A's List: From chef-driven concepts to destinations with a healthier focus, these Chicago food halls aim to better connect us
By Audarshia Townsend
It’s no secret that as a society we’re completely disconnected. With cell phones, tablets and other electronic devices demanding much of our attention, it’s difficult to meet new people.
The continuing growth of food hall concepts hopes to change that trend, and thus far, they’re working by creating a sense of community. So much, in fact, that more are on the way, including an ambitious project in the works on the South Side. The 2,500-square-foot One Eleven Food Hall is set to open in January in the historic Pullman District with a soulful vegan eatery, bakery and catering business as its first tenants.
The food hall concept not only creates a sense of community among its guests, but the operators themselves. And what’s more important is that they set out to give their customers unique dining experiences they wouldn’t get in food courts—just in case you were wondering. Here are some of our favorites around town.
Brendan Sodikoff of Hogsalt Hospitality brought us unmatchable burgers at Au Cheval, gourmet doughnuts at Doughnut Vault and tasty turkey legs at Green Street Smoked Meats. Now, he’s introducing them all under one roof on two levels at the luxury 900 Shops on the Mag Mile. But there’s more! Sodikoff, in fact, is showcasing more than a dozen mini eateries within 22,000 square feet. That’s indeed a feat, so get ready to enjoy the hippest dining experience ever at a Chicago mall.
It’s not just French food you’ll find at this sprawling West Loop destination found in the MetraMart. Chicago French Market features just about every crave-able cuisine imaginable, and it’s all so affordable. There’s pan-Asian (noodles, sushi, poke, fried rice), empanadas, pierogies, soul vegan, Indian, barbecue, artisan cheeses, lobster rolls and more created by chefs using local and sustainable ingredients. What’s also great about Chicago French Market is that seating consists of a large in-house area reminiscent of a Parisian street cafe.
One of the city’s oldest and notable food halls, foodlife continues to draw big crowds, particularly during the height of the holiday shopping season. It’s located on the mezzanine of Water Tower Place and is a big family attraction. How does it work? They'll issue a "credit card" at the entrance, and you use it to carry the tab for from-scratch food items selected from more than a dozen kiosks. Italian, Mexican and classic American dishes are featured, among others.
Known for cranking out smoothies, avocado toast and more, RealGood Food has opened its first food hall concept. Miniature in size, it expands upon what the original store accomplished in Old Town. The River North outpost features a hot bar, grab-and-go items, pet treats, a matcha bar and endless local and organic menu items from farmers they’ve been supporting since the company was founded in 2014. This is the first of the 14 locations to highlight sustainable proteins like wild-caught salmon, Amish chicken and line-caught tuna. The company has plans to take the concept beyond the Midwest.
Miniature versions of 15 restaurants are situated in this 24,000-square-foot marketplace, which is on the ground floor of The National, a restoration of a historic 1907 Daniel Burnham-designed, 20-story building. For example, there's Smoque BBQ, from the award-winning restaurant on the Northwest Side of the city. There's also Antique Taco Chiquito, which boasts full-size locations in Bridgeport and Wicker Park. In the evening, the vibe is almost lounge-like, with bartenders selecting the music during the week and deejays spinning Thursdays and Fridays.
Located in the downtown Chicago Loop district, Wells St. Market boasts concepts by a James Beard Award winner, Michelin-starred chef and Food Network star. Jimmy Bannos Jr. (Piggie Smalls Gyro Shop), Shin Thompson (Furious Spoon) and Jeff Mauro (Pork & Mindy's), respectively, are some of the biggest draws to the food hall catering to those who work and live in the area. In all, there are 11 vendors that also include a specialty florist, doughnut stand and cocktail bar.
See previous A's List columns right here.