Nationals Park Food, Part One:
The Ben’s Chili Half-Smoke

Ben’s Chili Bowl is a D.C. institution that has survived some hard times in the area. Its founder, Ben Ali, started his own chili business following his inability to finish dental school after falling down a broken elevator shaft. Eventually he turned a pool hall into Ben’s Chili, developed his outstanding spicy chili recipe, and the rest is history.

Ali passed away in October of 2009, but of course his hole in the wall greatness lives on. The Chili Half-Smoke “All The Way” is a sausage that is like a kielbasa (but beefier and spicier), topped with Ben’s famous spicy chili, cheese, onions and mustard. At Nats Park, at least, they are very generous with the chili, and you need a lot of napkins and a spoon, which they did not provide. Fortunately an ice cream stand let me steal one.

I’m not quite a connoisseur of ballpark cuisine, although I’m working on it. But the Ben’s half-smoke may be the tastiest thing I have ever eaten at a ballpark.

Ben’s stands used to get crowded, but they do have four locations in the park now (behind Sections 109 and 140 on the lower level and 301 and 315 on the upper level), so you shouldn’t have to wait too long to get one these days.

I’d even say the All The Way pushes Nationals Park up a notch or two on my favorite ballparks list. I don’t know where I’d rank it overall on my favorites list, but a half-smoke from Ben’s will put me in a good enough mood to maybe put it higher than I might have, before my ballpark-judgment foundations were shaken by a world-class chili dog. Ben’s is uniquely D.C., and uniquely Nationals Park.

They even sell the half-smokes and chili online. It’s a good thing Nats Park has some other cool things going for it.

Ben’s Chili Bowl Website:

Nationals Park Food Part Two: Hard Times Chili Nachos

Note from Kurt: If my sources are correct, Hard Times is no longer at Nats Park, having been replaced by the new and popular Haute Dogs & Fries stand. I don't yet know if it's elsewhere in the ballpark; I will update as soon as I know.

There aren’t many words that water the mouth like “loaded nachos”. The Hard Times people get this.

Hard Times is a D.C. area chain of restaurants best known for their Cincinnati-style chili. It’s a tough call to say whether their chili is better than the stuff slopped on a Ben’s Chili Half-Smoke—I’m not even going to compare (they're very different, I will say that much). But the Hard Times Café stand at Nationals Park, located on the lower level near the left field gate, serves up some pretty mean nachos.

The chips are topped with their spicy Cincinnati chili, shredded cheese (not using that cheese whiz sauce alone is worth a couple extra bucks to me), sour cream, jalapenos and scallions. Near the Hard Time stand is a condiments area that features some unusual additives like Old Bay seasoning, which really works mixed in with the sour cream.

The nice thing about this big plate of nachos is that if you’re munching solo, they’ll take you a long time to eat, which is good during the game when you don’t want to be stuffing yourself with hot dogs.

Like the Ben’s Chili dog, they are pretty spicy though, and if heat isn’t your thing you might want to go with something that doesn’t have chili on it. But if you like your nachos to have some kick to them, and most nacho freaks do, these will definitely work.

Hard Times also has chili dogs, chicken wings and a popular Frito pie, all of which are good. But try the nachos.

Hard Times Cafe website:

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