There are only a few hours left in National Hot Dog Month 2007, so I thought I would finally get around to comparing Washington D.C. area chili dogs. I think I alluded to this post as far back as last fall, but it was only recently that I got around to visiting all the establishments I intended to profile.
For the purposes of comparison, I ordered the same thing at each of these places, a chili dog with onions.
Ben’s Chili Bowl – $3.45
For nearly 50 years this hole in the wall has served D.C.’s U Street, surviving the 1968 riots and the Green Line construction. Bill Cosby makes it a point to stop here when he is in town. Politicians make Ben’s a regular campaign stop too.
The frankfurter probably comes in at about 1/4 lb. and is served on a steamed roll with Cincinnati style chili which is spicy and saucy, but not terribly meaty. It has more kick than your average store-brand dog. I enjoy them here, but find that the roll tends to get soggy and I’m not big on Cincy chilly, which works better on a half-smoke.
Other notes: The fries are generally tasteless and limp. The dining area can get awfully humid. The location is great though, just across the street from the U Street Metro. Its worth the trip to see an old school District institution and to get a half-smoke, but not so much the chili dog.
Vienna Inn – under $2
Since 1960 The Vienna Inn has been serving chili dogs and cold, frosty draft Budweiser. I have been going there for years.
A chili dog at the Inn goes for a mere $1.50 or $1.75, I cannot remember specifically. They are so cheap because the dogs are really small, barely the length of the bun. The quality of the dog isn’t super, but it is tasty in part because it is cooked in Bud. The chili is spicy with finely ground beef. It isn’t too saucy, so there is meat in every bite. The dogs go down easy, so it isn’t unheard of to eat several of them in a sitting.
Other notes: The original owner, the late Mike Abraham, called The Vienna Inn just a “crummy beer joint” and in a lot of ways he was right. Since the place changed hands the windows and doors have been upgraded (probably brought up to code) and the waitresses are not nearly as surly. The service is still not fantastic, but that is part of the experience. The fries are shoestring with spices on them and are quite good.
Hard Times Cafe – $6.79
A local chain of chili joints with locations in Old Town, Clarendon, and elswhere. They have been around as far back as I can remember.
Of all the places surveyed, Hard Times has the highest quality ingredients. The all beef dogs are big at 1/4 lb. and they have Texas chili. There is a Cincinnati style as well.
Other notes: Tasty fries come with a chili dog. The interior of the Old Town location is rustic looking with lots of wood, an appropriate ambiance for a chili joint.
Weenie Beanie (no Web site) – around $2
Weenie Beanie was once a local chain, but only one remains.
I finally hit Weenie Beanie, a tiny little store at the end of the W&OD trail in Shirlington recently. The dogs are normal sized and cooked split before being filled with chili and onions. This works well as it really lets the different ingredients combine while you are eating. The chili isn’t very meaty though and the serving wouldn’t be called generous, but it is still tasty.
Other notes: One of the tracks on Foo Fighters first album is named “Weenie Beanie,” allegedly a tribute to this tiny take-out place. There is a day labor site right next to Weenie Beanie. Half-smokes are also popular, but I haven’t tried one there yet.
It is tough to decide between the Vienna Inn and Hard Times for my favorite. While Hard Times is higher quality, the Vienna Inn has a sentimental advantages. I would put Weenie Beanie over Ben’s because I am not very enthusiastic about Cincinnati chili.
Someday, I’ll do a similar entry about half-smokes.