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Chicago’s Food Hall Scene Continues to Boom in 2019

By Melissa Sersland

During the 2018 annual meeting of the American Bar Association, Thomas Happell, senior meeting planner for ABA’s Section of International Law, was looking for a site to hold a low-key reception. 

“Because so much going on around [our meeting] is very staid—award presentations and speeches in hotel ballrooms—we try to make our events low-key and a little less formal,” says Happell.

As such, he and his team chose to hold the event at Latinicity, one of several food halls opened in downtown Chicago in the past few years. Each offers new food concepts from both established and up-and-coming Chicago chefs; Latinicity offers an array of Latin American-inspired cuisine.

With about 100 guests, the ABA organized a buyout of the 22,000-square-foot space (Latinicity can accommodate up to 700 people). Happell ordered passed hors d’oeuvres and asked Latinicity to provide one to two food items from each food purveyor. Offering a variety was a hit with guests, Happell says. 

“The food hall has an affordable price point and a strong variety that makes it very appealing,” Happell says. “If you have a diverse crowd of attendees—we had people from around the world—a food hall makes it easier to accommodate a lot of different palettes than a standard plated meal.” 

Guests also enjoyed that they had plenty of space to stand or sit. “The layout naturally causes people to move around,” Happell says. 

Interested in hosting a future event in a food hall? Check out some of the newest options in Chicago below. 

Revival Food Hall

Revival Food Hall prides itself on offering guests a taste of the city. “This is a city built upon neighborhoods,” says General Manager Tim Wickes. “What better can we do than to bring those neighborhoods to the Loop?” The food hall, which opened in 2016, is located in The National (a historic Daniel Burnham building) across the street from Federal Plaza and offers both the main food hall space as well as an indoor-outdoor lounge on a separate floor.

Number of vendors: 17 (counting food stalls, pop-up food concepts and the Revival Café-Bar)

Must-try dishes: Grilled cheese sandwich from The Fat Shallot, catch of the day from Brown Bag Seafood Co. and 12-hour smoked brisket from Smoque BBQ

Event spaces: With 24,000 square feet of marketplace, Revival can fit around 600 people in the first-floor food hall. The sixth-floor lounge can accommodate up to 250.

Wells Street Market

This newcomer, opened in 2018, features food concepts from star Chicago chefs Jimmy Bannos Jr. (The Purple Pig), Jeff Mauro (Pork & Mindy’s, which also has a stall at Forum 55) and Takashi Yagihashi (formerly of the Michelin-starred Takashi). Wells Street Market is located across the river from Merchandise Mart.

Number of vendors: Nine fast-casual restaurants, a full bar and a flower shop

Must-try dishes: Donut ice cream sandwich from Firecakes Donuts, Grand Central Burger from Grand Central Bar and pork gyro from Piggie Smalls Gyro Shop

Event space: Wells Street Market can accommodate groups over 250 with 10,500 square feet of space featuring floor-to-ceiling windows. 

Forum 55

Opened in 2017 following a renovation of the Under 55 Café in Mid-Continental Plaza near Millennium Park, Forum 55 was community-driven from the beginning, says Paula Rae Gillingham, vice president of operations at Eurest, which oversees the hall. Two incubator programs, Apron Exchange and FOODWORKS, operate within Forum 55 to provide kitchen space to women- and minority-owned businesses. Forum 55 is cash-free; order at a kiosk and pick up your food when it’s ready. If you’re in the mood for greens, it has one of the largest salad bars in Chicago and features produce from Midwestern farmers.

Number of vendors: Eight fast-casual stalls, a grab-and-go marketplace and a salad bar

Must-try dishes: Pig Candy BLT from Pork & Mindy’s, Barrel Burger from Flame and challah French toast from Prelude

Event space: With 8,000 square feet of space, Forum 55 can accommodate up to 280 people.

Showroom Food Hall at Marriott Marquis Chicago

Conference attendees at McCormick Place have a new option for dining. The newest addition to Chicago’s food hall scene, the Marriott Marquis Chicago’s Showroom Food Hall opened in August 2018. Chef James Kerwin (who previously worked with Furious Spoon) has developed five new food concepts for the food hall inspired by Americana and Chicago’s Motor Row. 

Number of vendors: Five

Must-try dishes: House-made Pop Tarts from Revolution Coffee Counter, Kumpir Spud from Hot Licks and Mother Clucker Sandwich from Argosy Soup & Sandwich 

Event space: The Food Hall on its own is not being rented out for events currently, though the hotel is exploring options for doing so in the future. The hotel has 93,000 square feet of meeting space.