Ben's Chili Bowl is nationally known. After a visit to its location at Reagan National Airport, I understand why.
The classic at Ben's is the half-smoke. It's a form of chili dog that, as it turns out, is a cousin to the New Jersey Texas weiner. The dog is served with mustard, chopped onions, and the chili. Ben's chili is prepared with cumin, which gives it a tangy flavor that I love. The dog's casing gives a healthy snap when you bite into it. I didn't catch any of the smoke flavor but the dog had a great taste and texture.
The surprise star of the meal was the basket of chili cheese fries. That chili really stands out when paired with melted cheese. The fries are both the ideal transport mechanism and a great flavor complement---their starch really matches up well with the chili and cheese. This dish also taught me a valuable lesson. The cheese ladled onto the fries is pretty standard stuff, but the dish wouldn't taste a bit better with organic, farm-to-table cheddar. The simple fact of the fat and protein of the cheese is the ingredient needed to balance out the chili and fries. Sometimes fancy just gets in the way of good.