They say the fastest way to man’s heart is through his stomach….if that’s the case, then it only makes sense that the fastest way to gentrify a neighborhood is through the stomachs of it’s community. And Union Market in DC’s Northeast (NE) quadrant is doing just that. This modern market/food court style newly renovated mess hall is drawing crowds from across the District and beyond to what feels like an industrial wasteland of dodgy warehouses and 18-wheelers distributing bulk produce and meats for commercial use. And then, smack dab in the middle of this rape-whistle paradise (perfectly safe during the day) are some of DC’s most innovative chefs and talented artisans collectively forming Union Market’s culinary extended family.
Once you enter the building you’re first blinded by the blank canvas of a large rectangular market hall with cement floors and sterile white tiled walls. And then the buzz of the market begins to build, pulsating through your core until you’re filled with excitement prepared to set off and explore the various vendors offering the tastiest bites around. If you’ve been to San Francisco’s Ferry Building, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Since my obsession with food sometimes seems to manifest into a debilitating, and potentially annoying, form of indecisiveness, a venue with more options than I can handle is sometimes the best way to go, and the decision to visit DC’s Union Market was all Jonathan’s. In fact, his talent for identifying the most talked about, trendy, and desirable food establishments wherever we are is like his sixth sense. Some innate ability to quickly scan food blogs, newspaper columns, yelp reviews, and Facebook comments and come up with the perfect choice. He’s like some restaurant-picking Flash Gordon….only he struggles with Spandex and has salt and pepper hair. But I digress; DC’s Union Market is the place to eat. It doesn’t matter who you’re with or what your taste buds are yearning for, because everything’s delicious and the possibilities are endless.
DC’s Union Market
TaKorean is the first vender we waited in line for. I’d had Korean taco truck meals in Oakland and LA so the novelty of putting beef bulgogi in a tortilla with Sriracha sauce was lost on me. But they taste so damn good that I insisted we try one beef and one chicken regardless. For the record, DC’s version was just as delicious as it is in California.
Next we checked out Buffalo Burgen, which is the stall that most resembled an east coast deli. So we made a point of trying a few of the knishes (one plain potato and onions, and one Mexican fajita because it’s something we’d never seen before). While we waited for our food, we watched one of the staff members dipping the knishes into egg washes before backing them fresh to order.
Potato and onion knish
Mexican fajita knish
We also got two bagels (one poppy seed and one pumpernickel), because what Jews aren’t on a never-ending quest for the best bagel? FYI, if it’s not boiled and baked it’s cake…not a “real” bagel.
The place was packed during lunch on the weekend so once we found a table and four chairs, we decided to hunker down and make that our home base. We traded off sending scouts out into the market for the next dishes we’d share.
Jonathan’s sister came back to the table with a plate of empanadas from DC Empanadas. They were perfectly cooked and not too greasy. The exterior of these little pockets of passion were crispy and the interior dough had a gentle chewiness. She selected one plain cheese and one with jerk chicken. I think the cheese was my favorite. An oldie but a goodie.
We got a pork pastrami Cuban with sauerkraut, onions and deli mustard from Red Apron Butcher. The conversation we had with the butcher was illuminating as he educated us on the many cuts of meat they have butchered in their display cases. If I were shopping for a dinner, I would definitely pick up some meat from these guys. It’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for.
We finished the meal off with some delicious ice cream from Trickling Springs Creamery. Get a scoop and share it because all you need is a bite of their heavenly rich and creamy all natural desserts. Or do as I did, and just get a taster, because that will do the trick.
With our stomachs full of delectable dishes we rolled ourselves towards the exit but not before stopping to take a look inside the Cordial Wine & Beer Shop. They have a wide selection of international and domestic beverages, all of which seemed handpicked and ranging in price. And if you’re lucky like we were, you’ll get to sample a few wines they’re tasting that day.
And after that, we drooled over the amazing selection of cheeses at Righteous Cheese where they’ll make you a selection of cheeses and pair them with some wine or champagne.
Next time we’re in DC we’re definitely going to revisit Union Market, because we didn’t even scratch the surface this first time around.