How to Tell You’re in a Food Hall, Not a Food Court

Step 1: Is there a Sbarro in sight?

The lunch scene at the Block. Photo by Scott Suchman

“Food halls” are about to hit the DC area in a big way. Quarter Market is bringing more than 20 vendors together in Ballston. Annandale’s the Block is opening an even larger location in North Bethesda, while two more Asian-inspired food emporiums debut in Rockville. Neighborhood Restaurant Group is assembling a collection of vendors in Southeast DC. Celebrity chef Jose Garces may have filed for bankruptcy, but apparently that’s not stopping him from bringing a Latin food hall to the Union Market Area. And (catches breath) let’s not forget that Tastemakers in Brookland and Isabella Eatery in Tysons Galleria, which both opened in the past six months.

But if you grew up on Cinnabon and Sbarro at the mall, you’ve probably wondered, ‘What’s really the difference between a food hall and a food court? Isn’t one just a glorified version of the other?'” Well… yes. But in case it’s not clear, here are ten clues you’re in a food hall:

1. Your burrito has sushi in it.

2. Julius is your mixologist, not your orange drink.

3. Those obnoxious kids next to you aren’t teenagers. They’re millennials.

4. Every stall is a “concept.”

5. The ice cream place is popular, mainly for Instagramming.

6. It’s not weird for strangers to sit at the same table because it’s a “communal table.”

7. A Hot Topic is whether to get ‘nduja on your wood-fired pizza, not a nearby store.

8. It’s actually cool to hang out there on a Saturday night.

9. No one is passing out samples of General Tso’s chicken.

10. People are lining up for food—and it’s not a Chik-fil-A.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.