For decades the food court has been as predictable as the shopping options one would find in any mall in any city in America. However, like most retail and service industries undergoing a renaissance of more personalized options, the food court is also evolving, and believe it or not, many food courts across America are offering world-class dining options. From a full floor of dining options at New York's Grand Central Terminal to an upscale dining experience at Chicago's French Market, we're tracked down the 10 best food courts in America.
The food court is often associated with cookie-cutter stands selling prepackaged meals under varying banners of ethnicity; an island of generic food choices in the middle of a continent of commerce. But that's all starting to change. This evolution comes as some malls go for a more upscale look and clientele; it’s also driven by factors such as the farm-to-table movement, more widespread food education, and by millennials who are clamoring for food choices that represent their ideals and lifestyle.
The upscale food court, or 'food hall' as they are being marketed, is the ushering in of a new choice and not necessarily a fatal blow to the ubiquitous kiosks and stands that constitute the food court hall of fame. However, it does seem clear there are multiple generations looking for the food court and overall shopping experience to aspire to be more. After all, the mall of the 80s didn't have to contend with online shopping. If you can lure more potential customers to your retail operations with haute cuisine or the best street-style taco, then you give consumers more reason to engage in non-virtual shopping. Throw in the star power of a celebrity chef and you can find analog relevance in the increasing world of digital consumption. And chefs are a driving force behind this, as Todd English already has a well-established food hall and Anthony Bourdain is slated to open his version in New York City.
While the food court is often found in a place where crowds are already congregated such as malls, transportation hubs, and other high volume areas, some food courts are now becoming the actual destination with little to no non-food retail options. This is hardly a new concept and a classic case of 'what’s old is new again,' as these harken back to the markets of old. Traditional specialty food markets are also currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity, such as Mario Batali’s Eataly, which focuses on getting consumers fresh ingredients for home cooking as well as providing first-class dining options (we don't consider them a food court, however, because of the large market component and the fact that Eataly runs all the restaurants under its roof).
We looked for some of the most creative, ingenious, and cutting-edge food courts across the country, anywhere with five or more eateries congregated under one roof. We found some familiar names and cities, but also discovered some fantastically surprising dishes and eateries. So whether it's pork belly at the airport or authentic brick oven pizza at the mall, check out our ranking the ten best food courts in America.