A new breed of food hall has taken off in the United States over the past decade: a modern spin on the timeless European central market that pairs regional specialties with thoughtful design.
Unlike the generic food court of the past, it doubles as a neighborhood gathering place, where friends hang out around reclaimed-wood tables and linger past happy hour. Once confined to big coastal cities like New York, whose Chelsea Market anticipated the trend in 1997, food halls have recently entered the heartland, popping up in Boise, Omaha, and Raleigh. Although increasingly common—there will be 180 nationwide by the end of the year, up from 70 in 2015—each food hall is different, reflecting the community and local tastes. At a revamped brewery in St. Paul, one stall has a fruiting mushroom chamber; in Memphis, there’s a friendly market conceived by a retired nurse; Philly’s Bourse offers international snacks on a historic trading floor. Here are eight to check out around the country.
A former commodities exchange dating to 1895, the Bourse on Independence Mall returned to its roots in July with 27 vendors hawking global fare such as Indian snacks and Egyptian rice bowls. At Baby Buns, Haitian chef Sylva Senat builds fancy sliders out of such surprising combinations as falafel on brioche; Bluebird Distilling pours cocktails with its house gin and four-grain bourbon. The dining experience is elevated by the historic building’s Beaux-Arts architecture: The developer restored the original ironwork and exposed the concrete-and-mosaic floor, revealing the inlaid brass numbers that once denoted sellers’ trading desks. To top it off, the communal oak tables sit beneath a nine-story atrium that floods the space with natural light.
In the past decade, Houston’s Arts District has transformed from a drive-in, drive-out theater destination to a desirable neighborhood, spurred by residential development and a relatively new light rail line. Yet quality dining options have been slow to catch up. This winter, Lyric Market plans to change that by convening nationally recognized chefs as purveyors in a glass-and-aluminum box across from the Houston Ballet. The 20 stalls, with marble countertops and polished concrete floors, will reflect the city’s diversity—more than 145 languages are spoken in Houston—by selling imported foodstuffs; a rooftop terrace and live music encourage lingering.
Grandview Public Market
West Palm Beach, FL
Since opening in February, Grandview has become the all-day hangout of West Palm’s burgeoning Warehouse District. It’s the brainchild of local couple Chris Vila and Kristen Schonwald-Vila, who punched windows in the cement walls of a former cold storage facility that’s now filled with 12 food and retail stalls, then turned the loading dock into a breezy seating area. On Saturday mornings, kids gather on green velvet couches to listen to Miss Amy, a popular children’s singer; at night, a DJ spins for adults chowing down on Zipitios’ Mesoamerican pupusas and Ramen Lab’s grandma-made gyozas. This fall, look for talks led by curators at Grandview while the nearby Norton Museum of Art is closed for renovations.
Keg and Case West 7th Market
St. Paul, MN
When the historic Jacob Schmidt Brewery closed in 2002, it left behind an enormous brick factory in downtown St. Paul. Local landlord Craig Cohen realized that a market could energize the site and help small food businesses. Over five years, he created steel-frame stalls, preserving the lumber ceiling, and constructed a park with space for street performers and ice skating. Keg and Case was born. The 22 purveyors include Forest to Fork, which grows exotic mushrooms on-site in a tall glass-walled fruiting chamber, and the restaurant In Bloom, where chef Thomas Boemer cooks everything over an open hearth. On the mezzanine, Clutch Brewing keeps the building’s history alive.
Japanese whiskey cocktails, banh mi, masala chai, and a mural by Montreal street artist Whatisadam are among the international finds at Zeppelin Station, which opened in March in Denver’s fast-growing RiNo (River North) neighborhood. Au Feu serves smoked-meat sandwiches; Chicago-based Aloha Poké Co. packs bowls of raw fish and veggies; and moody upstairs bar Big Trouble shakes tropical libations. Every season, retailers from different cities will set up shop—Portland arrives this fall—and a new chef will take over the “No Vacancy” dining stall. Live music and art events fill the warm contemporary space on weekends.
Morgan Street Food Hall
Given Raleigh’s booming food scene, restaurateur Niall Hanley thought it was time for the city to have its own market, similar to the ones he grew up with in Ireland. He turned an old postal depot in the artsy Warehouse District into Morgan Street Food Hall, a 22,000-square-foot hub for more than 15 businesses, including Makus Empanadas, dessert food truck Cocoa Forte, and Raleigh Raw, which serves cold-pressed juice from a shipping container outside. The space, which opened in July, is industrial, but Hanley gave it the coziness of a pub: Friends can gather on leather couches or down Crank Arm beers beneath a courtyard pergola.
The South Main Market
Memphis’s first food hall, located near the National Civil Rights Museum, is the creation of Rebecca Dyer, a retired nurse, and her partners. Since South Main Market opened in December 2017, the bright corner space with pine floors and bistro lights has become a neighborhood gathering place. It’s especially busy on weekends, when Java Cabana makes lavender mocha lattes and Kinfolk serves sweet chicken biscuits. Dyer hopes to expand from seven vendors to 14, with plans to include international cuisine and a farmers’ market; in the meantime, pop-up stalls and art shows shake up the mix.
Ponce City Market
Just off Atlanta’s Eastside Beltline, a railway-turned-park, sits another revitalized landmark: Ponce City Market, which opened in 2015 and is launching short-term rentals for travelers this August. The largest brick building in the Southeast, it was originally constructed for Sears, Roebuck & Co. and preserves details like concrete mushroom columns and maple floors. Now it’s a lively mixed-use complex with a six-acre rooftop, and double-height marketplace. Among the 30 food vendors, choose from chilaquiles at Sean Brock’s casual Mexican spot, Minero; creative seafood sandwiches at Fish Camp, helmed by Anne Quatrano; and crackling breads from newcomer Root Baking Co., which mills heirloom grains in-house.