man v foodThere are some food-focused TV shows we love, like Top Chef, No Reservations, and America’s Test Kitchen.  And there are others whose premise we’re not entirely on board with…Bizarre Foods, I’m looking at you.

Until recently, Man versus Food fell squarely into that second category.  There was something about the idea of a guy repeatedly taking on “big eater” type challenges that seemed unnecessary at best and unhealthy at worst.

But then I actually bothered to watch an episode or two (okay, it may have been a marathon) and found a show that was part travelogue, part comedy…and part “big eater” challenge.  It was more than I had guessed it would be, and I found myself liking host Adam Richman’s enthusiasm, humor and outsized personality.  He was more than just a host; he came across as a cheerleader for wherever he was visiting.

RichmanIn each episode, Richman takes viewers to a couple of honest-to-goodness local establishments before taking on his challenge.  It may be a lunch counter or a burger joint, but it’s always the kind of place that locals hate to see revealed on national television.

And then I heard Man v. Food would be filming in DC – and in our neighborhood, no less!  The epsiode aired last night, and we tuned in to see a couple of Washington’s landmark dining spots.

Details on the episode and highlights from Ben’s Chili Bowl and Horace & Dickies after the jump. (more…)

anthony_bourdain_no_reservations_on_the_travel_channelWith all eyes on Washington for the inauguration, the Travel Channel couldn’t have picked a better time to air the new episode of No Reservations that Anthony Bourdian filmed here in DC last July.  As promised, we’ve been sorting through the rumors about where Bourdain ate and who he hung out with – and I have to say, our commenters got his itinerary pretty well mapped out!

In advance of the episode’s airing next Monday night, the folks at the Travel Channel reached out to us with a few goodies to share – including a clip of the scene in Ben’s Chili Bowl and a poster signed by Bourdain himself.  Want to win it?  Enter the contest at the end of this post.

Sure, Bourdain hit Ben’s Chili Bowl (he even acknowledges that just about EVERY food and/or travel show that has ever done a piece on DC has pulled up a stool at their iconic counter), but he did it in the company of one of DC’s premier writers: George Pelecanos.  Pelecanos’ love for Ben’s is well-known, and Nizam Ali couldn’t help spilling the beans about their visit when we sat down to talk about Next Door back in December.

Check out Bourdain in Ben’s and the inside scoop on where else he’ll be chowing down after the jump.


open-table-sold-outIf you’re a foodie making your way to Washington for President-Elect Obama’s inauguration next week, you’ve probably already seen plenty of suggestions on the best of the best restaurants here in DC – Komi, CityZen, Citronelle, Minibar.

Rather than wasting your time with gushing descriptions of places that have been completely booked for a month or more, we’re here to help you seek out a few foodie experiences that are representative of Washington’s dining scene.  While you’re here, check out:

  • Ethiopian cuisine – The Washington area is home to more than 200,000 Ethiopians, giving us the largest Ethiopian population in the United States.  And Ethiopian cuisine, with its injera bread and complex spices, is an experience not to be missed by true foodies.  For an authentic taste of Ethiopia, check out one of the numerous restaurants clustered along 9th and U Streets, NW.  Popular choices include Dukem, Madjet and Zed’s, but we can personally vouch for the great flavors at Etete.  Their kitfo – a spicy minced beef dish served raw, medium, or well done – is a great introduction to the heat of most Ethiopian cuisine, and it is complemented nicely by tej, a traditional Ethiopian honey wine.  Most of the Ethiopian places in Washington will accept reservations, but you should also be able to score a table if you walk in.

1942 9th Street, NW
(202) 232-7600
Etete on Urbanspoon

  • Local, sustainable, organic, farm-t0-table – Is anyone surprised that food and politics mix here in the nation’s capital?  One of the biggest trends on the DC dining scene lately has been a push for more ethical dining options.  At places like Restaurant Nora, which has been serving primarily organic cuisine for more than a decade, this is hardly news.  But for many other restaurants the move to sustainable seafood, locally (and humanely) raised meats and in-season vegetables is a revelation that local foodies have been quick to embrace.  Pass on the Chilean sea bass and seek out a sustainable alternative at restaurants from Dino to Hook.  For a taste of the farm-t0-table scene, check out newcomer Founding Farmers – a restaurant whose commitment to sustainability carries through to its efforts to earn LEED Gold Standard certification.  For the inauguration, their ‘bar chefs’ will be mixing up a number of signature cocktails – including an Obama Sangaree made with Courvoisier Exclusif, Dry Sack sherry, Cointreau Noir, fresh squeezed lemon and orange juices and simple syrup.  Even better – visit the vendors in the East Hall and on the farmers’ line at Eastern Market this weekend and cap off your experience with blueberry pancakes or a crabcake sandwich at the famous Market Lunch.  The crowded space is a favorite among regulars that is not to be missed.

