Ben’s Chili Bowl and an Unexpected Treat

“You only learn by doing three things: reading, traveling, and dreaming.”

~Mr. Brown, Ben’s Chili Bowl


When in D.C., you do Ben’s Chili Bowl. It’s kind of just the rule. So when we went on a family girl-trip to the District a few months ago, you know that our first stop after our bags at the hotel.

We cabbed it over to Ben’s based on word of mouth alone. Countless presidents and dignitaries have eaten Ben’s legendary half-smoke sausage, and the reputation was enough for us to make sure we got to the historic eatery.

Of course I wanted the half-smoke, a legendary D.C. sausage, which is supposedly half beef and half pork, and full of kick. I ordered it just how it came: with chili, cheese, onions and mustard. Others ordered without mustard and we got the chili cheese fries to share.

BarrisTourista-Ben's Chili Bowl Half Smoke 2

To say this sausage was smothered in goodness was an understatement. The plates were so full we had to figure out how to dig in. Once we got going, the sausage was tender and had a little kick. The chili was thick and flavorful. We were all quite impressed with the main attraction.

And the fries, the fries went like wildfire. We devoured the cheesy, chili-covered fries with our meals. We truly enjoyed ourselves.

BarrisTourista-Bens Chili Bowl Fries

As we were eating, we talked. We took it all in. Took in all of the pictures of the famous people who had stopped by Ben’s. The photos and satisfied customers. We tried to figure out if Ben was actually in the restaurant while we were there. And we got an unexpected treat.

We struck up a conversation with an older gentleman, who we initially we wondered if it was Ben himself. He told us stories about the restaurant, about Ben and his family, about the history of the restaurant. I mentioned that I was a travel and food writer, and then the magic really happened.

BarrisTourista-Ben's Chili Bowl 3

Mr. Brown asked me where I had last been and I told him that I had just gotten back from a solo trip to Panama. He began to talk about how he loved Panama and how he enjoyed his time there. How he tried to expose his kids to travel, and told them that how important it was to see the world. Then Mr. Brown started rattling off countries he had been to and ones he wished to see. And how his kids studied abroad.

“You only learn by doing three things: reading, traveling, and dreaming.”

It was the type of conversation—the type of moment—you never anticipate but will cherish always. The type of spontaneous moment that you only get when you reach out to and seek to talk to and learn about people. That, friends, is the purpose of travel. It really is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.

BarrisTourista-Ben's Chili Bowl 1

And Mr. Brown made us richer that day. Great food, engaging conversation, and excellent wisdom imparted made Ben’s Chili Bowl our most notable meal in D.C. And that is worth remembering.


I am a lawyer. I am a journalist. I am a writer. I am a photographer. And I love to travel.

24 comments on “Ben’s Chili Bowl and an Unexpected Treat”

  1. I learned about Ben’s when my friends insisted on taking me during my first visit to DC. We went late night after attending an event and it was perfect. The history is amazing and it’s visible on the walls and through the stories of the people who visit. I can’t wait to go back.

  2. That’s a cool story about Mr. Brown. I love those type of experiences. And all the millions of times I’ve been to DC I’ve never been to Ben’s Chili Bowl. Well once I went but it was closed. One day I’ll go.

  3. This is the year I will make it to D.C. I know now since you gave a great review I need to check out Ben’s Chill Bowl thanks for the recommendation!

  4. One of my most FAVORITE comfort food dishes is chilli cheese fries. My goodness is isn’t it perfect? haha thanks for sharing sounds like you had a great time in DC! I’ve never been but I do hope to take a trip there someday.

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