A Glimpse into D.C.'s Union Market

By Linah Colgrove, Foodable Contributor

All-natural meats. Eco-conscious oysters. Award-winning espresso. Artisanal gelato.

Though this may sound like a list of items found on a modern restaurant menu, it’s actually just a few of the delicious options one can indulge in at Washington, D.C.’s Union Market.

When’s the last time you went to a local market and had lump crab and avocado salad with tomato consommé topped with a glass of Spanish Rioja Blanco? Or the last time you saw a badass chromed-out food trailer that tempted you with sno balls, cold beer, and frozen cocktails?

Urban Fresh

An “urban community” with a serious D.C. history, Union Market initially opened in September 2012 and has been adding new vendors and creating more buzz ever since. Today, the Northeast D.C. market boasts over 40 local vendors, a brand new FreshFarm Farmers Market that opened in July, and community events, like a monthly gospel choir brunch, to boot!

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Union Market is an upbeat breath of fresh air that's felt even before you enter the building. Tents full of fresh goods ranging from fruits and veggies to pickles and locally grown honey line the urban asphalt, much like the tents at the Farmers Market outside of San Francisco’s Ferry Building. With just one step inside, you’re greeted by a bright and bustling scene – friends chatting and laughing as they shoot back oysters and sip craft beer, people ogling shelves of fresh breads and pastries, parents coaxing their sticky-faced kids away from the gelato stand. Some foodies have compared Union Market to New York City’s semi-upscale Chelsea Market. If you’ve been to the latter, you’ll recall the mom & pop flower stands, elaborate bakery displays, and full-service restaurants enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. What makes the greatest impression is not the size or even the variety the market offers, it’s the quality of the products.

In the Market: The Goods

At Righteous Cheese, big, beautiful chunks of cheese wheels with carefully printed labels, including cheese type, origin, firmness, age, and flavor profile entice one to not only try a sample, but study the art of cheese making.

Harvey’s Market, a historic, full-service meat shop that boasts quite a selection of all natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat allows consumers to order right at the counter. Point out a ribeye to take home for dinner or sliced thick-cut bacon for breakfast. Also in the meat game, across the way, is Red Apron Butchery – THE place to go for charcuterie, where patrons fill each available seat to nosh on fresh, made-to-order deli sandwiches.  

Co. Co. Sala, a sexy downtown chocolate boutique and lounge, boasts a small but powerful display of chocolates in flavors ranging from mango lassi to peanut butter & jelly to chipotle.

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If Union Market doesn't seem like a typical market, that's because it's not. Aside from freshly made goods, there are restaurants like Rappahannock Oyster Co., a small-sized establishment complete with servers, cooks, and oyster shuckers, with unique, craft beers on tap. All the action happening in the kitchen is visible; only a hunk of bar space separates guests from the half shells on ice and flame-licked pots.

Appetizing Alternatives

Some of Union Market’s critics have described the place as hipster and even somewhat pretentious. But, while guests can drop a lot of cash on a great cut of prime rib or a couple of ice cream scoops, they can also make lunch or dinner out of three Korean bulgogi tacos from the highly regarded TaKorean food stand (a sister to the famous D.C. food truck) for $10. There are a lot of options for different price ranges and diverse appetites.

Realistically, people will visit Union Market more for the high-quality products and the experience, not out of necessity. But whether you’re in urgent need of freshly pressed California olive oil or you just want to spend an afternoon perusing and sampling some indulgent treats, Union Market is a great place to check out. The food is fresh, the scene is vibrant, and the people really seem to enjoy all that there is to see, smell, touch, and taste.