It is with great sadness that we recently learned that Ben Ali, the founder of the D.C. institution, Ben's Chili Bowl, passed away last night at the age of 82. Ben and his wife Virginia opened the restaurant in 1958, and it has thrived in its present U Street location against great odds. While businesses around it crumbled, Ben's stayed open through riots in 1968 and the extension of Metro's Green line in the early 1990's.
Ben's has a special place in our hearts as one of the first "authentic D.C." restaurants we ate at. We'll never forget standing in line at Ben's on the eve of President Obama's inauguration. Despite frigid temperatures, people waited in the long line for Ben's half smokes and fries. The energy and pure joy of the crowd left a lasting impression on us, and Ben's has become a favorite stop on the DC tour for our out-of-town guests.
Ben, may your legacy live on for generations to come.
Second Thoughts from B
Washington, D.C. is a wonderful and dynamic city. Its pulse is strengthened by the constant stream of those who come here overflowing with energy and optimism to change the world. While this transient nature adds tremendous diversity and cultural richness to our day-to-day lives, it also leaves us without a consistent core. In a city that often completely changes direction every 2, 4, and 6 years, Ben Ali and his Chili Bowl was the one constant. The greasy spoon on U St. has been this community's anchor through both historic highs and lows.
On the eve of one of those changes in direction (the aforementioned inauguration), J and I were hosting a friend from out of town and wondering where to take him. There was only one option: Ben's. Where else would we go but U Street, and where else could anyone get a true "taste of the city" but at Ben's Chili Bowl? This is Ben Ali's legacy. He not only added to his community, he has come to define it.
On behalf of a grateful couple of transplants from the West Coast, on behalf of a half-century of full stomachs, on behalf of a city that was able to find its soul through soul food, "Thank you, Ben." Today, we raise our half smokes to you. Rest in peace.