Cream Of The Crop: Meet The Newest Trend In Dining Out

All around the country, bustling high-end food halls are making it easy for foodies to both dine in and shop for unique retail and specialty foods all in one place. Nothing is mass-produced here -- think locally grown ingredients, fresh-pressed juices and handmade specialties such as nut butters, spices and sauces. It's like attending a high-end food festival anytime you want! Have lunch, peruse the markets and individual shops for whatever else you're craving, then grab a few more goodies, from hard-to-find cheeses to artisanal sweets.

Mario Batali helped popularize the trend back in 2010 when he partnered in the opening of Eataly's Italian emporium in New York City. His passion for food and how it unites people struck a chord with the masses, and they clamored to get their hands on retail versions of his upscale, restaurant-style items. The decadent seven mini-restaurants located next to the market mean you can nosh on several dishes (don't forget a glass or two of wine) before purchasing everything needed to make it at home. (We love his famous specialty foods like basil pesto, caper sauce, arancio honey, crispbread, and high-end coffee beans.) Eataly became so overwhelmingly popular that he expanded with a second U.S. location in Chicago.

Not surprisingly, there are numerous urban markets all over Northern California, which pride themselves on locally grown goodness of all flavors. San Pedro Square Market, located in San Jose in Silicon Valley, is the hot spot to eat, drink, shop or listen to live music all in one place. Since the weather is amazing year-round, there are always crowds of both tourists looking for take-home treats and locals enjoying their lunch break. Try the sustainably sourced ice-cream at Treatbot, the regional wine selection at Vino Vino, or specialty Vietnamese spring rolls at On A Roll.

An hour north at the lively Ferry Building Marketplace, an expansive Bay Area gem in San Francisco, you'll find a wide assortment of locally grown produce, plus nuts, breads, tea and more. After grabbing a bite at Hog Island Oyster Company, pick up the night's dinner (organic, of course) at Golden Gate Meat Company, fill up on cheese at Cowgirl Creamery, and select from more than 25 coveted beans, hot sauces and herbs at Rancho Gordo. Saturdays can be especially crowded during the Farmer's Market, but Edible Excursions comes to the rescue with food tours that offer up samples of all the best treats without having to stand in lines. Ferry Building Marketplace has a boutique sister location in wine country, downtown Napa's Oxbow Public Market, that's packed with all the specialty foods winos are looking for, from truffle salt and gourmet olive oils, to spices, cheese, and chocolates.

The trend is spreading like wildfire -- including down south in Atlanta's Inman Park. Krog Street Market (main photo) opened in November to wild fanfare, thanks to its mixed-use space of 15 food and market stalls, five anchor restaurants and The Living Room, a communal dining area. Here, visitors can grab small batch chocolates at Xocolotl, fresh exquisite bouquets of Fresh Market Flowers, and handmade pastries with seasonal and local ingredients at The Little Tart.

Next up? Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain is locking down his own Bourdain Market in New York City, expected to open this year with a beer garden, oyster bar, tapas bar, bakery and produce market.

Buon Appetito!

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