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With Hurricane Irene dampening festivities surrounding the District’s new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, Rolling Stone heads over to the next-best setting to chat about racial politics: Ben’s Chili Bowl. (The U Street institution, an “instant bestower of local credibility,” is ranked No. 9 on City Paper‘s list of “D.C.’s 44 Most Powerful Restaurants.”) Among the many insights gleaned from customers at the restaurant, Pittsburgh native Andrew Thomas bluntly sums up the psychogeographic importance of the place: “If you lived here for more than two years and don’t know of this place, then something’s wrong.” Thomas’ favorite dish? “The half-smoked, of course. What kind of question is that? [Laughing].”

Photo by Chris Shott