America’s Best New Food Halls

For visitors and locals alike, these markets are great ways to experience authentic and delicious cuisines.

by Nell McShane Wulfhart - January 17, 2018

A far cry from their down-market cousin, the mall food court, food halls across the United States are hitting their stride. These gourmet showcases are popping up in major cities around the country, often buoyed by the power of celebrity chefs and high-end restaurants.

Usually hosting a dozen or more outlets that exemplify the best of local specialty foods as well as small-scale outlets of well-known city restaurants, these food halls are perfect for both travelers short on time and locals looking to try fine dining on a budget. Because space in the hall is shared, overhead is typically lower than at a restaurant, which often gives visitors the chance to try smaller portions of exquisite food creations at a fraction of the price they’d pay at the restaurant.

Here are five recent openings that represent the best of new food halls in America.

Liberty Public Market, San Diego

Opened in March 2016 at the site of a former naval training center, Liberty Public Market has been flooded with happy locals ever since. The main space has everything from lobster rolls at Wicked Maine Lobster to a raw bar at the food stall/fishmonger FishBone Kitchen to brownie-batter-flavored ice cream at Scooped, a scaled-down version of the city’s much-loved MooTime Creamery. There are high stools and tables at the rear of the market for snacking. For those who prefer a more intimate atmosphere, two more formal choices: the Grape Smuggler, a wine bar with daily tastings, and Mess Hall, a sit-down restaurant that makes good use of ingredients from the market.

Gotham West Market, New York City

This Hell’s Kitchen arrival has just 10 vendors, but they’re all superbly tempting. Feast on steaming bowls of miso-vegetable broth and whole wheat noodles at The Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop, owned by ramen master Ivan Orkin. Snack on plates of housemade charcuterie at The Cannibal. Sample dishes inspired by America’s roadside stands, such as the buttermilk-battered chicken sandwich, at Genuine Roadside. You can eat healthy at Indie Fresh, where the salads, soups, and smoothies are all dairy- and gluten-free with no added sugar. Or do the complete opposite with an “ooey gooey buttercake” ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery. Nearly all vendors stay open until at least 11 p.m., making Gotham West a great spot for late-night noshing.

St. Roch Market, New Orleans

This welcoming market dates back to 1875 but was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. It re-opened in April 2016 with 13 vendors who are making the most of local ingredients and traditions. At Dirty Dishes, NOLA natives Lesley and Artis Turner serve up crepes filled with pulled pork, mac and cheese, sautéed shrimp, and hot sausage. Fete au Fete does creole classics like crawfish poutine and red beans and rice. If you want to try your hand on recipes at home, St. Roch Forage sources locally grown fruit, vegetables, eggs, and other supplies. Insider tip: at Elysian Seafood’s Oyster Bar, oysters are just 75 cents each for the last hour every night.

Pine Street Market, Portland, Oregon

April 2016 was the soft opening for Pine Street, which occupies the ground floor of the 19th century United Carriage and Baggage Transfer Building. There’s a central eating space filled with communal wooden tables, surrounded by eight varied dining options. These include a coffee stall called Brass Bar, which comes from the owner of Barista, Portland’s much-vaunted local coffee company; Common Law, an Asian-European hybrid from two of the city’s best-known chefs; and an ice cream bar called Wiz Bang from local favorite Salt & Straw. Try the hot fudge hazelnut sundae, which comes with angel cake, a house version of Nutella, and rich chocolate soft serve.

Central Food Hall at the Ponce City Market, Atlanta

The Ponce City Market reopened in 2014 after extensive renovations to the historic Sears, Roebuck & Company Building created a lively multiuse space with the food hall at its heart. More than 20 vendors have set up shop, including James Beard Award winners Linton Hopkins (the first outpost of H&F Burger that’s not in Turner Field) and Anne Quatrano (W.H. Stiles Fish Camp, a casual seafood shack). There’s also yakitori, Latin sandwiches, Korean steam buns, and Indian street food, so it’s possible to turn a visit here into an all-day event.

Nell McShane Wulfhart is a freelance writer based in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Photo courtesy of Jamestown

Additional Resources

Find more travel tips for two of the cities featured in this story:
•    Pedaling Portland
•    The Romantic Allure of New Orleans