by Andrew Ramonas September 20, 2016 at 10:00 am 0

Fried oysters po' boy (Photo via Facebook/Ben's Upstairs)

(Updated at 2:55 p.m.) The bar and restaurant above the Ben’s Chili Bowl on the H Street corridor has a new name after about a year in business.

Ten 01 (1001 H St. NE), which the owners of Ben’s Chili Bowl opened last fall, is now Ben’s Upstairs. The switch officially happened over the weekend, Ben’s spokesman Manuel Iguina said.

“As part of the Ali family’s full service restaurant group, it became obvious that an address name,’ was not inclusive,” Iguina said in an email. “The full service restaurants are either ‘Ben’s Next Door’ or now ‘Ben’s Upstairs’ and reflect that they are part of the overall family brand.”

Ben’s Upstairs bills itself on its website as “Southern with a splash of Caribbean.”

The restaurant has a fried green tomato BLT ($12), fried oysters po’ boy ($12), jerked salmon ($21) and meat loaf ($19), among other dishes.

“We are all very exited and cant wait to share food, fun, and good times with the neighborhood,” Iguina said.

Ten 01 served jerked salmon, but few of the other items at Ben’s Upstairs.

The old restaurant said on its website it had “spirited and creative food,” including a pork belly sandwich and shrimp and half-smoke corn dogs, which have disappeared from the menu.

Photo via Facebook/Ben’s Upstairs

by Tim Regan August 19, 2016 at 3:45 pm 1 Comment


U Street’s landmark eatery will celebrate its 58th birthday with a talent show and some giveaways tomorrow.

Ben’s Chili Bowl (1213 U St. NW) plans to host a talent show with games, prizes, music, the NatMobile “and a few surprises” at the restaurant tomorrow at noon, according to a press release.

The event invites locals of all ages to take the stage and “show us your talent” by singing, dancing, telling jokes or doing whatever it is they do best. The winner of the talent show will get $58 for every minute of their performance, up to five minutes, organizers said. Second- and third-place participants get $58.

Keeping with the pattern, the first 58 people through the door and anyone born in 1958 will receive a free half-smoke. Attendees will also be able to win free Nationals tickets during the event, said Ben’s Chili Bowl co-owner Vida Ali.

“We are humbled by all the love and support we received over the 58 years and feel proud to be part of the community,” Ali added.

by Tim Regan April 6, 2016 at 5:05 pm 0

Comedian Kevin Hart apparently spent some quality time with Ben’s Chili Bowl owner Virginia Ali earlier today.

The landmark U Street restaurant tweeted about Hart’s visit this evening.

“[Kevin Hart] brought his star power to The Bowl!” Ben’s tweeted. “Virginia Ali had a great time chatting with him.”


by Tim Regan March 2, 2016 at 3:30 pm 0

How do you eat a Ben’s Chili Bowl half smoke?

According to a new video released by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, there’s a right way to do it. At least, that’s what George Washington University staffer and Ben’s Chili Bowl historian Dr. Bernard Demczuk says in an interview with the council’s “Queen of Wein,” Janet Riley.

“It really saddens me to see people eating their chili dog and spilling the sauce all over the place,” Demczuk says in the video.

According to the expert, the proper way to eat a half smoke and avoid “sauce slippage” involves a six-step process. Of course, we made each step into its own informative GIF:


by Tim Regan November 3, 2015 at 2:00 pm 0


You might be able to run six and a half miles, but can you run another six and a half after choking down a piping hot half-smoke from Ben’s Chili Bowl?

That’s what local runners will discover during the annual 13-mile “Half and Half” race this Saturday at 8 a.m.

During the first leg of the race, participants will run along Rock Creek, dart through Adams Morgan, detour through Dupont and finally stop at Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street.

Then, as Borderstan contributor Kelsey Flora chronicled after running the half-marathon in 2012, racers will wolf down a half-smoke doused with chili, onions and mustard — plus a bag of chips — as fast as humanly possible.

Runners, freshly stuffed with sausage and chili, must then finish the course backwards and uphill … and attempt to keep the half-smoke down the entire time.

