From a labyrinth of shops and restaurants in a repurposed Manhattan factory to a Philadelphia legend where you’ll find what’s quite possibly the best roast pork sandwich in America, food halls are taking over American in a big way. Variety is the spice of life, and food halls really have it all, offering a wide variety of food items from multiple vendors to a public that’s discovering more and more about food every day. The food hall is one of the great culinary innovations of our time, and these are the 50 best.
So what is a food hall, exactly? For the unfamiliar, food halls are akin to the food courts of your teen years, except with better food and much better lighting. The revamped versions includes stellar offerings from dozens of restaurants and vendors under one roof (or no roof at all), cutting-edge architectural design, and often tons of locally sourced ingredients.
Superstar chefs including Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, Todd English, Charles Phan, Martin Yan, and several former Top Chef contestants have already jumped on the food hall bandwagon, attracting locals and food tourists alike to their culinary meccas. There is a batch of arguably even more high-profile halls coming soon, including Anthony Bourdain’s street-food-heavy “Bourdain Market” in New York, a Nordic-themed hall in Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal helmed by Claus Meyer (founder of the critically acclaimed Noma), and the James Beard Public Market in Portland, Ore.
So why open a food hall rather than a restaurant? For one thing, food halls are a relatively low-risk venture compared to a stand-alone restaurant. At many locations, vendors share the cost of rent, utilities, and maintenance, so stall set-up costs are comparatively less than a whole restaurant build-out or even outfitting a food truck. The migration of celebrity chefs towards the food hall set-up also allows each one to stamp his or her brand on a hot new food movement that seems here to stay.
Although this crop of celebrity newcomers has caused food halls to explode in popularity, these communal dining spaces have existed in the U.S. for around a century: Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market opened in 1892, Washington, D.C.’s Eastern Market was opened in 1873 on Capitol Hill, and Quincy Market in Boston has been hosting food merchants since 1742. While most of these venues have languished in the dreaded “tourist trap” category for years, many of them have recently experienced a revival and are must-stops for locals and food-loving tourists alike.
Backing away from processed fast food and moving toward locally sourced artisan fare has been trending for years in the U.S., spurred on by restaurants like California’s Chez Panisse. Food halls are an ingenious way to further this trend by aggregating groups of young food entrepreneurs and celebrity chefs under one roof, creating a sense of community in an otherwise increasingly disconnected world that also values high-quality fare. This community atmosphere is nurtured by the inclusion of specialty food merchants and market stalls, making it easy to shop for ingredients while enjoying fully prepared meals in a communal setting.
In order to compile our ranking of America’s finest food halls, we first scoured the country for the most talked about food halls in every major metropolitan area, assembling a list of more than 100. We then ranked them by the amount of signature restaurants, the name recognition factor of the associated chefs, the total number of vendors, designquality, amount of Yelp stars, and number of Twitter followers. Each of these rankings were then totaled, and this list is the outcome. There are also two distinct types of food halls we considered, the first being collections of restaurants, food stands, and other vendors, many of which are new and trendy, under one roof. The second tend to be much older and were until recently more commonly referred to as markets, with butchers, produce vendors, and other shops, with full restaurants and gourmet shops more recent additions. The boundaries between trendy food halls and venerable markets that have evolved over time as dining destinations have been increasingly blurred of late, so we decided to include them both.
Are you hungry yet? Read on to learn about the top 50 food halls in the U.S. (and plan your next road trip while you’re at it!).
#50 Jeannine’s Gourmet Food Hall, Westlake Village, Calif.
#49 The Hall, San Francisco