Food Halls Across the South
In the last five or so years, expansive markets filled with myriad mini-restaurants and retail food vendors have exploded in popularity, especially here in the South. Across the country, the number of food halls has tripled since 2015, proving the trend is here to stay. With a mix of cuisines meant to satisfy every palate all under one roof, the concept reflects our changing restaurant culture. Southern cities have capitalized on the food hall’s popularity, turning historic and large-scale venues into hubs of diverse cuisine and gathering.
ASSEMBLY FOOD HALL | Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville’s main strip has gotten a serious upgrade thanks to the opening of Fifth + Broadway. Home to a number of new restaurants and retail options, as well as the striking new National Museum of African American Music, the complex is now a hub of activity. Crowning the space is the second-story Assembly Food Hall, a sprawling, well-designed space featuring a selection of fast-casual dining stalls. The first phase is now open with spots like Thai Esane, DeSano Pizza, and Donut Distillery serving dine-in and take out; in May, the second phase will bring more locally owned eateries, like Steam Boys, Hattie Jane’s Creamery, and the highly anticipated next location of Prince’s Hot Chicken.
OPTIMIST HALL | Charlotte, North Carolina
Originally home to Charlotte’s largest textile mill, Optimist Hall opened in 2019 incorporating the city’s first food hall into the behemoth 147,000-square-foot, mixed-use development. Get a taste of the South with outfits from Charleston-based Boxcar Betty’s and Atlanta’s Bottiwalla, or homegrown spots like the Dumpling Lady and Fonta Flora Brewery.
ST. ROCH MARKET | New Orleans, Louisiana
Inside St. Roch Market, among towering white columns and sunlit windows, you’ll find an array of eateries representative of the Crescent City’s diverse culinary influences, from Mediterranean kebabs and a Mexican taqueria to vegan “boudin” balls and fresh Gulf seafood. St. Roch Market first opened in the neighborhood carrying the same name in 1875 as an open-air market, and over the years it operated as a fish hall and housed a restaurant. But after suffering severe damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the building sat empty for a decade. It re-opened in 2015 as an expansive Southern food hall and market. And the action isn’t all inside–there’s a monthly outdoor market featuring farmers, food purveyors, and in true NOLA fashion, bartenders.
PONCE CITY MARKET | Atlanta, Georgia
What was once a Sears, Roebuck & Co. building has been transformed into a community development with a sprawling food hall and a wide variety of shopping and entertainment. You can find restaurants helmed by some of the hottest chefs in the Southeast (think Linton Hopkins, Anne Quatrano, and Meherwan Irani). After filling up on your food hall dine-around, head to the rooftop to take in stunning views of Atlanta and boardwalk-style games like putt-putt golf, vintage Skee-ball, and retro carnival rides at Skyline Park.
LEGACY HALL | Plano, Texas
This giant food hall is more like a dining destination with an outdoor music venue and more than 30 food and beverage stalls. A mix of Texas tradition and global fare, the options range from brisket and barbecue to German bratwursts and two takes on tacos. The hall also features multiple stalls for sweets and spirits with vendors like Bourbon Vanilla Ice Cream Co. and the aptly named Good View Bar.
UNION MARKET | Washington, DC
There was once little reason to visit the blighted warehouse district in Northeast DC, between New York and Florida Avenues. That changed when the former wholesale Union Market was revamped in 2012, now housing some fifty upscale food and retail vendors, from sustainably harvested Chesapeake Bay oysters at the Rappahannock Oyster Co. to Korean barbecue with a Mexican twist at TaKorean (which started life as a food truck on city streets). Buffalo & Bergen was inspired by a 1930s dinette with a working soda fountain for cocktails and a wide selection of New York-style bagels and knishes. House bagels and a variety of fillings pair well with cocktails like the Lox & Loaded bloody mary.
PIZITZ FOOD HALL | Birmingham, Alabama
Along with serving as an incubator for up-and-coming businesses in the Birmingham community, this twelve-stall food hall also hosts events like evening yoga and concerts in the courtyard. You’ll find global fare, from poké bowls to Indian street food.
- by Erin Byers Murray
- by Jenn Rice