Food Mart Cool Comes to the ‘burbs
Words and Photos by Vina Sananikone
You might miss The Block if you weren’t looking for it. Hiding next to a Kmart in a strip mall in Annandale, VA, The Block looks unassuming from the outside, but step through the doors into the 5,000-square-foot food hall with five eateries, a bar, a casual lounge and cafeteria-style seating and you’re in a diﬀerent world.
Appropriately named, The Block feels like you’ve stumbled into a happening block party, an eclectic mix of couples making sweet eyes at the bar, families having dinner, gym goers popping in for takeout and groups of friends laughing over sweet treats.
Arturo Mei, founder and owner of Snocream Company, wanted to expand after seeing the success of his Taiwanese shaved ice and growing number of devotees who loyally followed his whimsically painted vintage school bus, the Sno Bus, from location to location. Inspired by food halls in Los Angeles and New York, Mei converted a vacant billiards parlor into a bustling food hall and a place for culinary entrepreneurs to set up shop without having to invest in their own brick-and-mortar space.
Only a few months after its soft opening in December 2016, The Block has seamlessly soared to popularity, a hip yet chill spot to meet with friends for dinner or a snack, with flavors ranging from Hawaiian poké to Thai noodles.
One of Mei’s goals when he opened The Block was to create an environment of DC restaurant/bar vibes in the suburban landscape, without the hassle of parking woes and crowded streets. Pleased with The Block’s reception in Annandale, expanding The Block is a real possibility. Mei is exploring the idea of opening more locations, with pop-ups possible in some cities.
Snocream’s Sno Bus still lives behind The Block. Keep an eye out for the bus and perhaps he’ll open The Block near you.
Meet the Vendors
Poké, a dish of marinated raw fish with Hawaiian roots, is DC’s latest food craze and is especially delicious in the dog days of summer. Pokéworks, with franchised locations from San Jose to Vancouver, serves up myriad choices from signature Hawaiian Classic or a Choose Your Own Adventure style of ordering: Have your poké in a bowl over rice, or as a burrito or a green salad; pick your protein (salmon, tuna, tofu and more); and select add-ons such as edamame, seaweed salad, crunchy lotus chips and avocado (yes, we know, avocado costs extra).
A Taiwanese twist on traditional ice cream and boba milk tea, Snocream is the one that started it all. Imagine a marriage between shaved ice and ice cream, with frozen blocks of ice cream thinly shaved and capped with fun toppings and drizzles such as mochi, pineapple jellies, condensed milk and Fruity Pebbles. Snocream’s ever-changing menu includes black sesame, pandan and mango—equally delectable and almost too pretty to eat.
Doughnut ice cream sandwiches, need we say more? Snocream’s sister ice cream and doughnut stand, and the latest addition to The Block family, oﬀers flavors like matcha Oreo and ash coconut, with occasional too-adorable-for-words doughnuts shaped like baby pandas and Totoro.
Asian comfort food from chef/owner and creator of the PhoWheels food truck Huy Ngyuen, including Belly + Rice (24-hour pork belly, pickled mustard greens, pineapple fish sauce and jasmine rice cooked in chicken fat) and Filipino Sigsig Tacos (pig ears, pork belly, chicken liver, chicharron and Tabasco mayo). Try the Short Rib Pho French Dip sandwich and the Pig Frites: deep-fried sous vide bacon and smoked spicy mayo over fries.
Thai street food by Virginia native chef/owner Joey S., with fan favorites Boat Noodle Soup, red chicken curry and specials of fried whole red snapper w/tamarind chili sauce. With bowls of rich broth, tantalizing aromas and the cacophony of people, you’ll swear you were in a busy street market in Bangkok.
Craft cocktails and specialty drinks inspired by Arturo Mei’s travels and Asian-inspired snacks from Balô Kitchen. Bites at The Block Bar include Chick-Arrones (fried chicken thigh and skin with Korean Gochujang glaze) and Flaming 151 Squid (a shot of 151 over dried squid, lit on fire and served with hoisin-sriracha sauce). Maybe watch your eyebrows with that last one.
4221 John Marr Dr., Annandale, VA 22003, 571-275-1135. Open daily from 11 am to 10pm. Bar is open until midnight Sunday–Wednesday and until 2am Thursday–Saturday.