Yellow Opens Its New Flagship Cafe in Union Market Next Month

Chef Michael Rafidi's latest outpost will serve twice-baked croissants and a nighttime kebab menu.

Coffee director Ayat Elhag will bring new drinks to Yellow Union Market. Photograph by Rey Lopez.

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Yellow. 417 Morse St., NE.

Four years ago, Yellow was just a pop-up inside chef Michael Rafidi’s celebrated Navy Yard restaurant Albi— a casual experiment partly inspired by the constraints of the pandemic. The bakery/cafe has since spawned a Georgetown sibling and grown up to become one of DC’s top dining destinations in its own right.

Tuesday, July 9 marks the next phase of that ascent: Rafidi will open the larger, full-service Yellow Union Market.

“The whole idea was always to give the fine dining atmosphere to an approachable cafe,” Rafidi says. “It started during Covid as a way to create some kind of sunshine for people during a dark time. For me, it’s continuing to have that same mindset, keeping an inviting place open all day for DC.”

The Levantine café’s sizable new nerve center will mean Northeast DC residents won’t have to travel around town for Yellow’s beloved pastries, mezze, wood-fired pitas, and specialty coffee. But they can also expect Union Market-exclusive inventions like twice-baked ras el hanout/pecan croissants, jaffa orange iced coffee, and a nighttime kebab menu that’ll debut later this summer. 

Yellow Union Market has been in the works for years—the plans are nearly as old as the Yellow concept itself. As soon as Rafidi saw the success of his original pop-up in 2020, he began searching for a permanent home for the cafe. 

“I started working on this project before Georgetown was even in the picture,” Rafidi says. “This project just took a lot longer than I thought.”

In late 2021, Rafidi signed a lease on the space, a former meat market tucked between two restaurant supply stores on an industrial street in the Union Market district. But it took years to update. It had no floors and no walls, and had to be built up from scratch. Now, the high-ceilinged 3,500-square-foot space has 60 seats, an open kitchen, a pastry case, a communal table, an outdoor patio, Moroccan tilework, and pastel blue accents. 

Yellow Union Market opens July 9 in a former meat market. Photograph by Rey Lopez.

While this work was going on, Rafidi managed to open his Wisconsin Avenue space and transform it into one of Georgetown’s most popular eateries. On weekend mornings, cafe-goers jostle each other for table space to eat their za’atar-labne croissants, “urfa-thing” bagels, exemplary hummus, batata tots, and wood-fire pitas filled with shawarma. Inventive pastries and coffee drinks take their cues from Middle Eastern flavors and ingredients. 

Yellow Union Market will carry many of these same items, plus new ones like pastry chef Alicia Wang’s  ginger jam blondies and red shatta morning buns, and coffee director Ayat Elhag’s hibiscus pom iced tea. 

Within a few months, Yellow Union Market will also open for dinner starting at 5 PM, serving a menu Rafidi calls “All the Kebabs.” Like the “(not) Pizza” evening menu at the Georgetown location, “All the Kebabs” is its own distinct concept, with table service and a separate menu focused on charcoal-grilled skewers: leg of lamb with dill-yogurt marinade, bavette steak with chermoula yogurt, grape leaf swordfish, amba chicken with fermented mango, and a variety of spreads and condiments. 

“I’ve always wanted to do a kebab shop,” Rafidi says. “This is an old meat market, and it kind of felt like it was a good space to play around.” 

For dinner service, the coffee bar will turn into a natural wine bar, with Middle Eastern beers and wines picked by wine director William Simons. Some of the cocktails invented by Albi’s Alex Bookless incorporate the Levantine spirit arak, such as the Jaffa Crush (vodka, arak, Don Ciccio Mandarinetto, and orange).

Rafidi, who draws on his Palestinian American background for culinary inspiration, is one of the district’s most venerated chefs. Albi, in Navy Yard, earned a Michelin star in 2022, and Rafidi received this year’s James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef.

But Rafidi stresses that Yellow, in particular, is a group effort, with Wang, Elhag, Simons, Bookless, and research and development chef Patrick Pervola all playing crucial roles. The space will also host collaborations with other high-profile chefs, including Danny Lee of Anju and Chiko.

Yellow Union Market will be open Tuesday through Sunday from 8 AM to 3 PM, with the kebab-focused dinner service launching later in the summer. 

Ike Allen
Assistant Editor