Those wishing to witness the fun can fill out a volunteer form to help with the race.

by Andrew Ramonas October 23, 2015 at 11:55 am 3 Comments

Ben's Chili Bowl mural on Oct. 19

When a North Korean dictator temporarily ousted an American comedian accused of rape from a mural on Ben’s Chili Bowl earlier this week, some people cheered. Others weren’t as pleased.

Though many have agreed the Cosby mural needs to go, some criticized the pasted-on art as being unfair to the artist who painted the mural, Aniekan Udofia. During a “Kojo Nnamdi Show” interview earlier this week, Udofia said he was upset that the street artist affixed a grinning visage of Kim Jong Un over Cosby’s face, calling it “disrespectful.”

Smear Leader, the artist who defaced Udofia’s mural, told Washingtonian the art was a “success,” and that his aim was to generate discussion about Cosby’s place on the mural, not diss a respected local muralist.

But even some who loudly criticize the Cosby mural don’t agree with Smear Leader’s approach.

Devin Boyle, who wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for the controversial mural to be painted over and launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to help fund a replacement work of art, said defacing the mural was “counterproductive” to bringing about change.

“At the end of the day, he is someone [the owners] have respected for so long,” said Boyle, a 30-year-old public relations professional who lives on U Street.

What do you think? Do you back the street artist who defaced the Cosby mural at Ben’s, or do you think the act was disrespectful to the muralist? Weigh in by voting in the poll and telling us what you think in the comments.

by Tim Regan October 19, 2015 at 12:10 pm 7,364 3 Comments

Ben's Chili Bowl hit by Smear Leader

(Update at 5:44 p.m.: The Kim Jong Un face has been removed.)

The Bill Cosby mural at Ben’s Chili Bowl has been defaced. As in, literally.

A street artist going by the name “Smear Leader”affixed the grinning visage of Kim Jong Un on top of Cosby’s head some time within the past 24 hours. The artist took credit for the piece earlier today on Instagaram.

“Instead of looking at a sexual predator, people can celebrate in jubilation that the great leader is now on the their wall,” the post reads. “Eat sh-t Cosby.”

Why Kim Jong Un? As detailed in a recent interview with The Daily Beast, vandalizing things with Kim Jong Un’s face is kind of Smear Leader’s thing.

We reached out to Smear Leader via e-mail earlier today. This afternoon, he responded:

“I drew the original piece but get them printed now due to the overwhelming demand for them on our site,” he said. “We have them posted all over the world from Australia, Kazakstan, South Korea, Russia, Brazil, you name it, the Leader is somewhere smiling.”

When asked whether he was afraid of being identified on the eatery’s security cameras, Smear Leader said, “as far as the security camera thing goes, I was aware of that but the fact that they still have that monster Cosby up on their mural is a risk worth taking.

Smear Leader continues: “It’s even more of an outrage that they have said nothing and distanced themselves from the situation that a man used his power to take advantage and sexually assault over 35 women. If you had a friend who did this, would you do the same thing?”

“Why Kim Jong Un?” he added. “The man is happily married with a  beautiful daughter and works to make a better life for his people. Some may disagree but between the two of them in comparison to one another but it’s not even a debate. Cosby is Slime and as long as Ben’s allows his face to be up there, they don’t have the right to be upset at ANY criticism coming their way.”

A representative from Ben’s Chili Bowl was not available to comment.

by Borderstan Contributor October 19, 2015 at 10:30 am 4 Comments

Cosby mural at Ben's

Borderstan periodically publishes opinion pieces from the people in our community. Have something you want to share with your neighbors? Email us at [email protected].

by Kevin Rooney from U Street Buzz

After everything we have heard, it is virtually certain that Bill Cosby is the monster his accusers say he is, or at least that is the judgement of the court of public opinion. And I concur. Given this, it strikes many as incomprehensible that his likeness is still on the Ben’s Chili Bowl mural by renowned D.C. artist Aniekan Udofia (the mural also features President Obama, Chuck Brown and Donnie Simpson).

This bewilderment, or even anger, is certainly understandable, but the decision on whether and when to remove Cosby should be made solely by Ben’s Chili Bowl proprietors Virginia Ali and her family.

Devin Boyle, the author of this opinion piece in the Washington Post, shows no awareness of why Cosby was honored there in the first place, nor any empathy for the exceedingly difficult position that the Ali family are now in.

