The best food, drinks and snacks at 3 new wave food halls around DC
Roaming Rooster Chicken Sandwiches. Photo courtesy of Roaming Rooster.
It wasn’t that long ago if you were an up-and-coming chef looking to grab people’s attention, you’d have a food truck and start launching your 20 flavors of Mac and Cheese. These days, emerging talent is more likely to be found in a dining room. Or a place called one.
The definition of the food hall has been broadened in recent years, especially during the pandemic. While the term may recall pioneers like the Eastern Market and the DC Union Market, it is now used to describe several types of places. Some are tiny. Some have contactless take-out lockers. Some have white-heated restaurants. (Have you tried walking into Caruso’s grocery store lately?) One thing these next-gen food halls have in common: They’re more likely to be filled with bars, taquerias, and pizzerias than with the butchers, cheese makers and grocery stores of yesteryear.
The range of choices can be overwhelming. But eating can be delicious. Here’s where to start.
1401 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
District: Capitol Hill / East Hill.
Opened in: September.
Who is behind: The Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which operates several restaurants and bars, including Navy Yard’s Bluejacket, Arlington’s Rustico, and Dupont Circle’s Iron Gate.
What you will find: A mix of friendly stalls (slice pizza, custard sundaes) and less seen offerings (a low-alcohol beer garden, a Scandinavian counter). Out the back, a shop cheers on DC with district card combinations, neighborhood posters, and locally made bath salts and dog biscuits.
Number of suppliers: 11.
How it works: If you’re dining in the cool mid-century space, which sits at the base of a condominium, you have several options. You can go to many counters (not all of them allow it yet), order online, or grab a table, where you can snack on any of the menus, get full service, and pay on one tab. Pickup and delivery are also available.
Daytime scene: Many stalls only open at 4 a.m. a week. Still, the handful of options available, along with Cameo, a cafe, draw lunchers to the many bar stools and green leather stands. On the weekends, when everything opens early, this is a great place to take a stroll.
Dinner destination: Caruso’s Grocery, the cozy Italian-American restaurant attached to the dining room, is one of the hottest tables in town.
Best breakfast: Leni’s bratwurst and egg sandwich.
Best lunch / dinner: Slice Joint Square Pepperoni Pizza; Red Apron burgers and cold cuts; Gusseted Sushi Rolls from Ako, a sushi counter from the siblings behind the Gaithersburg hit Kenaki.
Best snack: Crystal shrimp dumplings and rolls from Yoko & Kota, the stand run by chef Maketto Erik Bruner-Yang.
Where (and what) to drink: Shelter is all about low-alcohol beers, and Show of Hands has an inventive drink list, including tasty concoctions like frozen rum and lime riesling.
Meals suitable for children: Orange Soda Braised Queso and Carnitas or Crispy Beef Tacos from Hi-Fi Taco.
Dessert solution: Flights of three miniature ice cream sundaes at State Fair.
Car park: Surrounded by numerous paid parking lots on the street.
1280 Fourth Street, NE
District: Union market.
Opened in: September 2019.
Who is behind: Edens, the developer who created the neighboring Union market.
What you will find: The market, which took a long time to fill, now boasts a vibrant lineup of Latin merchants – local and imported talent from Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and beyond.
Number of suppliers: 13.
How it works: Order in person at individual businesses or scan QR codes located in the Marketplace to order online. Some restaurants offer delivery. If you stick around, you’ll find a variety of seating: communal and individual tables indoors and outdoors, outdoor lounge seating for sipping and listening to live music on weekends, and bars and restaurants with terraces.
Dinner destination: Chief “Juanma ”Barrientos The Michelin-starred Colombian hotspot, El Cielo, offers a la carte and 20-course tasting menu ($ 228 per person).
Best breakfast: Make it one two: drop by President Biden-approved Las Gemelas Taqueria for breakfast tacos over heirloom corn tortillas – we love green chorizo or carnitas and eggs. Then, get your caffeine fix from Panamanian coffee company Café Unido, known for their luxury Geisha coffees and funky fermented infusions.
Best lunch / dinner: The pupusa trio at La Casita — grilled to order and generously stuffed with toppings such as fleur de loroco, fried pork, beans and / or cheese; Peruvian brothers spiced roast chicken, served with yuca fries and an avocado-quinoa salad, all paired with a cold Cusqeña beer or a bottle of Peruvian wine from the pan-Latin wine shop Grand Cata.
Best snack: Fresh crisps and guacamole and nueces (spicy peanuts with lime) from Las Gemelas; pandebono (Colombian cheese bread) in Serenata.
Where (and what) to drink: It’s fun to go around the market. Our perfect evening: (1) a fruity and effervescent cocktail at the Spritz by Serenata outdoor cart, (2) a spicy pineapple margarita with togarashi salt at Serenata’s spacious indoor bar, (3) anything with mezcal of Las Gemelas Cocina indoor / outdoor Mexicana, served with delicious crudos or a slice of pork belly rubbed with achiote and drizzled with honey.
Meals suitable for children: Tequeños (Venezuelan crispy cheese sticks) and Latin-style hot dogs from Mosaico by Arepa Zone.
Dessert solution: On a hot day, the all-natural Mexican paleta (popsicle) Jarabe Gourmet Pops stand is our stop for flavors like watermelon-lime and chocolate ganache. Looking for a gourmet gift? Clever Venezuelan seller Arcay chocolates is the way forward.
Car park: Free outdoor parking around the Union Market area, or underground parking at La Cosecha (first three hours free).
4856 Cordell Ave., Bethesda
District: Bethesda city center.
Opened in: March.
Who is behind: Steve Salis, the restaurateur who owns the Ted’s Bulletin faux-diner chainlet and other casual spots in and around DC.
What you will find: A take-out-only mini-dining room that is a distillation of Salis’ comfort-oriented concepts. So, you’ll see Ted’s pop-tarts alongside pulled pork sandwiches from the Federalist Pig barbecue destination, fried chicken from Honeymoon Chicken, and a short list of pastries courtesy of his. Sidekick Bakery, all in one place.
Number of suppliers: Four.
How it works: Order through the app or the food court website, then collect your selections by scanning a QR code and opening a heated locker. (A member of staff is available to help you.) You can also have a delivery.
Daytime scene: While a few items are available for purchase on the spot, such as cookies and drinks, this is a place of entry and exit – an automaton for the 21st century. It looks like a stylish version of an airport locker room.
Best breakfast: Ted’s giant burrito, stuffed with eggs and jalapeño / cheese sausage and topped with avocado cream and green chili sauce. It is served all day.
Best lunch / dinner: fried chicken sandwich topped with coleslaw; Ted’s Greek salad; Federalist pork ribs, wings and smoked turkey sandwich.
Best snack: Honeymoon Honey Butter Rolls.
Where (and what) to drink: The alcohol-free range includes canned lattes, canned water and subtly sweet fruit sodas.
To cook at home: Ted’s $ 50 brunch kits, which include scrambled eggs; bacon or sausage; pancakes or French toast; and four pop pies.
Meals suitable for children: Honeymoon Fried Corns, Ted’s Mac & Cheese.
Dessert solution: These pop tarts can be quite dry, so grab a chocolate chip cracker instead.
Car park: There is a small lot with parking meter right next to it.
This article appears in the July 2021 issue of Washingtonian.