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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA9) --- Ben's Chili Bowl has been on U Street for more than 50 years. The historical restaurant serves locals and tourists withits signaturechili dogs, half smokes and fries.

Tonight, Ben's Chili Bowl owner, Virginia Ali, celebrated her 80th birthday with hundreds of friends at the Lincoln Theatre next door to her family's restaurant.

Ali is one of the most influential and respected people in town. Locals, tourists, presidents and foreign dignitaries have all savored a half smoke or chili dog.

"I just love this city and I love my community," said Ali.

A few hundred friends, elected leaders gathered at the Lincoln Theatre to share in the festive occasion.

Comedian Bill Cosby, a longtime friend, came to town and served as Master of Ceremonies.

WUSA9's Bruce Johnson also served as a guest host.

Between the laughter and singing, friends expressed their love.

Camille Cosby described Ali as a "consistent" friend of high integrity in her endeavors.

Ali is the "heart and soul of U Street, and consequently of Washington DC," said Bernie Demchek of George Washington University.

"She has a warm heart. She's cared for this city for a long time," said former DC Councilman Kwame Brown.

DC Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilman Jim Graham also showered Ali with compliments.

"I feel so happy, so loved and so blessed," Ali said.

A nearby alleyway will get her name, and today was declared Virginia Ali Day in the District.

Ben's Chili Bowl has grown up from its 'mom and pop' beginnings. The restaurant has branches in Rosslyn, H Street Northeast, andserves as ahighly popular concession standwithinlocal sports stadiums including Nationals Park.

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