A Daily Dose of Zen Sarcasm!

Chili Con Gratitude

According to trusty Wikipedia, the geographical center of Washington DC is not the Capitol –from whence the streets get their East, South, North and Westerly denominations, and therefore a likely candidate.  It is to be found at the messy intersection of New York Avenue NW, 4th street NW and L Street NW, a little over a mile off.

I’m not making that up, actually– that is a pretty messy intersection.  I went through it a couple of days ago and since it’s essentially a six-way stop across a very large avenue (I was on 4th), you can’t really tell where exactly you’ll be turning and which is which street.  Frankly, that is one of my least favorite parts of DC: figuring out which street is one-way and which one is one-way for just ONE block and then turns into a one-way the other way. 

It makes me squirm, and not in the good way.


Wikipedia may have the geographical center of the city nice and crisp and correct.  After all, it is run by total über geeks, and those weirdos are way hard up about getting their little facts straight.

Maybe I should get paid by Wikipedia for all the typos I’ve corrected on their pages, come to think of it.

But I digress: geographical center, shmeographical center.  I ask you: where is the heart of DC, then?  Does this infinitely transient, supremely self-absorbed and astonishingly materialistic, power-drunk city actually have a heart?

I believe I found it, blog friends: the heart of this city is slightly under two miles away from its true center, a little to the north and west– which makes it look slightly like DC has situs inversus but, really, who cares– in a small, delicious, happy place called Ben’s Chili Bowl.


I’m not the first nor the last to write an ode or a paean to Ben’s Chili Bowl: instead I realize that I’m joining the throng in praising a place that for the past forty-nine years has done something so right that it still stands in its unassuming location on U street, beckoning the hungry and serving amazingly delicious and flavorful food with a smile.

The walls of the place are lined with all manner of illustrious visitors, along with less-recognizable folks: friends and family and appreciative diners.  But that is not the first thing you see, of course:  this is not a boastful place by any means.  However, there is Bill Cosby smiling from the walls –who courted his wife in that very place when he was a student at Howard– and Mayor-For-Life Marion Barry looking down at you rubbing frames with Bono and with Mayor Anthony Williams and with The Orioles and Hillary Clinton.  In short, everyone who longs to be someone –and many someones who want to be reminded of it– have made the pilgrimage to this place.

But you ask, "What IS the first thing you see, then?"

Well, I will tell you: it’s either the menu, hovering above the open kitchen, or it’s the warm smiles and helpful attitude of the whole staff.  It’s really that simple.


I am not sure what I wish to accomplish telling you how good Ben’s Chili Bowl is, really.  I guess we had such a lovely time there –the people and the food are lovely, really.  It was refreshing to see an establishment doing things the way they are supposed to be done, for a change: serving good food and treating people nicely.  You feel loved and wanted and nurtured there.  When you leave, people say a fond goodbye and without actually saying so, they beckon you to return. 

And going on the 24th of December, well…. let’s just say that it felt like a Christmas Eve miracle.

I hope your Christmas felt as good as a chili half-smoke, Internets.  Happy second day of Christmas, and may your true love give you two turtle doves –preferably made of bone china, instead of the real item.

Unless you’re into birds, that is.

This entry was published on December 26, 2007 at 9:02 pm and is filed under DC Dukkha, Onerous Onomastics. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “Chili Con Gratitude

  1. I was reading this post to my son and his girlfriend, who live in DC but are visiting us here in California for Christmas. She totally vouched for everything you said about Ben’s Chili Bowl.

  2. I’ve eaten there! And it is everything you say.
    Bah. Now I’m hungry.

  3. Sounds great — If I ever make it there, look it up. Me getting that far away from home isn’t likely, though. *sigh* traveling just doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me!

  4. As long as I lived in the District and the nearly 14 years spent in the near-suburbs, I have yet to eat there… maybe I should do something about that.
    Oh, and regarding gifts from my love, I DID get a Turtledove… a nove by Harry Turtledove, which was one of the books on my list!
    Beat that.

  5. Chili Con Gratitude

    Bookmarked your post over at Blog Bookmarker.com!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: