Nary a week goes by without a new food hall opening its doors, much to the delight of hungry diners eager for a tummy-pleasing meal but also keen on more than a slice of pizza or a basket of chicken tenders.
So, what exactly is a food hall?
Unlike at a food court, you won’t see a franchisee-run Sbarro or Taco Bell at a food hall. Instead, you’ll discover hyperlocal chef-driven eateries that offer a mash-up of the quick service of food courts and the innovative cuisine of buzzy restaurants.
In addition to walk-up food options and seating, some sort of gathering space—a row of bar stools and a rotating selection of local beers, say—is often a hallmark of food halls. Some spots also feature farmers markets, coffee bars and food- and drink-focused retail such as cheesemongers and wine shops.
THE FIRST MODERN FOOD HALL
Many consider Eataly to be among the earliest modern food halls. This Italian food marketplace opened its first location in Turin, Italy, in 2007 and today numbers more than 40 locations, including in New York City’s Flatiron District, Boston and Chicago.
Eataly, Chicago, Photo courtesy of Eataly Chicago
Eataly was among the first to recognize the synergies between sit-down restaurants, counter-service eateries, espresso bars and specialized food markets. More important, the founders of Eataly realized that customers would come if these concepts were all under one roof.
This original food hall concept has since evolved and expanded to include wine tastings, cooking classes, chef demonstrations, and culinary-focused workshops, such as how to make mozzarella. Food halls across the country have taken note and offer a similar range of experiences for food lovers.
FOOD HALL FRENZY
If it seems as though a new food hall is opening every other week, it’s because that’s probably the case. Food halls are exploding in popularity. In 2010, there were just 25 food halls in the US, according to TouchBistro, a restaurant software company. By 2019, that number had jumped to 235, reports real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield. While the pandemic put a damper on new openings, food halls are on the rise once more.
One of the more established food halls is New York City’s Chelsea Market, home to more than 40 food concepts, including Num Pang Kitchen for flavors of Southeast Asia and Fat Witch Bakery for fresh-baked brownies. The interactive chef’s tasting table at La Devozione is the first New York restaurant to be awarded the coveted Three Forks by Gambero Rosso, Italy’s top food guidebook.You can even take home the Chelsea Market Cookbook, which includes more than 100 recipes from the market’s accomplished chefs.
Serving up a different type of experience, Revival Food Hall in Chicago is another must-go. Many of the 14 tempting food stalls are outposts of favorite full-service restaurants around town. Be sure to check out Smoque BBQ, which offers the same signature barbecue that draws guests into the original sit-down location in Chicago’s Old Irving Park.
Food halls entice visitors with artisanal food experiences, convenience, affordability, camaraderie and a vibrant ambiance. For many, the novelty is also a draw, as is the opportunity to sit and stay awhile, whether in a craft coffee shop with a mocha latte or at a rooftop bar with a signature cocktail and skyline views.
S&W Market, Asheville, North Carolina, Photo courtesy of S&W Market
Today’s food halls are welcoming spaces that encourage guests to savor their delicious meals and perhaps even enjoy live music, family game nights, art workshops or sports-watching parties. (Chelsea Market, for one, offers regularly occurring yoga classes, performances by a five-string quartet and drawing times at a pop-up art studio.)
Today’s food halls are aesthetically pleasing, too. Many are located in restored historic buildings, such S&W Market in Asheville, North Carolina, which brought an ornate Art Deco building back to life—it opened in 1929 to house a local branch of the S&W cafeteria chain—and back to the center of the community.
When you’re ready to sample the food-hall experience, check out a few of our favorites in these regions.
Southern Market, Photo courtesy of Southern Market
This Central Pennsylvania market brims with history, dating to 1888 when this local landmark got its start as a farmers market. Closed to the public for nearly 40 years—while it served as city office space—it reopened in January 2022. Today, local chefs concoct globally inspired cuisine that ranges from Middle Eastern to Vietnamese to Latin Caribbean. You’ll also find classic soul food and artisanal pizza. Southern Market’s 30-seat centerpiece, Bar 1888, pours craft beers and draft wines, all from Pennsylvania. southernmarketlancaster.com, 717/517-3000
Jersey City, New Jersey
Steps from the Harborside light rail and ferry terminal, this waterfront dining destination opened its doors in 2019, filling the space of what was once an industrial warehouse. Today, it houses seven food hall concepts, including elevated ramen, Mediterranean and sushi. The Belgian Plate by Waffle It & Co. woos hungry customers with savory and sweet offerings like the Good Morning Jersey Waffle, which features ham, gruyere, spinach and maple syrup. districtkitchenjc.com
Parkville Market, Photo courtesy of Parkville Market
Connecticut’s first food hall has 25 concepts, including wine and beer bars, plus an outdoor dining space and events like salsa dancing lessons and live music. Stop in for happy hour on weeknights at all three bars for reduced-priced wines, beers, cocktails and slushies. parkvillemarket.com, 860/470-4511
This food hall occupies what was once Philadelphia’s commodities exchange building, dating to 1891. Today, nine food concepts are steps from Independence Mall. Settle in for a bite after a day spent delving into our nation’s rich history. theboursephilly.com
Easton Public Market, Photo courtesy of Easton Public Market
Easton Public Market
