Food halls are no doubt something you’ve heard a lot about lately. The one-stop dining shops are springing up from Loudoun County to Brookland to Rockville. One of the most hyped is Quarter Market (4238 Wilson Blvd., Arlington), inside Ballston Quarter mall, which opened in March. Some of the 15 DC- and Baltimore-bred fast-casual stalls are forthcoming, but there’s already a lot to tackle.
First things first. Isn’t this just a food court?
True, this space used to be home to Subway and McDonald’s, but they’re long gone. (For anyone who wants Chick-fil-A, it’s still in the building.) Food halls follow the same blueprint as food courts—fast-casual stalls, communal eating spaces, lots of trays—but differentiate themselves by featuring mostly local makers. Clearly, the hope here is that you’ll stick around and hang out. There are loungey spaces both indoors and out, plus a craft-brew bar. One Instagrammable corner looks like it’s straight out of the Beverly Hills Hotel (except for the cornhole).
Can’t I get a lot of this stuff elsewhere?
Some. The offerings at Sloppy Mama’s BBQ are similar to the ones at Union Market. Pies at Turu’s, owned by the Timber Pizza Co. folks, taste a lot like what you’ll find at the Petworth joint. (They’re working on New York slices but haven’t yet nailed them.) And the scoops at Ice Cream Jubilee overlap with the boutique parlor’s other locations.
Hey, that chef looks familiar!
This place seems expensive for a mall lunch. Can I at least get some leftovers?
Head to Sloppy Mama’s and load up on the smoked chicken, which holds up beautifully, and fill extra cups of the Alabama white sauce. Those Turu’s pies—my favorite is the soppresatta-topped Bentley—are splittable.
I just want a fast desk lunch. Where should I go?
I’m hooked on the Korean bowls at Rice Crook, from chef Scott Chung. His lemongrass-chicken and barbecue-beef varieties are terrific, as are his kimchees.
I’m a control freak. What’s my best move?
The pan-Asian Mi & Yu Noodle Bar is your place. You choose your noodle type, your broth (there are six), and your protein. Grab some of the pork-belly bao, too—not that I’m telling you what to do.
Mall oysters. Yea or nay?
Sadly, the three varieties I tried from the Local Oyster had zero flavor. Get the crab-topped pretzel instead.
If I’m going to get one thing, what should it be?
The hot-chicken sandwich, with crunchy buttermilk fried chicken, creamy slaw, pickles, and a sesame bun, at Hot Lola’s. I couldn’t resist getting one (for later!) on each of my six visits. There are five spice levels, and I have equal affection for the “OG hot,” which is plenty fiery, and “dry hot,” which has a nice numbing quality.
What else is coming?
Is this the future of mall dining?
Yes, as long as malls continue to exist. Nobody’s going to make a special trip for Panera. But perfectly blistered soppresatta pizza? Maybe.
This article appears in the July 2019 issue of Washingtonian.