Credit: Illustration by Yunyi Dai

These aren’t the mall food courts of your youth. You know, where you’d meet up with friends for an Orange Julius or a slice of Sbarro. For one thing, today’s food halls generally showcase up-and-coming local vendors—rather than national chains—and they often feature flavors from around the globe. A food hall isn’t just a pit stop on your shopping journey; rather, it’s a social and culinary destination.

 Diners get tons of variety—and authenticity—within one location.  A good food hall’s collection of vendors has been carefully and thoughtfully curated, ensuring that concepts don’t overlap, menus are limited to no more than 10 to 12 well-executed items, and the vendors reflect the community they’re in, says Michael Morris, CEO of Cana Development, which created Commas.

Commas is a food hall slated to open in Silver Spring toward the end of 2023. Its name “references [the idea that] there’s always something coming up next,” Morris says. The space, at Ellsworth Place, will encompass about 13,500 square feet and will seat about 325. There will be 12 vendors, including Tokoa (cheesesteaks), J&J Mex-Taqueria, Spice Kitchen and DMV Empanadas. 

 For groups, food halls tend to beat out restaurants. You don’t need a reservation, and even the most diverse array of vegans, carnivores, gluten-free diners and keto dieters can wander off to order whatever they want, then regroup at the table.

Food halls also satisfy a need for speed.  Compared with a traditional restaurant, food halls offer “a faster experience for those on the go,” says Chad Sparrow, managing partner and executive chef of Common Plate Hospitality, which is behind the food hall The Heights.

The Heights was slated to open this summer in Wisconsin Place, next to the Friendship Heights Metro station. The Chevy Chase food hall is bringing together eight food vendors, plus a full-service restaurant (Urbano, which will offer Tex-Mex fare), a full food hall bar, and a Prohibition-inspired speakeasy bar, The Turncoat, with its own private entrance. Vendors include Lebanese-inspired Yasmine, Doki Doki Sushi and Mimi’s Handmade Ice Cream. It sprawls across 10,300 square feet and seats 300 (inside and outside). 


 Food halls make it easier for chefs to try out new concepts. “We have seen a number of high-quality chefs making the transition to food halls for the inherently low startup costs and labor requirements,” says Akhtar Nawab, co-CEO of Hospitality HQ for Solaire Social.

Solaire Social is scheduled to open in January 2024 on the ground level of the new Solaire residential tower at 8200 Dixon Ave. in downtown Silver Spring. As of press time, the vendor assortment had not been released to the public, but there will be 10 food vendors plus a bar. The food hall will accommodate 330 occupants indoors, plus an additional 42 outdoor seats (open seasonally).

This story appears in the September/October issue of Bethesda Magazine.