Feb 25, 2024 - News

D.C.-area food halls are booming in the remote work era

A churro and soft serve stand at The Square food hall

A churro stall at downtown food hall The Square. Photo: courtesy Scott Suchman

Food halls are exploding around D.C., with a bunch of new marketplaces and more on the way.

Why it matters: These culinary complexes don't just offer variety — they can change neighborhoods. Look at D.C.'s oldest, Eastern Market, which has helped identify its Capitol Hill area since 1873. Or the Union Market District that's now defined by the food hall and its legacy.

The big picture: Food halls are on the rise nationally, as developers and big-name chefs look to cash in on remote workers and diners who crave diversity.

  • There are more than 360 coast-to-coast and another 120 slated to open soon, according to the Wall Street Journal.

🍣 Zoom in: The Heights, a sprawling food hall, just opened with a mix of star names (e.g. Kevin Tien with Doki Doki sushi) and rising star talents in Chevy Chase, Md.

  • Look for two bars — including the just-opened speakeasy, Turncoat — a Tex-Mex restaurant, and eight stalls serving everything from barbecue to Thai street food.
A platter of sushi, dumplings and cucumber salad
Doki Doki Sushi at The Heights. Photo: courtesy of LeadingDC

Meanwhile, The Square, a chef-y complex that debuted last fall, keeps adding vendors and attractions. The latest: a tapas and sherry bar at Casa Teresa and a Saturday tiki bar pop-up à la Archipelago.

What's next: Upside on Moore, a huge chef-y food hall opening in Rosslyn on March 19. The six-vendor lineup includes popular local ventures like diner-style Ghostburger, Stellina Pizzeria, Laoban Dumplings, American/Chinese takeout Lucky Danger, La Michoacana tacos, and Filipino startup Kam and 46.

  • The 30,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor venue comes from a team of local hospitality vets and includes a bar with wines, beers, and cocktails curated by Elli Benchimol of Georgetown caviar bistro Apéro.
A food hall with a long hall with blue lights and vendor stalls
Opening soon in Rosslyn. Photo: courtesy of Upside on Moore

The intrigue: Food halls are so popular that more traditional restaurant spaces are channeling the model. Cue Mood Swings, a brand new "food hall" in Truxton Circle that will rotate chefs and change its cuisine and menu by popular vote each month (currently it's soul food).

  • Chef/owner Taj Sohal, who for years operated Indian-fusion restaurant Glassey in the space, tells Axios, "You'll have a variety of different options to choose from. In D.C. everyone is always looking for the next best thing."

Between the lines: Chef Chris Morgan recently opened a nontraditional "ghost food hall" in Tysons Corner, dedicated to takeout and delivery like many pandemic-era ghost kitchens.

  • The Kitchen Collective includes six current and coming concepts, including popular Pizza Serata, but it's not all virtual. Diners can graze through the offerings at the Persian restaurant upscale Joon during weekday lunch.

What they're saying: "With food halls, you don't have to worry about all the things that come with a brick-and-mortar, there's a convenience factor," Morgan, who operates Yasmine kebab stalls at Union Market and The Heights, tells Axios.

  • Some hall operators will handle permitting and even pricey build-outs of kitchens and stalls. "You can open with brevity and fewer headaches."

What we're watching: Mary Blackford, the founder of Market 7, is working to open D.C.'s first Black-owned and focused food hall in Northeast to help alleviate Ward 7's food desert.

  • Plus: Commas, a big food hall, is coming to downtown Silver Spring (ETA: late March) with a dozen vendors including DMV Empanadas and Trini Vybez.
  • Also, Luna Food Hall's expansion. The Chinatown spot slinging dumplings and Taiwanese fried chicken is slated to grow in Tysons, Rockville, and beyond.
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