Nowadays, when you think of D.C., you can’t help but have flashbacks of inauguration weekend, President Obama, and for us foodies, Ben’s Chili Bowl.
For many native Washingtonians, “Ben’s” is a cornerstone of the city, and rightly so. The diner, which opened its doors in 1958 under husband and wife Ben and Virginia Ali, survived the riots of 1968 and the recent gentrification of the U Street neighborhood.
Today, with a blessing from a certain president, the restaurant is buzzing. Lines have reached an all-time high, extending out the door, down the block and around the corner. Simply put, business is good. So good, in fact, that the Ali’s have expanded their business next door, literally. This past January, sons Kamal and Nizam opened Ben’s Next Door, a fine dining restaurant and bar. Next Door is equipped with a hostess, a fully decked bar (where you’ll find the chili dogs and fries), plasma TVs , and, oh, did we mention the executive chef just happens to be Rahman “Rock” Harper, the season three winner of Hell’s Kitchen?
So, what can you expect from Ben’s kid sister? Well, there’s definitely nothing stuffy about Next Door; just lavish dining in a laid-back and friendly environment (the manager personally greeted me at the door).
The menu, although small, gives an eclectic mix of southern and soul food cuisine. Entrées range from $17 to $24 and include authentic southern dishes like braised beef short ribs with vanilla scented white sweet potatoes and crisp onion rings or classic roasted chicken with rosemary maple sauce served with caramelized shallot quinoa and green beans.
With entrées on the pricier side, I’d suggest duking it out with two starters. My personal favorites: Rock’s Crab Cakes ($13) and the Seared Sea Scallop Potato Cake ($9). Crab cakes can be a hit or miss, but Next Door gets it just right: fluffy and lightly battered. The loads of crab are accompanied by a zesty, not-too-sour cream remoulade, which pretty much sealed the deal. The tender, seared scallops were definitely an added bonus and left nothing to be desired. All in all, next time I travel to D.C., I’ll be making another trip Next Door.