One recent morning before heading out the door, I grabbed my coat and… whoa—was that DC-3 I smelled? Although the lingering aroma of hot grease was very subtle, it brought on a flashback from my youth.

During my senior year at an Eastern Shore high school, I needed work badly. At the same time, a local fast food joint was desperate for an employee with the remedial math skills necessary to supplement a broken cash register. For 12 hours a day, I sat in Booth No. 1, stealing fish sandwiches, making change in my head, and begging girls in convertibles to steal me away to the beach on weekends.

After a shift, whether in the bottom of a hamper, or on the floor in the corner, my uniform was sufficiently disgusting to warrant Superfund status from the Environmental Protection Agency. To be fair, DC-3 never came close to this level of stench, but it made me think about other restaurants that make me want to reference old Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes after a visit.

If there was some way of crowning a king of local restaurant odors that tend to stick with you, Honey Pig Gooldaegee Korean Grill in Annandale would be a fierce competitor. The remnants from all those smoking Korean barbecue grills warrant more than the protection of thin aprons hanging on the walls that customers can wear while eating. They should hand out ponchos.

Ben’s Chili Bowl would also be a top contender. Last year, I spent an hour inside the U Street NW shrine, first standing in a long snaking line and then sitting on a bar stool. Between the splattering sizzle of half-smokes, stewing chili, deep-fried potatoes, and the odorous bouquet only 52 years of history can muster, you’d need a HAZMAT suit to keep from smelling like you’ve worked a double shift at a Burger King.

Working that fast-food job in high school, I found out that grease isn’t very sexy. I never did talk a girl into whisking me away to Ocean City. In fact, until now, I have never admitted working that job.

I could hold out, hoping some of my fat-laden, grease-soaked favorite joints invest in better ventilation—I’m sure their employees would be thankful—but I don’t think that’s very likely. Until then, I guess, I’ll buy some Febreze.

Photo by Scott Reitz