Museums and monuments draw tourists to Washington, DC, but the city’s food scene isn’t far behind. For proof that this once-sleepy government town is truly a top-tier dining destination, look no further than NoMa and the Union Market district in Northeast. This is a neighborhood that boasts not one but two food halls, and within a few blocks, you can sample everything from soup dumplings or shrimp and grits to traditional Italian pastries. And instead of the marbled corridors of power synonymous with DC, you’ll find yourself surrounded by colorful graffiti art etched onto former warehouses in this constantly evolving section of the city.
The neighborhood’s history as a food hub stretches back to 1931 with the opening of Union Terminal Market. The current iteration of the namesake Union Market, a sprawling food hall with more than 30 vendors, kicked off more than a decade of development. The result is glassy apartment buildings rising next to old-school wholesale businesses, along with shops, art studios, music venues, and a fleet of new restaurants from nationally known brands and indie entrepreneurs alike. You could easily spend an entire weekend exploring the concrete jungle, all within a quick drive of the National Mall.
Map out the weekend’s meals over coffee and chocolate pistachio croissants from all-day café Pluma by Bluebird Bakery. A good place to begin is the actual Union Market, where you can try everything from double-stack burgers at Lucky Buns to Indian street food from DC Dosa, and then head upstairs to Hi-Lawn, the market’s rooftop bar decked out with a huge expanse of grass (well, Astroturf) that’s perfect for day drinking with a side of loaded tater tots.
The neighborhood’s newest food hall is Latin American marketplace La Cosecha, home to delicacies like guava-and cheese-doughnuts at Donisima, an avant-garde Columbian tasting menu at ElCielo, and craft cocktails at Serenata. For a glimpse of the neighborhood’s history, shop for Italian groceries at the very old-school A. Litteri, and then hit up newbie Stellina for pizza and paninis. Famed out-of-town restaurateurs are planting roots in this ’hood, too: Philly’s Stephen Starr will add a location of Pastis to join his popular Union Market outposts St. Anselm and Bread Alley bakery, while Keith McNally of NYC’s Balthazar is slated to open a Minetta Tavern here. For drinks, make it to rum distillery Cotton & Reed for slushy cocktails, and have your final round at Last Call. It’s cocktail pro Gina Chersevani’s version of a no-pretensions bar, where she can serve affordable fancy drinks (and $5 PBRs) in not-so-fancy digs. The tagline: “Everyone’s beautiful at Last Call.”
Stay in style at the Morrow Hotel. Part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, this new glass tower’s modern architecture is softened by serene shades of blues and graceful curves inside (along with fun touches like a Champagne vending machine in the lobby). The party continues at Le Clou, a modern French brasserie where both bubbly and cheese carts weave amongst curved booths. The hotel’s restaurant is from acclaimed chef Nicholas Stefanelli, who brought a Michelin star to the neighborhood with his Italian charmer Masseria. Now the chef is going back to his L’Academie de Cuisine culinary school roots, revamping never-out-of-style dishes like steak frites, bourguignon, and caviar-accented omelets (and very French dishes including frog legs with Parisian gnocchi or pastry-encased escargot). The rooftop bar, Upstairs at the Morrow, is where Stefanelli has even more fun (think duck confit taquitos and espresso martinis on tap), with indoor/outdoor lounge seating and an epic view of the Capitol Building. Still to come is Vesper, a cocktail lounge with live music, slated to open this fall.
Museum lovers should know there’s a Smithsonian Institution within this zip code: the under-the-radar National Postal Museum, where historic mail trucks and the world’s largest stamp gallery are housed in a lovely historic post office.
If you’re more into collecting records or books, be sure to flip through all the vinyl at Byrdland Records or the tomes at the Union Market outpost of beloved DC bookstore Politics and Prose. The development is home to both national and local retailers, and you can shop for aesthetically pleasing baby toys at Three Littles, cutting-edge fashion from designer Ron David, statement jewelry from Shelter, or the hottest sneakers at Somewhere. For a priceless experience, check out the many events on the development’s online calendar, like cosmic pickleball, salsa socials, and wine tastings. Or head to Songbyrd Music House’s garage-like space to hear a set from an up-and-coming artist.