Online shopping is killing an American classic: the shopping mall. And without big retail centers to draw the masses for conspicuous consumption, what will become of the accompanying food court? Fear not; Entrepreneurs have re-envisioned the fast-food agglomerations to suit current sensibilities. The modern food hall (or market hall, if you want to be even fancier) keeps the best parts of the food court — variety, convenience and social aspect — while ditching the national brands for homegrown eateries. And they're now freestanding, so you needn't enter through a big-box store or fight your way past bands of teenagers buying cheap sunglasses to grab a bite. Avanti Food & Beverage and Denver Central Market have capitalized on the model, while the Source and Stanley Marketplace have added boutique shops (for those who insist and just can't do virtual) as draws.
Upon entering the hall, you'll find a wide-open space that serves as Denver's equivalent of a European terminal bar, where commuters can stop for a drink before heading on. The slate is intended to be inexpensive, refreshing and light. Garage doors open onto a patio, and vaulted ceilings make for a bright, airy experience. Look down at the floors for color-coded stripes that lead to other destinations within the building; it's like standing on a public-transportation map on a giant scale.
How do you know when you're in Big Trouble? Just ascend the sweeping wooden staircase until you see a sign that reads "You're in Big Trouble." This mezzanine-level bar is Kiss + Ride's more upscale counterpart, boasting an Asian-alley theme and some almost futuristic drink options. The highball, for example, is served from a Suntory Japanese whisky tower that dispenses perfectly chilled sparking water and whisky over a chunky, rectangular ice cube that's so clear it all but vanishes once submerged. Neon signs and a DJ booth render a vibe somewhere between a 1980s HBO soft-core flick and a vibrant Tokyo streetcorner at night.
All of the food vendors are on the main floor, and the first space — located adjacent to Kiss + Tell — is a kitchen counter called No Vacancy, which will swap out food concepts quarterly. The first tenant is Comal, a branch of Comal Heritage Food Incubator located just across the Platte River in the TAXI development. Comal is a nonprofit eatery (run by Focus Points Family Resource Center) dedicated to giving women from the surrounding Elyria-Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods training and opportunities to open their own food-service businesses. Silvia Hernandez was in the first training group when Comal opened in 2016, and she'll head the kitchen at this new outpost. Because of the organization's commitment to diversity, you'll find Mexican cuisine Tuesday through Thursday, Argentinian empanadas on Friday, and Syrian specialties (don't miss the hummus!) Saturday through Monday.
A Korean-Southern mashup menu sounds like it could be a hot mess, but chef Bill Espiricueta (who's also opening Smok BBQ in the Source Hotel) makes it work — though the Korean fried chicken sandwich will be both hot and messy. After all, smoked brisket works pretty well in a bibimbop bowl (which also includes rice, housemade kimchi and a runny egg) and fried chicken is always a winner, whether from Kentucky or Korea. Espiricueta is an alum of Acorn and Oak at Fourteenth, so he knows his cooking, whether bulgogi, fried rice or noodle bowls.
Hawaiian-style poke rode a wave of popularity in Denver last year, but this Chicago company has been doing it for a little longer and will now be serving glistening jewels of tuna and other seafood (or tofu) in several sizes and styles, with a big variety of toppings and sauces. If the options seem a little overwhelming, just go with the house Volcano bowl, which comes packed with seaweed, edamame, jalapeño, ginger and a generous dollop of colorful fish roe.