Market Lunch
East Hall at Eastern Market
225 7th Street, SE
(202) 547-8444 
Market Lunch on Urbanspoon

More recommendations for authentic DC foodie experiences after the jump. (more…)

who-eats-free-at-bens<<Update 2:53 – The Washington Post’s Reliable Source is now reporting on Obama’s visit, as well.  They’ve got some additional details and a photo.  Check it out.>>

Sharp-eyed patrons at Ben’s Chili Bowl may have noticed a change to the “Who Eats Free at Ben’s” sign during the election season, when Nizam Ali and his family added “The Obama Family” to the sign that had previously only named Bill Cosby.  But when I sat down with Nizam to take a first look at Next Door, he admitted that the family had not yet paid a visit to Ben’s.

Today President-elect Obama put the sign to the test, showing up for lunch with Mayor Adrian Fenty and surprising everyone at the counter.  They sat at table five in the main dining room, for those who may want to check for crumbs that Barack Obama himself may have touched!

According to Nizam, Obama ordered a chili half-smoke with mustard and onions and a sweet tea.  When he received his order, he asked for (and received) shredded cheese.

And although the staff was quick to point to the sign and offer Obama the free meal they promised, he insisted on doing his part to help stimulate the local economy.  He paid with a $20 bill that the Alis are planning to frame and hang in Ben’s.  Obama was also generous with his time, stepping behind the counter to pose for pictures with staff and generally showing the kind of love for a DC institution that we hope is a sign of good things to come for Washington under the new administration.

next-door-and-bensEarlier this year, Ben’s Chili Bowl celebrated its 50th anniversary – a truly remarkable milestone and a tough act to follow by any measure.  But the Alis are ready to try. 

Brothers Nizam and Kamal, the sons of Ben and Virginia Ali, have been working on a second act for the past two years.  They purchased the adjacent building at 1211 U Street “to ensure the longevity of the Bowl,” allowing them to control what went in next door.  As it turns out, they’ve got a pretty good idea of just what that will be – a bar and restaurant to complement and expand on Ben’s Chili Bowl without compromising the original.

next-door-from-the-frontWorking with their wives, a cousin and a nephew, Nizam and Kamal are in the process of putting the finishing touches on Next Door – a name that pays tribute to Ben’s without forcing the connection.  If you’re expecting an updated version of the Bowl, you’re in for a surprise.  With a 53-foot bar (at one point this spot boasted the longest bar in the city), warm tones on the walls and nine flat-screen TVs throughout the space, this is no Ben’s Redux. 

I had a chance to sit down with Nizam Ali just before the Thanksgiving holiday, and he gave us plenty to look forward to as we await Next Door’s opening some time this month.  Pictures, plans and some Anthony Bourdain gossip after the jump. (more…)

Photo by Ben Schumin, courtesy of Wikimedia

Photo by Ben Schumin, courtesy of Wikimedia

If the half-smoke is Washington’s defining dish, as everyone from the Post Magazine to the Washington City Paper has said time and time again, then Ben’s Chili Bowl is Webster’s dictionary.

Whether you’re a famous celebrity chef or a famous Travel Channel – ummm – traveler, Ben’s is a must.  And considering that Ben’s has been a witness to the past half-century of Washington’s history, is that really a surprise?

This Friday, August 22nd, marks Ben’s Chili Bowl’s fiftieth anniversary, and this icon is throwing open the doors to celebrate with the Washington community in a big way – with an Anniversary Gala Thursday night at the Lincoln Theatre, a Block Party, and an all-day concert at the 9:30 Club.

More about the events, a commemorative book that has just been released, and a few thoughts about the best way to enjoy Ben’s (no, it’s not drunk – though that’s not bad, either) after the jump.