It is not defending Cosby, minimizing his crimes, nor insensitive to his victims to point out that while we now know he was a serial sexual predator, he also helped Ben and Virginia Ali a great deal during during some very difficult years for Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street. He contributed his time and the power of his considerable celebrity and, to my knowledge, never asked for anything in return.

That doesn’t make Cosby a saint, obviously, and it doesn’t come close to making up for the unimaginable pain he has caused his many victims. A special place in Hell has a “reserved” sign with his name on it.

I recount the backstory only to provide some context on the tough spot in which the 81-year-old Virginia Ali and her children now find themselves. At what point do you turn your back on a friend who was there for you and your family during difficult times, but who has since turned out to have been a truly awful human being to others? I don’t know the answer, but I do believe that Virginia Ali (and Ben too, if he were still alive) and the family have earned the right to make that decision themselves by virtue of their many, many contributions to this neighborhood and city.

I think that Cosby’s likeness will be removed from the mural someday, and probably someday soon, but the timing won’t and shouldn’t be decided by Devin Boyle or any other self-righteous activist.

And I doubt they’ll need her help painting it over.

Kevin Rooney runs neighborhood news hub U Street Buzz. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

by Tim Regan October 2, 2015 at 12:15 pm 0

ANC 1B Community Heroes Award presentation

Community leaders from ANC 1B honored two Ben’s Chili Bowl cooks last night for saving a man during a violent mugging that occurred in an alley near the restaurant in June.

Ben’s employees Juan Roman Carrosco and Pedro Contreras confronted two attackers as they beat and robbed a man behind the restaurant, reported FOX 5. Armed only with their belts, Carrosco and Contreras charged at the attackers and chased them away. The victim — who has previously gone by the name “Lance,” — later said that, had it not been for Carrosco and Contreras, he could have been seriously injured or even lost an eye.

With Ben’s owner Virginia Ali in the audience, Commissioner John Green, 1B-12, presented the commission’s community heroes award to Carrosco and Contreras during the ANC’s monthly meeting at the Reeves Center.

“There was a man … who was being mugged, violently beaten, by two individuals behind Ben’s Chili Bowl, and these gentlemen stepped in and prevented the crime from becoming much worse,” Green said from the podium.

Green then read a letter addressed from the victim to his saviors.

“Words cannot possibly express my gratitude to the two of you, despite being complete strangers to me,” Lance wrote in the letter.

“I remember grabbing my eye and then seeing blood, and then not being able to open my eye,” Lance continued. “As I looked up in the alley, hunched over, your silhouettes looked like the calvary coming to the rescue. My mother called you angels. At that moment, seeing the two of you running with your belts in the air, chasing the two cowardly thugs. I just remember thinking, thank God it’s over, and I’m okay.”

“These guys have my back,” Lance’s letter concluded. “It was one of the best moments of my life.”

Green read the letter in Spanish and presented copies to Carrosco and Contreras to a thundering round of applause.

Ali, who has previously called her employees “stars,” then spoke up. “Thank you very much,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind if we take them back to their duties,” she joked.

by Sean Meehan October 1, 2015 at 3:50 pm 0

Ben's Chili Bowl eating contest, photo via Ben's Chili BowlPlenty of people love the chili at Ben’s Chili Bowl, but few love it enough to eat nearly two gallons in six minutes.

That’s what it might take to win the fifth annual World Chili Eating Championship — and the $1,750 first place prize that comes with it — at the Taste of D.C. festival on Oct. 10.

The chili-eating competition will kick off on Pennsylvania Avenue NW between 3rd and 7th streets NW at 3 p.m. The contest will be held on the main stage at the center of the festival.

Professional competitive eaters from around the country will compete to unseat reigning champion Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, who won last year by scarfing down 1.87 gallons of chili in six minutes.

Chestnut, of course, is kind of famous for eating a lot. The eating machine won eight consecutive Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contests between 2007 and 2014, and is currently ranked second in the Major League Eating world rankings, which is apparently a real thing.

Two local competitive eaters in the top 10 of the world rankings, fourth-ranked Sonya Thomas of Alexandria and ninth-ranked Juliet Lee of Germantown will also compete for the title of best chili eater.

