America’s Best Food Halls
When the economy slumped, L.A.’s Grand Central Market was suddenly full of empty spaces—and owner Adele Yellin saw an opportunity. “I wanted to focus on young entrepreneurial chefs, and I wanted dynamic food that you don’t find everywhere else,” she recalls.
Yellin began approaching up-and-comers like Thai food stand Sticky Rice, and the rest, she says, is history. Since 2012, 17 new vendors selling everything from decadent egg sandwiches on brioche buns to oysters paired with French wine have transformed this long-standing market into one of the buzziest food destinations in L.A.
Food halls—which we’re defining primarily as indoor markets with vendors selling prepared items and groceries—are popping up across America, from Atlanta to Seattle. They serve as incubators for small independent businesses and as gathering spaces where you grab a bite and pick up products of the local, fresh, and artisanal varieties.
“Food halls are prevalent all over the world,” says Steve Carlin, who was responsible for planning and leasing the Ferry Building in San Francisco and the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, CA. “It was only a matter of time before Americans would once again value food sources and local purveyors.”
That historic precedent dates back more than a century, counting venues like Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, which opened in 1892. And the trend is gaining steam. San Diego’s Liberty Public Market will open in summer 2015; the James Beard Public Market in Portland, OR, forecasts a 2016 opening; and Anthony Bourdain has a food hall project rumored to be in the works for New York’s 3 World Trade Center.
After all, the appeal goes beyond the food. “We are a critical social connection between people, food, and local purveyors. When these markets work, they’re magic,” says Carlin.
The Anaheim Packing House, Anaheim, CA
Inspired by public markets in South America and Europe, this food hall in a former fruit-packing facility recalls the era when Orange County was primarily an agricultural area—with more citrus trees and fewer highways and strip malls. The Mission-style building has been remade as a two-story public market with 20 small vendors. Standouts include Popbar, a gelato and sorbetto-on-a-stick maker with flavors like pistachio and blood orange; Adya, an Indian café that serves buttery naan bread and kebabs; and comfort food restaurant Kroft, specializing in poutine, French fries topped with cheese curds and homemade gravy. A farmers’ market sets up shop in the two-acre park out front each Sunday.
Lunch Pick: A house-made porchetta sandwich with chermoula, pickled radish, and watercress from butcher and rotisserie Wheat & Sons.
Krog Street Market, Atlanta
In November 2014, Krog Street Market opened within the former Atlanta Stove Works storage house, a brick warehouse dating back to the 1920s. In addition to a fishmonger and a cheese emporium, you’ll find Fred’s Meat and Bread (a sandwich shop from the folks behind Atlanta’s popular General Muir); Cockentrice, a restaurant specializing in house-made charcuterie; French brasserie The Luminary; and The Little Tart Bake Shop, a French-style bakery that makes fruit-filled galettes and croissants. The industrial space has plenty of natural light thanks to vertical skylights, and seating is at farm-style communal tables made with wood reclaimed from barns in Europe.
Lunch Pick: Zhong-style pork dumplings at Gu’s Dumplings, a Szechuan café.
The Source, Denver
At this food hall and market in Denver’s artsy River North District, you are not only able to enjoy lunch and grab a bottle of wine to go, you’re able to see the production process in action. Get there when it opens at 8 a.m., and you might see bakers from Babette’s Artisan Bread rolling out croissant dough on a marble table. Boxcar Coffee Roasters roasts beans on site in their 1929 Gothot Ideal Rapid Roaster, and Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe has a glass-fronted walk-in cooler where you can watch the expert carving. The Source is located in a former iron foundry from the 1880s that sat largely abandoned for decades. Graffiti still adorns the brick walls, but designers spruced up the space by adding white marble walls and lots of ebonized black wood. The Source also offers a florist, a cheese and spice shop, a small-batch spirit shop, a sour beer brewery, and two excellent restaurants: Comida, a Mexican street-food cantina, and oak-fired grill restaurant Acorn.
Lunch Pick: Acorn’s grilled beef and quinoa salad with roasted carrots, brussels sprouts, Manchego cheese, and pistachios.
Oxbow Public Market, Napa, CA
A sophisticated, loyal clientele keeps the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa 100 percent occupied. The industrial space, with skylights and steel beams, houses a produce store, a fish market, two meat markets, a spice merchant, and a cheese and wine shop. The prepared-food vendors are also outstanding. Try Ca’Momi for certified Neapolitan-style pizza, C Casa for house-made white corn tortillas filled with ingredients like ground buffalo, and Ritual Coffee for fresh roasted beans and the perfect pour over. Relative newcomer Napa Valley Distillery makes fruit-based spirits like vodka made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
Lunch Pick: Hog Island Oyster’s clam chowder washed down with a glass of Sinskey rosé.
