Road Trip-Worthy Food Halls, According to a Full-Time RVer
Sarah Hubbart is a full-time RV traveler and the writer behind The Wandering Road blog, an expertly curated resource where she opines about everything from the best restaurants in Page, Arizona, and a primer on Pinnacles National Park, to a three-day itinerary for Asheville. One of her core tenets is that “great food is a destination in itself,” and a common thread to a lot of her writing—and Instagramming—is food.
Wherever she goes, be it a small town or a larger city, Sarah has a penchant for scoping out the best local eats and must-visit restaurants. So when we here at Hello Ranger were mulling over the idea of food hall roundup spotlighting lesser-known and/or too-iconic-to-miss destinations, we knew Sarah would be the best resource. And sure enough, her picks for some of America’s best, most unique food halls are giving us all the hungry wanderlust feels. Here is what Sarah had to say:
Smallman Galley/Photos by Sarah Hubbart
Smallman Galley, Pittsburgh
I first visited Smallman Galley during a winter road trip to Pittsburgh. The city quickly stole my heart with its pierogies, hometown hero Mister Rogers, and all those bridges. One rainy day, I walked from our downtown hotel past PNC Park to the Strip District, where I stumbled on Smallman Galley, a perfect place to wait out the storm.
This food hall is actually a restaurant incubator—a place for rising star chefs to bring their ideas to market. While there are several different restaurant concepts to try at Smallman Galley (in addition to a well-stocked cocktail bar), my favorite of the food hall’s offerings was Iron Born Pizza. Be still my Detroit pizza-loving heart. If you’ve never tried this deep dish—and very square—style of pizza made in a cast-iron pan, you are missing out. Iron Born’s has a perfect crunch, and one of the best pizza sauces I have ever tasted.
I was excited to learn that Smallman Galley will be moving to a larger space in Pittsburgh’s Larimer neighborhood in 2021. Meanwhile, Iron Born Pizza has moved on to its own standalone space, still in the Strip District.
Union Market/Photos by Sarah Hubbart
Union Market, D.C.
Living in D.C. during a decade of huge transformation for the city, I can remember when Union Market opened like it was yesterday. Almost immediately after arriving in 2012, the historic market space brought a new energy to Northeast D.C. It has grown over the years to become a true community hub, hosting special events ranging from drive-in movies to fundraisers for local non-profits. As of 2016, more than 15,000 people visit the market each weekend, a number that has undoubtedly grown.
With a rotating list of vendors, there’s always something new to try at Union Market, but my favorites tend to be the old standbys: Rappahannock Oyster Co., Peregrine Espresso (once ranked the best coffeehouse on the east coast, much to NYC’s chagrin), and Takorean’s inventive rice bowls. While you’re there, pick up the perfect gift for a birthday or bridal shower at Salt and Sundry.
Since Union Market opened, the area around it has changed drastically. Former warehouses are now home to some of the best restaurants in the city. Two of my favorites are Coconut Club, a tropical vacation in meal form, and St. Anselm, which has the best biscuits I’ve ever had, period. And don’t miss Cotton and Reed, the District’s first rum distillery, also within walking distance.
The Bank/Photos by Sarah Hubbart
The Bank, Sacramento
I grew up about an hour north of Sacramento, a city that is only now beginning to receive the credit it deserves as a farm-to-fork culinary capital. Sacramento got its first food hall in 2018, a gold-ceilinged, 100+-year-old bank building located right downtown, within walking distance of the new Golden 1 Center. This is one of the most beautiful food halls you will ever see.
The Bank is huge—30,000-sq.-ft.—and offers breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks. Take a minute to check out the huge mural on the back of the building and the other world-class street art that fills this part of town.
If you love the poké trend, don’t miss Sac Poke Bros at The Bank. They dish out gorgeous—and delicious—bowls of salmon, avocado, masago, seaweed salad, and other Hawaiian-inspired toppings. Platypus Pizza Company is another good choice for thin-crust pizzas with a creative spin, like their brunch pie. There are also not one, but two bars to choose from: the downstairs beer cellar with pour-your-own taps, or the central bar and its big picture windows.
Cultivation Hall/Photos by Sarah Hubbart
Cultivation Food Hall, Jackson, MS
Have you ever been to Jackson, Mississippi? This city caught me off-guard during a stop on our coast-to-coast RV route. Jackson is full of history, and hipster hubs like the Fondren neighborhood, too. I’m not sure what I expected to find in Jackson, but it definitely wasn’t Cultivation Food Hall. I just love good surprises! Opened in 2019 and modeled after St. Roch Market in New Orleans, this food hall showcases a curated collection of modern food concepts all under one (beautiful) roof in a shopping center in the Eastover neighborhood.
You can find everything from coffee to crêpes to sandwiches and more at Cultivation Food Hall. I particularly enjoyed posting up at the Gold Coast bar, whose name is an homage to the prohibition hotspots along the Mississippi’s “Gold Coast.” The bar offers a great happy hour for classic cocktails like a sazerac or old fashioned.
Tillamook Creamery/Photos by Sarah Hubbart
Tillamook Creamery, Tillamook, CA
No road trip down the Oregon coast is complete without a stop by Tillamook, the friendly little farm town most famous for its cheese (fun fact: the local high school mascots are the Cheesemakers!). If you love all things dairy, this is the place for you.
And to be sure, the Tillamook Creamery is no run-of-the-mill, everyday farm tour. The visitor center recently went through a multimillion dollar renovation. Now, guests can get a bird’s-eye view of the production floor and learn all about cow comfort before heading down to the Creamery’s dining hall.
Order Northwest-inspired favorites like razor clam chowder or farm-fresh local salads. You also can’t go wrong with a grilled cheese or tempura fried cheese curds (the best you will find anywhere outside of Wisconsin). But save room for dessert and stop by the ice cream counter to try new flavors before they hit stores. My favorite? Tillamook’s Buttered Maple Pancake ice cream… for when you crave breakfast for dessert.
Epcot/Photos by Sarah Hubbart
Bonus: Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
One of our inaugural RV road trips was to Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness, a bucket list campground to say the least (if you go, be sure to check out the RV-themed snack bar posted up at Chip ’n Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long!).
We visited in November 2018 so I could run the Wine and Dine Half Marathon. After finishing the race (which started before sunrise) and earning my medal (which I of course wore for the rest of my trip), I met up with a group of friends who had traveled with us to attend the main event: the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. I hit 47,000 steps that day while navigating this multicultural food hall experience… no regrets!
The Food & Wine Festival is all about grazing your way around the world while being surrounded by Disney magic. Epcot always has great food and drink options, but during the festival it’s an embarrassment of culinary riches. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
It’s impossible to pick one favorite food of the festival, but there were definitely some standouts. In Ireland, I loved the warm Irish cheddar cheese and stout dip with brown bread. The Colonial Hops and Barley station offered a delicious beef brisket pot roast with crispy fried onions and pickled vegetables. For something lighter, check out the butternut squash ravioli with brown butter and pumpkin seeds at the Wine and Dine Studio. Over in China, the roasted duck bao bun is everything, and you can’t go wrong with a Kalua pork slider with pineapple chutney from Hawaii.
One final pro tip: the Food & Wine Festival is one of the only places in the parks where you can find a boozy Dole Whip.
Header photo: Courtesy of The Bank/Facebook
Sarah Hubbart is a writer and full-time RV traveler exploring small towns and public lands across the U.S. in a RV with her husband and French bulldog. She shares practical tips and itineraries for your next road trip at wanderingroadblog.com.