Photo by Ray Lopez
Courtesy of District Doughnut
District Doughnut combines made-from-scratch dough with top-notch ingredients like Valrhona chocolate.
Fill up on bagels, eggplant-stuffed dosas, crème brûlée doughnuts, and more.
It’s no secret that D.C. has one of the top dining scenes in the country. But to find good food in the District, you don’t need to score a reservation at the hottest restaurant. You just need to get yourself to Union Market.
D.C.’s top food hall, Union Market dates back more than 200 years. It all started with Centre Market, which opened in 1871—off Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol—as the largest of its kind in Washington. When it was torn down in 1931 to make way for the National Archives, it relocated to Fourth Street and Florida Avenue Northwest, changed its name to Union Terminal Market, and upgraded with large, well-lit stalls for 700 vendors, plus cold storage vaults and a public café. In 1962, the city banned the outdoor sale of meat and eggs, so Union Terminal Market moved indoors—to the building that now houses Union Market. It lasted until the 1980s, when the market started to show its age and merchants left for more modern distribution centers.
A little over 30 years later, Union Market opened in 2012 in the same space, bringing artisanal vendors and pop-up food merchants to a formerly industrial corner of Northeast D.C. It’s been packed ever since, with weekend crowds clamoring for everything from New York–style bagel sandwiches and authentic South Indian dosas to handcrafted doughnuts, Korean tacos, and poke bowls made with local, sustainable fish. Go hungry and grab food from these seven delicious vendors.
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Inspired by New York’s old-timey soda shops, Buffalo & Bergen comes courtesy of renowned D.C. mixologist Gina Chersevani, who brings her skills to such classic drinks as cream sodas, egg creams, and ice cream floats. If you’d rather something stiffer, the counter spot also has cocktails like the Lox’d and Loaded Bloody Mary (which comes garnished with an everything bagel) and the How Now, Spirit! (with gin, Pimm’s, and house-made blackberry tonic). To soak up your drinks, there are knishes stuffed with potato, onion, and other fillings, as well as New York–style bagels and cream cheese in flavors like jalapeño and pimento cheese. For something unusual but delicious, try the Mountain Shiksa sandwich, with homemade lox, maple-pecan cream cheese, and bacon on an egg bagel.
Founded by Bombay native Priya Ammu, DC Dosa serves South Indian dosas and chutneys based on family recipes. Start your order by choosing a type of dosa—go with the mung lentil for something hearty, or the petite yellow lentil for a milder taste. Then choose from fillings like curry potatoes, eggplant, and crispy cauliflower, and top it off with cilantro-sesame, mango-habanero, or tomato-peanut chutney. For a more complete meal, you can pair your crêpe-like creation with a traditional lentil soup called sambar or a lassi drink (similar to a smoothie and available in mango-ginger, avocado-lime, cardamom-almond, and sweet basil varieties).
Head to District Doughnut for handcrafted treats unlike anything you’ll find at Dunkin’. Here, doughnuts are made with only the finest ingredients, including made-from-scratch vanilla bean yeast dough, Valrhona chocolate, dulce de leche imported from Spain, and fresh local fruit. Flavors are equally top-notch, ranging from classics like brown butter to seasonal options like gingerbread cookie, hot cocoa, and vanilla bean crème brûlée (caramelized to order with a blow torch). Pair one or two with a cup of locally roasted coffee, or swing by on a Saturday morning for a weekend-only cinnamon roll.
D.C. native Michael Lenard founded TaKorean as a food truck back in August 2010, using a converted Ford step van to provide his hometown with healthy, well-balanced meals at a reasonable price. Today, the business has three brick-and-mortar locations throughout the city, including one in Union Market. Come here for Korean-style tacos, which translate to soft-corn tortillas stuffed with your choice of bulgogi beef, tangy chicken, bo ssam pork, or caramelized tofu. Toppings include slaws like kimchi and spiced kale, as well as pickled daikon, guacamole, and poached egg. For an extra burst of flavor, add garden-fresh sauces like lime crema or salsa roja and crunchy extras like sesame seeds and fried shallots.
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A store and food vendor in one, Red Apron Butchery is a favorite for its natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, including beef, pork, lamb, and poultry. The whole-animal butchery sells nearly 80 artisanal products, from handcrafted charcuterie and salumi to sausages and hot dogs, alongside sandwiches like Italian and meatball subs. Try the Porkstrami with pastrami-style pork, mustard aioli, and bacon-braised sauerkraut, or the Choripán with chorizo, avocado, and smoked chimichurri, both of which are best when paired with a side of Nate’s Fries (fried in aged beef fat and seasoned with garlic, salt, and rosemary).
Owned and operated by the Croxton family for more than 100 years, Rappahannock Oyster Co. is known for its eco-friendly methods, which go as far as growing oysters in a way that’s actually restorative to the environment. The Virginia-based company supplies its sustainable bivalves to top restaurants around the world, and it also operates a charming oyster bar in Union Market. Its seafood platters offer an affordable way to try signature products—the large platter features 12 mixed oysters and 4 clams for just $32—but diners can also opt for small plates like peel-and-eat shrimp, steamed mussels, and crab cakes. Whatever you order, pair it with one of the local beers (3 Stars Ghost White IPA) or classic cocktails (martinis, Manhattans) on offer and you’ll almost forget you’re in the center of a food hall.
Another store-cum-vendor, the District Fishwife is a 440-square-foot fish market selling sustainable seafood and prepared meals. With a focus on regional, seasonally available seafood, the staff brings in fresh product daily and butchers it in house, offering everything from sushi-grade tuna and genuine dry sea scallops to hard-to-find specialties like barramundi, sheepshead, and sea urchin. Customers can come here to buy fish for dinner, along with packaged items like seafood salad, shrimp cocktail, and pickled herring, or just swing by for a lunch of fish sandwiches, salmon burgers, and shrimp rolls. The poke bowls—made with your choice of salmon or tuna, plus warm rice, seaweed salad, pickled ginger, and shredded carrot—are especially delicious.
>>Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Travel Guide to Washington, D.C.
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