Hungry in the Windy City? You shouldn’t be. One of the country’s top food cities makes it easy for you to sample its wares. Just pop into one of the Chicago food halls and try whatever you fancy. Come back tomorrow for a different meal.
My own first food hall experience was in London, in 2003, at Harrod’s spectacular Food Hall (Re-opening June 2019 after a renovation) where I wandered for an eternity before deciding on the French Bistro and roasted chicken. You could spend days on that Lower Ground Level–it has absolutely everything. An authentic food and wine emporium, since 1834. After that, I was a full-fledged fan.
“Food halls are the new food trucks,” declares Forbes Magazine. Chicago has plenty of food trucks, too, but the concept of multiple restaurants serving their specialties in a convenient indoor space is quite appealing.
Food Hall vs. Food Court: Big Difference!
So, how is a food hall different from the food court at your local mall? Easy: a food court is filled with franchises in a suburban setting, meant for a quick and cheap way to eat. A food hall is an urban concept, with local restaurants serving well-prepared dishes that can be savored. Oh, and because it’s a social experience, there’s usually a bar. Everything’s trendier…and pricier. People seem to be happy with both, so who am I to argue? (Although I am a frugal foodie, I can eat well at food halls.)
Very brief–and questionable–history of modern food halls
The first modern food hall is credited to Torino, Italy’s Eataly, which opened in 2007 in a former vermouth factory. In true Italian style, founder Oscar Farinetti wanted “more than a store… a school, a market, a table to gather around…” Oscar’s gamble paid off; there are now 37 unique Eataly establishments around the world, including Chicago‘s two-story setting, with 22 restaurants, cafes, bars, and markets: gelato, chocolate, seafood, pasta, wine, cheese–and a vegetable butcher. In the River North neighborhood at 43 E. Ohio Street.
But guess what? Chicago food halls were already in place. In 1993, Foodlife (an early Lettuce Entertain You enterprise) opened in Water Tower Place, on the Magnificent Mile. I was there late last year, and it’s still going strong, with 14 distinct kitchens.
Where to find Chicago food halls–easy, peasy!
Besides Eataly and Foodlife, what other Chicago food halls should you try? The good news: Wherever you are, there’s a cool one nearby. Here are five more, in different parts of the city. All are easily reached by Chicago visitors.
Revival Food Hall: Located on the ground floor of Daniel Burnham’s 1907 National building, Revival Food Hall has 15 local “fast-casual stalls” and a bar. The space is huge: 24,000 sq. ft. and is easily found in the Loop. Open weekdays, 7am-7pm. The bar stays open till 9pm. 125 S. Clark Street.
Chicago French Market: Open since 2009, Chicago French Market is in the West Loop, near Union Station and the Ogilvie Transportation Center. With over 30 local vendors, it’s designed to resemble a European market, with a seating area like a French cafe. Food, produce, flowers…and a bar. Ooh-la-la! Open Monday-Friday 7am-7:30pm and Saturday 8:30am-5:30pm. 131 North Clinton, between Washington and Randolph Streets.
Wells Street Market: Just across the street from Chicago Riverwalk and Merchandise Mart, you’ll find nine fresh and local vendors, a full bar, and–surprise!–a beautiful flower shop. Just opened in 2018, Wells Street Market is the perfect place to get a take-away lunch for a picnic by the river. (Great indoor seating, too.) Weekdays: 7:30am-7pm. Grand Central Bar opens at 11am. Firecakes Donuts and the bar until 8pm. At the corner of Wells and Wacker (205 W. Walker Drive) in the Loop.
Latinicity: Unlike other Chicago food halls, Latinicity is, well, all about Latin American cuisine. Created in 2015 by acclaimed chef, Richard Sandoval, its eight innovative stations and a Mexican restaurant, Pueblo, deliver a wide variety of food. A full bar and lounge make it easy to stay awhile. Open Monday-Saturday, 11am-8pm. Sunday Brunch 11am-3pm. Pueblo is open for lunch, Monday-Friday, 11am-2:30pm. Dinner, Tuesday-Thursday, 5pm-8pm and Friday-Saturday, 5pm-9pm. Located on the third floor of Block 37, 108 N. State Street across from Macy’s/Marshall Field’s Store.
Aster Hall: Describing itself as “a culinary oasis,” Aster Food Hall opened on Black Friday 2018 in the ritzy Bloomingdale’s Building on North Michigan Avenue. With 16 “vaults,” on two floors, the Hogsalt Hospitality Group offers the best of each of its restaurants. The setting is glamorous and ordering is easy. It’s also cashless. Step up to a screen, choose, and pay. Take your receipt to the appropriate vault and voila…so sophisticated. Prices are decent, so head to 900 N. Michigan Avenue and give it a go.
With the trend of people moving back into cities, places where they can gather, eat, and shop marks a return to actual neighborhoods that so many of us remember and crave. In the meantime, enjoy a meal at one of the Chicago food halls–it beats hoofing all over the city for a single restaurant’s signature dish.
More Chicago? Sure!