Invite a woman on a date to a food court and you’ll find out how reviled America’s least prestigious eateries have become. On the one hand, we can understand why: There are the overstuffed containers full of aging cuisine, the overstuffed patrons full of aging cuisine, and the overstuffed trash cans full of aging cuisine - and that’s just during lunch. (Come back after school lets out and it’s a whole different ordeal.) Fortunately, change – like the smell of Szechuan pork – is in the air.
High-end food halls have been cropping up all over the country as smaller eateries (or food trucks) band together to build an audience and a business. Like every other trend of late, this one is trickling up. Suddenly, Michelin-starred chefs are dishing out next to their competition and offering their customers something more eclectic than a 7-course sit down.
While the less-appetizing establishments still exist, they’re headed the way of the neighborhood mall, which is to say out of business. Hopefully the stigma will die with them because, as Americans, we have the write to pursue happiness even when it means chasing a burrito with pad thai.
Here are the food halls leading the charge:
Gansevoort Market: New York, NY
The new, enclosed food court located in the city’s Meatpacking District has an American feel, but remains a cross-country affair. Order some lobster rolls, mozzarella pies, and LA-style tacos pica dill before settling in at one of the mismatched tables.
Top Order: The Ernesto from Cappone's Salumeria
Melrose Market: Seattle, WA
Home to some of the city’s best independent food purveyors, Melrose Market exerts a gravitational pull on Seattle’s tattooed upper crust. Pull up a chair at Sitka & Spruce, where black cod, aged duck breast, and rabbit loin are served with an impressive lack of attitude.
Top Order: Madrona Bark Ice Cream with Salted Pear and Buckwheat from Sitka & Spruce
Grand Central Market: Los Angeles, CA
What was once only a mediocre spot for indulging in countless tacos has transformed into a gourmet food court featuring some of Cali’s most savory buys. Chomp into hearty burgers at Belcampo Meat Co., cure your hangovers with gourmet bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches at Eggslut, and munch on overstuffed gorditas at Ana Maria. You won't be disappointed and, this being LA, you’ll be the only one with a full plate.
Top Order: Spicy Seafood Ramen from Bento Ya
The Plaza Food Hall: New York, NY
Located in the basement of that hotel, the Plaza Food Hall is a high-end experience designed to feel like a high-end experience. The 32,000-square-foot space abuts a two spacious hall, one being run by celebrity chef Todd English. Enjoy hearty crepes, juicy burgers, and lobster hush puppies from some of New York’s best restaurants while touring the historic space.
Top Order: Tuna Burger with Avocado and Chili Lime Aioli
Union Market: Washington D.C.
Located in the heart of Washington D.C., Union Market presents visitors with some hard choices. Between the jerk chicken empanadas, piquant ramen, and rich cupcakes, you may struggle to cast your vote. Frequent visitors can rest assured that they’ll never get bored - pop-up vendors prevent the food hall from going stale.
Top Order: Braised Beef Belly Sandwich from Red Apron
Photos by Getty Images