July 10, 2016
Photo: Courtesy of Takorean Restaurant
Just five years ago, most Washingtonians who had ever been to Union Market probably hadn’t done so intentionally. Sure, restaurateurs were familiar with it as the place to go for wholesale fruits and vegetables, or exotic ingredients not readily available elsewhere in the city. But everybody else likely knew this once obscure cluster of warehouses from passing by on a walk from the NoMa Metro to the Galludet campus. Or maybe they know it from driving by while trying to cut through back roads when New York Avenue was congested. The Market became even less of a destination in fall of 2011, when a fire gutted its main structure.
But EDENS, the real estate group that manages Union Market, responded quickly. Within a few months, the cavernous space was being converted into an airy, modern industrial marketplace. Crowds rushed in quickly, spilling over from nearby H Street (which had itself undergone a recent renaissance), and cafes and food stands set up camp to meet them. Less than four years later, Union Market houses more than forty vendors and is easily one of the District’s most popular destinations for lunch, brunch, drinks, general browsing and people-watching.
For a place that has the reputation of being off the beaten path, Union Market is easy to access via Metro, and because of its ample free parking, easy to access by car as well. For variety and quality of food, it already rivals comparable — but much more famous — indoor markets in other American cities: Seattle’s Pike Place and Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, for example.
It’s not easy to narrow down the many highlights, but here are a few of them:
Peregrine Espresso – With two other popular locations already in town, D.C.’s most highly touted coffee company is a logical fit for Union Market. If there’s one thing foodies demand, it’s high quality coffee and Peregrine delivers ably with florid blends from far-flung locales like Honduras, Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea.
Takorean – Korean tacos, a uniquely American fusion, originating from the melting pot of Southern California, are a hot seller, especially on Taco Tuesday, when the going rate is $2 apiece. Flavorful marinated chicken and steak are topped with kimchi relish or kale salad, and drizzled with one of several sauces. (The cool avocado-cilantro blend is well worth an extra charge of thirty cents.)
Neopol Savory Smokery – A Baltimore import, Neopol specializes in smoked and cured fish. The gravlox is good enough to eat by the forkful – even without a bagel in sight. And the Salmon BLT, piled high with thick slices of the smoky fish, just might be the best sandwich anywhere in Union Market (which is truly saying something).
Red Apron Butchery – Neopol’s main challenge for sandwich supremacy comes from Red Apron Butchery, which announces its presence with a conspicuous sign, spelling the café’s name in red block letters emblazoned with light bulbs. The “porkstrami” sandwich – filled with a delicious pork-pastrami hybrid, brined in black pepper and coriander for fourteen days, and smoked for eight hours – has earned major accolades. But regulars may be even more excited about the perfectly textured beef fat fries, seasoned with rosemary and garlic.
Bidwell – Union Market’s only true full-service restaurant, Bidwell likes to boast that it is “roof to table.” Much of the produce is grown in aeroponic planters on the roof of the warehouse. Chef John Mooney’s menu features such creative signature dishes as Gin & Tonic Salmon, quick-cured in juniper and lime. His southern-inspired cooking has proven particularly popular with the brunch crowd.
DC Dhosa – Easily the most fragrant food stand in the market, DC Dhosa serves up hearty batches of the popular Indian street food, which consists of a savory filling inside a flaky crust. The feat is all the more impressive, given that each offering is vegan and gluten-free. Potato, lentil and eggplant fillings are robust enough to satisfy even the largest of lunchtime appetites.