Washington, DC. is a great town with some very expensive cuisine, but Washingtonians know better than to eat in those overpriced, though fantastic, restaurants. Despite the fact that DC. isn’t really known for “street food” as such, you’re still bound to get a culinary adventure that you can enjoy outdoors if you so choose.
I grew up in the Washington D.C. area and aside from the “A Taste of DC” festival there really isn’t much of a street food culture in DC. However there are some amazing places where you can buy what I like to call “portable food” and I’d like to share some of these places with you.
If this is your first trip to Washington or your hundredth trip to Washington, then you have to go to Ben’s Chili Bowl 1213 U Street, North West.
Although Ben’s isn’t much to look at from the outside, it has a great vibe on the inside. Ben’s is not a recreation of something from the past, Ben’s is the real thing.
The doors first opened during the Eisenhower administration in 1958 and Ben’s has seen some tough times like the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 and the subsequent riots that ensued.
In fact, Ben’s Chili Bowl was one of the few businesses in Washington that were allowed to stay open after Stokely Carmichael from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which was located across the street at the time, obtained special police permission to allow Ben’s to stay open well into the night so that Ben’s could provide food and shelter for activists, firefighters and public servants who were doing everything in their power to bring back order in the streets.
That’s not to say that the restaurant only remembers bad times because it was not uncommon to see luminaries like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bill Cosby enjoying some of Ben’s truly heavenly Chili.
Bill Cosby and several hundred of his closest friends attended Ben’s Chili Bowl 45th anniversary in August 2003.
For the sake or argument lets say that you are not in the mood for chili or you simply don’t like chili and there’s no way to convince you to try Ben’s.
Well, I think Washington has something for everybody including those with finicky taste.
The Washington Post reports:
“The District has authorized 21 new food vendor carts in an attempt to diversify the city’s street food offerings. Of those, 14 have settled on locations and, once they open for business, will sell a range of foods, including pizza, kebabs, soul food and Korean barbecue. In a spot check on Friday, only two — a Korean barbecue cart and Delle & Campbell’s Halal Luncheonette — were operating so far.”
You see, Washington never really had a street food culture so aside from the reported vendor carts you’re going to have to settle for an uninspired hot dog if you really want to limit your culinary treasure hunt to the strictest definition of street food.
However, if you’re willing to bend the rules a little bit, then I would suggest another Washington DC institution. It’s located right near Capital Hill so you won’t have far to walk to enjoy some of the tours. The name of this restaurant is the “Tune Inn” and it’s been there since the 1940s or early 1950s.
The “Tune Inn” makes some sinfully delicious cheese fries along with probably the best cheese sticks I’ve ever had and as far as the main course I recommend ordering a BLT. If you’ve never had the “Tune Inn’s” BLT then you’ve simply never had a BLT.
If BLTs aren’t your thing, then feel free to order up some burgers, they taste the way a hamburger is supposed to taste. You’ll enjoy the burgers because these are the real thing instead of their fast food cousins.
The Tune Inn is located at:
331 Pennsylvania Ave SE
Washington, DC 20003-1148
All in all, Washington is full or restaurants for every budget imaginable and if you do some exploring on foot you’ll probably find a restaurant that has it’s own comparable history to Ben’s “Chili Bowl” or “The Tune Inn”.
You really can’t go wrong no matter where you end up dining because it’s going to be good.
Competition in Washington is alive and well and since the city is also the Nation’s Capitol it spurs the restaurant owners to serve the highest quality food they can
I should have known better then to write this article in the middle of the night because now I’ve made myself hungry but frankly I hope I’ve made you hungry too.