and goodbye to Danny I walked out the door and heard the familiar “chili half-smoke please.” And it felt like home.
P.S. Wanna know who can eat free at Ben’s?