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Food court mania is revitalizing Ballston Quarter

Food courts continue to change the local food landscape, most recently at Quarter Market. Here’s a guide to eating there.

Pulled pork barbecue moves from the roadside to the mall thanks to Sloppy Mama’s. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Along the escalator is a vibrant painting, the color of Sedona sunsets, with fruits and vegetables sketched in such lushness, such intoxicating reds, oranges, blues and greens, it almost makes a head of lettuce look sexy.

To the right is an alcove, wallpapered in greenery and decorated with plants, with its own seating and corn hole boards.

Look left, it’s a food court with Edison light bulbs, long tables, small tables, bright metal orange chairs, high top seating and food in every direction.

Keep walking until there’s a view of the outside, a multi-tiered landscape of steps and fake grass, with tot-sized toys to climb on, with enough yardage for dogs to lie in the sun, for more to congregate in a bench spiraling around itself, everyone licking ice cream cones or drinking a beer in a plastic cup, feeling removed from the mall, from commerce, from Arlington.

This is the new Ballston Quarter and its Quarter Market, a food hall joining the rapidly rejigging of America’s fast-casual traditions. Here’s what to eat.

Crab from The Local Oyster is beautiful on its own, or under cheese and on top of a pretzel. (Photo by Rey Lopez)
Something Fried

Chef Kevin Tien is a master of delicate, beautiful food as he proved at DC’s Himitsu, but he can also work the fryer. Hot Lola’s fried chicken sandwiches show his care, too. There are multiple levels of heat, but it’s not hot just to burn taste buds, the seasonings are interesting and nuanced, like the dry hot version, warm and tingling with Szechuan peppercorns for that numb-me-now desire.

Don’t Want to Fight for a Seat

Copa Kitchen + Bar is the only sit-down option within the food court. It plays to the Spanish futbol fan with GOL! in neon lights in between huge screens. There are 20 taps, chicken potpie croquettes and full entrees with skewered meats and sides.

Cheese, Please

There is not a more perfect mall food than pizza, especially when it exits via a dual gas- and wood-fired oven and there is a dedicated staff member who checks underneath every single pie to make sure it’s in the Goldilocks range of doneness. The charred-crust Green Monster pie features garlicky, rich patches of pesto, little curls of blackened kale and pools of mozzarella.

Meat Madness

The pulled pork from Sloppy Mama’s BBQ is the stand out of its barbecue fare, it’s crispy and seasoned well, not just relying on a toss into sauce. The $20 two-meat, two-side setup (the saucy beans and Brunswick stew are good ideas) will easily feed two.

The reimagined food court sports a wood-fired pizza oven and a beer bar. (Photo by Rey Lopez)
Send Noods

There’s something intriguingly inelegant about this bowl of noodles at Mi & Yu. The kimchi soup with barbecue pork belly and chunky udon strands is a little spicy, a little greasy and deliciously slurpable. It’s just right for a brothy, carby quick fix.

Beer Me

There are more than two dozen taps—with pilsners, goses and IPAs—at the Ballston Service Station, with just as many seats. The line-up lists almost exclusively local beers: Old Bust Head, Old Ox, Caboose, Rocket Frog and Solace.

Spend $18 on Crab

It’s your duty as a citizen of the mid-Atlantic to eat crab. The Local Oyster makes it easy with a fresh, plump, sweet disk of gorgeous crab meat. Ask for it broiled. Skip the sandwich for an extra dollar. And if you’re feeling silly, crab is not terrible under melted cheese on a soft pretzel.

Sweet Treat

The best option (Sidekick Bakery in the mall wasn’t open before publication) for dessert is to skip the dry ice cream (yes, ice cream can be dry) at Ice Cream Jubilee and cross the street to Good Company for a yeasted, chocolate-frosted doughnut and a cold-brew iced coffee. // 672 N. Glebe Road, Arlington

Open

• Ballston Service Station
• Copa Kitchen + Bar
• Hot Lola’s
• Ice Cream Jubilee
• The Local Oyster
• Mi & Yu Noodle Bar
• Rice Crook
• Roll’d
• Sloppy Mama’s BBQ
• Turu’s By Timber Pizza Co.

To Come

• BarTaco
• Cucina al Volo
• District Doughnut
• Maizal

Fries from The Local Oyster. (Photo by Rey Lopez)
French Fry Ranking

First Place: The Local Oyster
The steak fry is a classic, and hard to pull off. They can be undercooked and dry or overcooked and mushy. Here, find long, wide, thick strips of creamy potatoes in a salty, crispy skin. ($4)

Second Place: Hot Lola’s
Curly fries are fantastic. Their name alone floods fry lovers with joys of childhood, those tight, cushy spirals and crispier ends that only show a hint of a curve. This version is spiced and salty. ($3)

Third Place: Mi & Yu Noodle Bar
Don’t let the presense of duck fat persuade you to try fries from a noodle shop. These are thin, oily and soggy. But, they’re still fries, so it’s not all bad. ($3)

Notes: Quarter Market

Scene
The mall makeover movement continues with an industrial chic design, a beer bar and globally inspired meals.

Don’t Miss
Crab at The Local Oyster; fried chicken at Hot Lola’s; pulled pork at Sloppy Mama’s BBQ

4238 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; Hours vary by vendor

This post originally appeared in our July 2019 issue. For more food stories to satisfy your cravings, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

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