Look for locally sourced concepts, including artisanal pizza and farm-to-table foods, as well as cooking classes and a farmstand at this downtown food spot. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Acoustic Kitchen live music series entertains patrons in the dining area. eastonpublicmarket.com, 610/330-9942
Dairy Market, Photo courtesy of Dairy Market
In late 2020, Dairy Market ushered in its first hungry customers to what was once Charlottesville’s historic Monticello Dairy, dating to 1937. The space quickly grew to house more than 15 food stalls, bars and retail shops. Concepts range from GRN Burger, which offers all-vegan grill food, to Chimm’s, which sells Thai street food such as guay teow and pad thai. Dairy Market hosts game-watch events, live music and family game nights. dairymarketcville.com 434/326-4552
R. House, Photo courtesy of R. House
A one-time auto body shop turned 10-stall food hall, R. House offers chef-driven cuisine that ranges from sushi and poke bowls at Hilo to inspiring soul food at Creole Soul. You’ll also find locally made ice cream, veggie bowls and fried chicken sandwiches. Take a seat at r. bar for craft cocktails and local brews. Pop Up, a demo kitchen, welcomes hyperlocal chefs to test new flavors and try out new recipes. Settle in for live music, including jazz, bluegrass and funk. r.housebaltimore.com, 443/347-3570
Hatch Local Food Hall
Seven delicious food concepts sprang to life in April 2022 at Hatch Local, including a juice bar and an award-winning fried chicken restaurant. Enjoy trivia nights and happy-hour live music sessions, too. hatchlocalfoodhall.com
DE.CO Food Hall
Located in downtown Wilmington, DE.CO is a favorite among foodies thanks to eight tasty food concepts, from smoothies to sushi, and a sleek atrium bar. A test kitchen invites local chefs to try out flavors and create new menus. decowilmington.com, 302/300-4955
In August 2022, Prince George’s County welcomed this French bistro-inspired food hall. Today, it has nine stalls, including sushi, hot chicken and a bakery. A full-service bar serves up craft cocktails. lefantomefoodhall.com, 240/667-2396
Element Eatery, Photo courtesy of Element Eatery
Opened in September 2022, Element Eatery presents nearly a dozen mouth-watering culinary concepts, including elevated ramen, soul food fusion, artisanal pizza and authentic Creole. There’s also a specialty coffee roaster and an inviting taproom with 48 taps of rotating local craft brews. On weekends, the food hall hosts sports-watching parties and live music. Large garage doors connect design-forward interiors to the airy outdoor patio, making this high-traffic food hall the place to be in Cincinnati. element-eatery.com 513/272-9800
West Social Tap & Table, Photo Courtesy of West Social Tap & Table
West Social Tap & Table
Once a conference center in the Wright-Dunbar historic district, this food hall opened in 2021 with six food concepts, including street tacos and soul food. Look for weekend events at this flavorful food hall, which include whiskey tastings and live music. westsocialtapandtable.com, 937/522-0758
The AMP, Photo courtesy of The AMP
In the heart of Indianapolis’ 50-acre innovation district, The AMP, which opened in 2021, has become the go-to for breakfast, lunch and after-work drinks. Local chefs, bakers and baristas operate from brightly colored shipping containers. There’s even a barbershop and a pinball arcade. The glitter-covered strawberries at Punkin’s Pies are legendary. Also, check out Melon Kitchens, a culinary incubator for Black chefs. theampindy.com
The Garage Food Hall, Photo courtesy of The Garage Food Hall
The Garage Food Hall
Adjacent to the historic Bottleworks Hotel, this bustling community hub hosts more than 20 local food and drink concepts as well as eclectic boutiques and a barbershop. There’s dessert here, too, thanks to made-from-scratch scoops at Lick Ice Cream. garageindy.com, 317/556-1252
The Village Market
Look for locally sourced concepts, including artisanal pizza and farm-to-table noodles, as well as cooking classes and a farmstand at this downtown food spot. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Acoustic Kitchen live music series entertains patrons in the dining area. villagemarketfoodhall.com
Flagship Commons, Photo courtesy of Flagship Commons
The first food hall in the Nebraska Plains, Flagship Commons features rustic-chic interiors and eight creative concepts, including falafel and kabobs, a salad station, sushi rolls and street tacos. This chef-driven food hall replaced an existing food court, allowing the mall to boost its food game and up its credibility with mall shoppers. Craft cocktails and local beers are for sale at each restaurant. There is also a central bar with a snack menu as well as ping-pong and foosball tables. flagshipcommons.com, 402/932-9993
The Collective, Photo courtesy of The Collective
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
This vibrant food hall opened in 2019 and has eight food kitchens and 32 rotating taps, including more than 20 local brews. A sprawling dog-friendly rooftop patio rewards guests with live music and skyline views. Stop in for poke bowls at Okie Pokie, burritos and nachos at Molly’s Tamales, or ribs and wings at Edie’s Grill. Stay for free Wi-Fi, specialty espressos, or waffles from Press Waffle Co. thecollectiveokc.com, 405/724-7688
Look’s Marketplace, Photo courtesy of Look’s Marketplace
Sious Falls, South Dakota
This family-owned and -operated food hall features a retail market, an outdoor patio, a bar, and four kitchens for pizzas, sandwiches, salads and shareables like wings. Settle in for a pint of pale ale or IPA from the in-house brewery, Look’s Beer Co. looksmarket.com, 605/336-3104
Overland Park, Kansas
Named for William B. Strang Jr., Overland Park’s founder, this industrial-chic food hall features six diverse and flavorful eateries, wowing patrons with craft pizza, Southeast Asian nibbles and street tacos along with a buzzing bar scene. stranghall.com, 913/210-047