There are places around DC that you may have heard of or seen pictures of, but you don't really know about. Places that when you see them for the first time you already know, but don't know how or why. Ben's Chili Bowl is one of those places.
The place is almost always packed. Go on a weeknight and you can probably get a table or a stool, but you'll have to wait in line to order before sitting down. Weekends it's standing room only just to order.
That said, I'm not too fond of their chili. It always seems a bit burnt to me and always gives me a stomach ache. But I'm told I need to try their milk shakes.
Recently they've expanded. They have opened a nice sit down restaurant next door called "Ben's Next Door". The front half of the restaurant is a crowded bar area with some small tables along the wall. Once you get past that there's larger tables and you can get away from the bar atmosphere a bit. Seafood is very prominent on the menu, but there's plenty of other stuff for those of use who just don't like seafood. The atmosphere is nicer than at the Chili Bowl. You're not gonna want to wear your sweat pants or paint splattered anything. One might call it snooty compared to the Chili Bowl's diner atmosphere.
But, at last, I can get a good hamburger in my neighborhood. Sure, The Saloon sells burgers, but, unlike the rest of their food, it just doesn't meet my standards. And I like their mulled wine.
Come visit as a tourist and you kind of need to visit Ben's Chili Bowl. Going to eat with your lobbyist friend, go to Ben's Next Door.