Situated in the sun-drenched atrium of a huge downtown office building, the shiny new Square takes the preconceived notion of a food hall to new heights.
Spearheaded by D.C. hospitality vets Richie Brandenburg and Rubén García, the globe-trotting destination for Spanish street foods, tacos, oysters, and everything in between officially opens inside Tishman Speyer’s International Square on Tuesday, September 5 (1850 K Street NW). The 25,000-square-foot dining wonderland kicks things off with a handful of its previously named 16 vendors, plus drinks from a 42-seat central bar and seating across an expansive outdoor patio. The second wave of stalls will go live this fall along with Casa Teresa, García’s anticipated sit-down Catalán restaurant and bar next door.
García puts Spain’s succulent pig on full display at Jamón Jamón, one of the Square’s inaugural stalls. His next-door neighbor Brasa showcases a selection of grilled meats and vegetables cooked over an open flame. “Super simple, inspired by the culture we have in Spain. It’s a whole meal,” he says.
“The Square represents the places all over Europe where people go to ‘be’ — not just eat but to also meet friends and hang out,” says Brandenburg. “Our goal is to make people want to be here at least three hours a week.”
The Square’s co-creators have a proven track record of seamlessly assembling multiple chef-led vendors in one place. García’s longtime role as creative director for José Andrés included turning New York City’s Mercado Little Spain into a reality, while fellow José Andrés Group alum Brandenburg was the mastermind behind Union Market and set the bar high for D.C. food halls that followed. Newly named beverage director Owen Thompson is another Andrés alum who most recently ran Archipelago, D.C.’s pioneering tiki bar that just closed after a 7-year run.
The indoor/outdoor market above the Farragut West Metro has a built-in customer base with big-wig attorneys and bankers who work in the same 12-story office building.
The next round of openings slated for this fall include Flora Pizzeria (Tom Wellings and Camila Arango), Cebicheria Chalaca (Carlos Delgado), KIYOMI Sushi by Uchi (Masaaki Uchino), Shoals Market (the Square’s retail hub), and more. To start, the Square operates weekdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with plans to add weekend hours and dinnertime service in the coming months.
Here’s a closer look at each opening vendor:
James Beard award-winning chef Ann Cashion and restaurateur John Fulchino revive two dearly missed D.C. fixtures (Cashion’s Eat Place and Johnny’s Half-Shell) at one of the Square’s biggest stalls. The menu showcases an array of oysters, crab cakes, hearty soups, and potent drinks.
Hand-cut jamón Iberico is the star at stall Jamón Jamón, joined by cheeses, croquetas, bottled gazpacho, charcuterie, and other Spanish ingredients sourced by García. The ex-Minibar chef eventually plans to add an on-site university to teach the art of ham carving and expand the profession in D.C. “People study it for years, like a sushi master studies how to cook rice,” he says.
García prepares Spanish street foods over an open-flame, with pick-your-own options like grilled sausages, chicken, and all sorts of seasonal veggies served alongside pan con tomate for one well-rounded meal. “It can be 100-percent vegan or 100-percent carnivore,” he tells Eater. “We’re finding people want the meat but are happy to have the vegetarian option.”
Wrapped in sleek white subway tiles, the sweets stall from Brandenburg and García centers around nostalgic treats like churros and soft serve.
The Square’s central watering hole serves cocktails, wine, and beer curated by beverage director Owen Thompson.
Opening later this week:
Named after the ruins of Xochitecatl in Central Mexico, the popular U Street NW takeout from José Andrés Group vets Teresa Padilla and Geraldine Mendoza brings its beloved birria, tacos guisados, and street tacos to the food hall. The pink neon-lit stall framed with festive flags also serves margaritas and palomas.
John Mooney, Bidwell’s chef in Union Market, applies Polynesian flavors to fried chicken, deep sea snapper, superfood juices, sweets, and libations.
Four years in the making, the modern project strives to change the way food markets operate. A next-generation business model prioritizes efficiency, with shared revenue between the Square and its chef-partners and a unique licensing ability to be a one-stop shop to buy booze for all the stalls.
“We’re hoping the economies of scale translates to savings throughout,” says Brandenburg. He likens his role to the head of a Vegas casino, who’s charged with making sure all its restaurants, stalls, banquets, and catering capabilities run smoothly.
The complex underbelly of the Square is the “secret sauce” of the entire operation, he says. A sleek subterranean commissary kitchen provides the Square’s chefs access to a communal bakery, butchery, prep kitchens, a central ordering system, workstations, fridges, ovens, mixers, and other culinary bells and whistles needed to whip up their respective menus. Here a streamlined symphony of staff from each stall whiz around with fruits, vegetables, dough, and proteins that get chopped, prepared, or baked before making their way upstairs.