The Plaza Food Hall, New York
Modeled after grand food halls common in Europe and Tokyo, this 32,000-square-foot space beneath the Plaza Hotel, with mosaic marble floors and a dress code, is a bit more upscale then the other food halls in America. But it still has something for just about everybody. Specialty food vendors include famed cupcake maker Billy’s Bakery, hipster favorite No. 7 Sub, Olma Caviar Boutique & Bar, open-faced-sandwich maker Tartinery, and the new Epicerie Boulud. The largest tenant, The Todd English Food Hall, counts eight dining bars covered in polished white marble. Order bluefin toro belly at the Sushi Bar, shrimp stir-fry from the Dumpling Bar, or flatbread pizzas from the Pizza Bar…you get the gist.
Lunch Pick: The Happy Pilgrim at No. 7 Sub. Filled with turkey, sweet potatoes, bacon, mozzarella, cranberry sauce, and pickled jalapeños, it’s Thanksgiving on a sub.
Market House at Nashville Farmers’ Market
North of downtown, Nashville Farmers’ Market stays open 362 days a year. Outdoor farm sheds sell artisanal meats, cheese, milk, and fresh produce, with 15 more vendors inside the Market House. In 2014, a new executive director introduced vendors including Sloco, a locally sourced sandwich shop; The Picnic Tap, a craft brew pub; and Batch, a retail shop devoted to Nashville-made products (also available to be shipped). Caribbean comfort food vendor Jamaicaway and wood-fired-oven pizza restaurant Bella Nashville are two longtime crowd-pleasers.
Lunch Pick: The special pizza at Bella Nashville. Depending on the day, it could feature dry-aged chuck, beurre blanc sauce, or seasonal lacinato kale.
Grand Central Market, Los Angeles
In another sign of downtown L.A.’s revival, this 97-year-old food hall has been earning praise from food writers nationwide for its eclectic mix of classic vendors and edgy newcomers. You’ll still find hot-off-the-griddle gorditas at Ana Maria and inexpensive carne asada tacos at 19-year-old Tacos Tumbras a Tomas. But among the spice vendors and neon signs, it’s also worth seeking out homemade bagels topped with smoked sturgeon at Wexler’s Deli, made-to-order green papaya salad at Sticky Rice, and egg sandwiches topped with ingredients like Wagyu beef and hardwood-smoked bacon at hipster favorite Eggslut (prepare for hour-plus lines on weekends). Oyster Gourmet, a seafood bar from Los Angeles’s only Master Ecailler, recently opened near the Hill Street entrance.
Lunch Pick: The dry-aged beef burger with caramelized onion and cheddar cheese at butcher/dinette Belcampo Meat Co.
West Side Market, Cleveland
Once of the country’s oldest and largest food halls, West Side Market (est. 1912) supports about 100 vendors selling both prepared foods and groceries: seafood, meats, produce, dairy, spices, nuts, and fresh honey. The grand building’s 44-foot-high vaulted ceiling is covered in prized Guastavino tile—the same used at New York City’s Grand Central Oyster Bar. Many vendors have sold their goods here for decades; Fernengels, a family-owned butcher, opened in 1939. Pick up rare cheeses from around the globe at The Cheese Shop, Hungarian strudel at K&K Bakery, and a dish of stuffed chicken wings at Kim Se Cambodian Cuisine.
Lunch Pick: Lamb gyro at Steve’s—get there before it sells out.
Melrose Market, Seattle
Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market gets most of the tourist attention, but Melrose Market is the go-to gourmet market for residents of Capitol Hill and beyond. Located in a former auto repair shop, the market highlights independent local food purveyors from Rain Shadow Meats, a butcher shop owned by a former sous-chef, to Calf & Kid, a fromagerie stocking hard-to-find Northwest cheeses, to Marigold and Mint, a florist and garden shop that sells vegetable seedlings from its own family farm. Chef Matt Dillon’s bright, airy bistro, Sitka and Spruce, uses many of the ingredients found in the market to make dishes like stuffed delicata squash with pork sausage, cured yolk, and crème fraîche. You’ll even find a speakeasy-style cocktail bar in the market’s basement.
Lunch Pick: Butternut squash, goat cheese, and apple butter sandwich at Homegrown, a sustainable sandwich shop.
Midtown Global Market, Minneapolis
You’ll find everything from tamales to tabbouleh at this internationally themed public market and food hall in South Minneapolis. Many emerging entrepreneurs and immigrants have been able to get a leg up by starting at the market, which opened in 2006 with support from four nonprofits. Midtown Global Market now features more than 50 merchants offering produce, fish, meat, bakery items, and prepared foods. Fill up on Indian fusion food at food truck turned brick and mortar Hot Indian Foods, build your own pasta at Fresco Italian Market, or grab fruit-filled tarts and cream-filled brioche to go at Salty Tart, one of the country’s best bakeries. As of December 2014, visitors can enjoy a citrusy saison or rye stout along with food from the market at Eastlake, a craft brewery and tavern started by a former bus driver.
