Signature Foods – What About DC?

NYC 2009!

New York has hot dogs, apples, and pizza


Boston has baked beans, sam adams, and clam chowdah


Chicago has deep dish pizza, steak, and mixed caramel/cheese popcorn

Philadelphia has cheesesteak sandwiches, water ice, and pretzels
San Francisco has sourdough bread, seafood stew and rice-a-roni (I know, its a faux pas to say that)
Seattle has Starbucks/Seattle’s Best, the birthplace of grunge music, an enormous amount of microbrews, and seafood
LA has Spago’s, high-end hot dogs (Pink’s), and streetside tacquerias (sp?)
Baltimore and Blue crabs are always synonymous
The Carolinas and Kansas city have signature takes on barbecue.

grilling some steak

Smaller cities even have a way of making themselves shine amongst the larger cities:
Amarillo, TX, is home of the 72 oz steak
Buffalo, NY, is home to the buffalo wing, credited to the Anchor Bar for its invention


So what is DC’s signature dish? What food showcases the nation’s capital?

Some would say it is Ben’s Chili Bowl’s Half Smoke. It is one of those safe, consistent go-to foods that is satisfying and delicious. I would definitely agree this is a DC signature for a few reasons: sausage hot dogs are ubiquitous in a lot of cultures (think of any meat stuffed in a bun). Sausage, in itself, is a combination of various parts of meat, sometimes from different animals altogether – a nice cohesion of diversity that helps make it delicious – kind of like our very diverse city. Ben’s chili is also very well spiced, drawing from what seems to be a few cultural sources, another nod to our diversity. The fact that Ben’s is a historically important site in our city that is not related to government or politics or any historical events makes us appreciate it that much more. It has been frequented by locals and big wigs alike – and there are only two people who eat at Ben’s for free: Bill Cosby and President Barack Obama.

Independence Day 2010

Other suggestions for signature DC food have been humorous, but unfortunately weaker candidates than Ben’s Half Smoke:
Pork – because of all the pork barrel spending in congress
Steamed crabs – available on Maine Ave waterfront
Navy Bean Soup – no clue on this one.
Chicken Wings and Mambo sauce – apparently a once popular dish that has lost footing

Ben's chili bowl

Ben Ali and his family kept the restaurant open during DC’s toughest time: the 1968 riots that ensued after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The restaurant was also threated to be closed when the Green Line Metro was constructed there, but they were able to remain open during that time. Now, as the U St. area is growing and becoming a DC hot spot, Ben’s popularity and continued growth appears secure – we shouldn’t worry about our half-smokes disappearing anytime soon.

I definitely believe the Ben’s Chili Bowl Half-Smoke is akin to the Ray’s Pizza of NY, the Pat’s or Gino’s Cheesesteaks of Philly, and any Deep Dish Pizza from Chicago. It is definitely one of the recognizable good eats of DC.

So what else do we have? What foods do you think are signature DC foods? What do you think of Ben’s Half Smoke being the flagship food for DC?

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  1. Kate
    Posted August 31, 2010 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    I second Ben’s Chili Bowl! Although something I’ve seen in DC but never anywhere else is grape jelly on egg sandwiches. I will also cast a vote for Julia’s!

    Navy Bean Soup is served in the Senate Dining Room…not as delicious as I had hoped.

  2. Posted September 1, 2010 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    grape jelly on egg sandwich? where do i try this interesting pairing? i think taking the first bite is going to be the most difficult

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