There will be a second, amateur chili eating contest for members of the armed services at 4:30 p.m. Participants, who can register online until Oct. 5, will represent their branch of the military, proving once and for all which branch has the biggest appetite.

by Tim Regan August 21, 2015 at 10:00 am 0


Local kids can get a free sweet treat in honor of Ben’s Chili Bowl’s 57th anniversary tomorrow.

The eatery located at 1213 U Street NW and famous for its half smokes will give away mini milkshakes to kids 12 and under all day tomorrow. Full-sized milkshakes usually cost $3.55.

When reached by phone earlier, spokeswoman Vida Ali was helping a customer in the restaurant and couldn’t immediately comment.

by Jared Holt July 8, 2015 at 5:00 pm 1 Comment

A U Street landmark has expanded to H Street.

Hundreds of people descended on the H Street corridor today to revel in half smokes and go-go music for the grand opening of the new Ben’s Chili Bowl, reported Borderstan’s sister site HillNow.

Virginia Ali, who opened the original Ben’s on U Street NW with her late husband in 1958, cut the ribbon to open the restaurant at 1001 H St. NE this morning with the help of Mayor Muriel Bowser, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and others.

Ali said opening a restaurant on H Street signifies the neighborhood’s turnaround since riots devastated the area after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

“This area had a downturn after the riots in 1968,” she told Hill Now. “Now it’s in the process of growing, and we’re very happy to be a part of that growth. We’re here to serve a community, to support a community and we anticipate the community here will support us as well.”

Prior to the ribbon cutting, Bowser, Norton, Councilman Charles Allen of Ward 6 and other local officials applauded the Ali family’s focus on local business and community.

“This is a small, family-owned business whose owners call D.C. home and care about what happens here,” Bowser said. “This is a small business who saw other opportunities on H Street and said, ‘Ben’s Chili Bowl needs to be there.'”

Norton said she was excited that H Street not only got a Ben’s, but that they also got a chance to dance along with the go-go music of the Chuck Brown Band before and after the speeches.

“H Street was the heart and is the heart of this community, but it did not arrive until today because only today did it get a Ben’s,” Norton said. “Everybody here knows there will never be enough Ben’s for D.C.”

Inside, the restaurant is filled with mustard-yellow and ketchup-red decorations, a long bar, a handful of booths and a wall of well-known celebrities who have visited the restaurant. Comedian Bill Cosby, who has close ties to the Ben’s chain and helped open its Rosslyn location, didn’t appear among the photos.

Cosby, who has faced allegations that he sexually assaulted women, was in a photo on the wall before the eatery opened, the Washington Post reported. But the photo wasn’t there today.

A line to enter the restaurant began to form at 9 a.m. Mattie Callaham, who lives near the eatery, had the first spot in the line.

“I’ve been going to the U Street one for over 20 years,” Callaham said. “Since I live in this neighborhood, I could walk here, and it wouldn’t be no problem. I just can’t wait to get one of those hot dogs.”

by Tim Regan June 25, 2015 at 1:45 pm 0

Ben’s Chili Bowl is expanding again.

Borderstan’s sister site, Hill Now, reported earlier today that the landmark U Street eatery famous for its chili and half smokes will open a new location on H Street NE in just two weeks.

The store, located at 1001 H St. NE, is slated to open July 8 with a ribbon cutting ceremony and some “special guests,” said Vida Ali, whose family owns the Ben’s Chili Bowl restaurants across D.C.

Local politicians and comedian Bill Cosby have previously attended Ben’s Chili Bowl openings in the past.

Founded in 1958 by Ben and Virginia Ali, Ben’s Chili Bowl locations can be found on U Street NW and in Arlington, as well as at Reagan National Airport, Nationals Park and FedExField.

Photo of Ben’s Chili Bowl interior via Ben’s Chili Bowl

by May 23, 2013 at 6:00 am 0


The diner, redux is by anokarina from the Borderstan Flickr pool.

Photos of the Day are pulled from the Borderstan Reader Photos pool on Flickr.

Today’s photo, The diner, redux is by anokarina. The photo was taken May 10 on U Street NW.

If you don’t already have a Flickr account, you will need to sign up for one, and then join the Borderstan Reader Photos group. Already a Flickr member? Join the group! You can submit up to five photos per day in the Borderstan reader pool. We are looking for photos from DC’s Dupont, Logan and U Street neighborhoods.

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