Ben’s Chili Bowl, the iconic fast-food restaurant founded on U Street in D.C., expanded into Northern Virginia with a grand opening celebration on March 6 at its new location on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington.
The ribbon was cut by Bill Cosby and owner Virginia Ali, who stood proudly with her sons as their family restaurant made history. Ali and her late husband Ben opened the original location in 1958. The new restaurant is located in the Colonial Village Shopping Center, a short distance from Arlington National Cemetery.
Cosby, a long-time friend of the Ali family, joked that the location was perfect for him. At 76, he said he was comforted by the fact that the restaurant is located near Arlington National Cemetery, where he’s eligible for burial as a U.S. Navy vet. Having the restaurant near the cemetery would keep him from having to fly “all the way over to U Street” for an after-midnight meal, he told the crowd to laughter and applause, according to media reports.
He said such visitors as Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, who commanded Black troops in Europe during World War II, are also likely to pay late-night visits to the restaurant, which will be open until 4:30 a.m. daily.
“We will be having a good time,” he said, according to media reports. “Because in that cemetery there is no cholesterol. There’s no triglycerides. Eat as many as you like. Double down on the cheese and the fries. A lot of people may not go to heaven, because this is heaven.”
The opening of the restaurant, known for its chili, burgers and half-smokes, drew hundreds of diners who stood in a long line for their chance to partake of the restaurant’s famous offerings. Ben’s is a popular spot on U Street, drawing long-time Washington-area residents and tourists alike. A sign on the front of the D.C. restaurant identifies it as “A Washington Landmark.”
The restaurant also takes its act on the road with trucks that serve food at tourist spots around the city. Ali and her sons plan to open other locations on H Street and at Reagan National Airport this year.