Lunch Pick: Spinach paneer indurrito filled with ginger garlic, spicy curry, paneer cheese, and wilted spinach at Hot Indian Foods.
Union Market, Washington, D.C.
One of the goals of Union Market is to help local food entrepreneurs get their start. So it provides space for pop-ups like Mason Dixie Biscuit Co., a Kickstarter-funded maker of buttermilk-biscuit sandwiches. Among the 40 permanent vendors, creative empanada maker DC Empanadas fills the savory pastries with ingredients like Cuban-style pork and guava sauce. Also look out for Takorean, an Asian-inspired taco stand, and Salt and Sundry, a lifestyle boutique selling linens, tableware, and artisanal foods. The market reopened in 2012, after a renovation, and has been attracting a diverse crowd of tech professionals, politicians, and moms, who swarm the communal tables at lunchtime. And it continues to innovate, debuting its first full-service restaurant, Bidwell, in 2014.
Lunch Pick: Smoked salmon BLT at Neopol Savory Smokery, a family-owned smoked salmon producer.
Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia
Reading Terminal Market has a festive old-world market feel—no surprise considering it’s been around since the late 1800s. Opened by Reading Railroad (of Monopoly fame), the market was located underneath a train station until the trains stopped running in 1984. Today, it still has 12 rows of stalls stocking everything from Amish specialties to gourmet olive oil. Try Beiler’s Bakery for fresh donuts and apple fritters, Kamal’s Middle Eastern Specialties for falafels and baba ganoush, and Pearl’s Oyster Bar for oysters and steamed clams. And this is where you’ll find America’s oldest ice cream company, Bassetts, where patrons sit at the original marble countertop from 1892.
Lunch Pick: Mozzarella (made fresh daily) and roasted tomato sandwich from Valley Shepherd Creamery.
Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco
Enter the Ferry Building on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, and you’re immediately struck by the aromas: fresh bread baking at Acme Bread, fresh roasted beans at Blue Bottle, and smoky bacon at Prather Ranch Meat Co. all mixing together and wafting down the great nave. One of the country’s most beautiful public spaces, the Beaux-Arts building was originally completed in 1898. It reopened as the Ferry Building Marketplace in 2003 and continues to grow, adding vendors like creative ice creamery Humphry Slocombe and a three-day-a-week farmers’ market. One of the original tenants, Hog Island Oyster, recently expanded its restaurant, while El Porteño Empanadas just moved into its own Marketplace shop. Chef and owner Joseph Ahearne uses ingredients from the market, like mushrooms from Far West Fungi, in his Argentine-inspired empanadas.
Lunch Pick: Petaluma Farm’s warm egg-salad sandwich with anchovy butter, aged provolone, and local greens at Il Cane Rosso.
Chicago French Market, Chicago
Third-generation market owners hailing from Paris—the force behind hundreds of markets including the Marché Saint Quentin and Marché Passy—added this market in Chicago’s West Loop to their roster in 2009. The Bensidoun family enlisted French merchants like Vanille Patisserie and Flip Crêpes as well as Saigon Sisters for Vietnamese pho and banh mi sandwiches, Bebe’s Kosher Deli for matzoh ball soup, and Raw for vegan pizzas, pastas, and muffins. You’ll find this smorgasbord within the Ogilvie Transportation Center, one of the nation’s busiest commuter train stations (7,000 visit the market each weekday).
Lunch Pick: Montreal-style pastrami on rye at Fumaré Meats & Deli. The meat is cured, smoked, peppered, and slow cooked on the premises daily.
Gotham West Market, NYC
New York City continues to make room for new food markets, among them, the year-old Gotham West Market in Hell’s Kitchen. The variety is impressive: lamb meatballs, octopus terrine, vegetarian ramen, fish tacos, and a reuben sandwich can all be found here, on the ground floor of the Gotham West apartment building. Project developer Chris Jaskiewicz says his goal was to get eight of the best restaurants in New York under one roof, and he succeeded. Vendors include Court Street Grocers Sandwich Shop, Choza Taqueria, Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop, and Seamus Mullen’s Spanish tapas bar, El Colmado. The space is sleek and industrial, with a touch of 1970s grit via the addition of white brick walls and salvaged marquees. Yet it’s also family friendly, with a bike shop, board games, and showings of New York–centric movies throughout the week.
Lunch Pick: Brown sugar baby-back ribs with spring onion relish and garlic toast at The Cannibal.