Your Guide to Optimist Hall, Charlotte’s First Food Hall
Headquartered in a former textile mill, this food hall blends the Queen City’s history with a vision for the future.
by Jessica Swannie
Per a COVID-19-related Mecklenburg County health directive issued Jan. 12, 2021, please note that some businesses may have modified their hours of operation and changed procedures in order to comply with CDC and Mecklenburg County Health Department guidelines. Please wear a mask, limit any non-essential activities and refrain from gathering with anyone outside of your household.
Optimist Hall, Charlotte’s first food hall, blends the city’s heritage with its spirit for innovation and urban renewal. The former textile mill now serves as 147,000-square-feet of gathering space populated by local restaurants, offices and retail companies.
Originally inhabited by Highland Park Manufacturing Company, the space occupied one of the largest gingham factories in the country. Developers Paces Properties and White Point Partners purchased the space from Sam Kaplan, an entrepreneur known for his involvement in the debut of Spanx shapewear.
Inspired by Kaplan, the developers designed their vision for the space. They consciously preserved elements of the turn-of-the-century mill to maintain its character and story, like hardwood floors, bricks and original lighting fixtures.
Communal tables designed by American artist Donald Judd offer ample seating and private spots to share thoughts over a meal or a cup of coffee. Outside, the courtyard offers views of Uptown under the shade of vibrant yellow umbrellas. The food hall’s proximity to the city affords ample transport options. There’s on-site parking for both cars and bikes available, but Uber and Lyft are highly recommended. If you’re taking the Light Rail, exit at Parkwood Street Station, then turn right.
This eclectic stationery and gift retailer features an array of stationery, greeting cards, writing utensils and books.
This Italian eatery serves authentic favorites like hand-made pasta, cured salami and pizza baked to perfection in a wood-fired oven.
This concept from the celebrated local Moffett Restaurant Group serves Asian street food favorites inspired by chef Larry Schreiber’s childhood desire to create the perfect recipe. Dine on ramen, baos with beef and pork belly, and sweet macaroons.
Known for its ability to balance a menu of classic drinks and new creations, this award-winning Chicago cocktail bar serves vintage spirits and an elevated bar menu.
This Indian street food concept from James Beard Award-nominated chef Meherwan Irani is inspired by his love of kebabs, authentic Irani cafes and late-night eats in India. The flavorful menu focuses on grilled meats, hot buttered naan, “chaat” (snacks) and veggie dishes.
This celebrated Charleston restaurant made its debut in Charlotte complete with its award-winning chicken sandwiches. Try the signature “Boxcar,” prepared with pimento cheese, peach slaw, house pickles and spicy mayo.
The first location in North Carolina, this Atlanta-based candy concept (from the same owners of Archer Paper Goods) offers a mix of modern sweets, old-fashioned treats, premium sodas and convenient essentials.
The Dumpling Lady first graced Charlotte with Sichuan delicacies as a food truck in 2016. Three years later, executive chef Qian Zhang and sous chef Bea Vang, are now serving authentic family recipes in a 500-square-foot brick-and-mortar location at Optimist Hall. And don’t worry, the food truck still serves its famous dumplings, noodles and street food around Charlotte on a weekly basis.
Authentic Mexican cuisine meets upscale gaming at this unique concept. Expect favorites like carne asada and braised short rib along with a library of tequila and mezcal.
Authentic Argentinian empanadas and a community “committed to carbs” are at the heart of this homemade operation. Here, empanadas are crafted with British, American and Peruvian flavors, so you can expect savory and dessert empanadas including pulled chorizo, lobster, corn and chive, shepherd's pie, and guava and cheese.
Based out of Morganton, North Carolina, this space serves house microbrews inspired by English and Belgian culture with a focus on local agriculture.
This joint venture between Papi Queso and The Plaid Penguin has one mission: just be good. Harriet’s Hamburgers serves a “craveable” hamburger, crispy fries and a side of kindness from a nostalgic ‘50s-style diner stall.
You’ll smell the alluring scent of sweet gelato before even reaching Honeysuckle Gelato’s stand. Staples include scoops of gelato and shakes, as well as gelato sandwiches with flavor options like butter pecan blondie and salted caramel brownie.
You’ve probably seen this celebrated eatery on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” or have ordered from the popular Charlotte food truck. The self-described “streatery” now serves its famous grilled cheeses inside Optimist Hall.
The founders of Pet Wants set out with a purpose to create small-batch pet food prepared with the highest-quality ingredients. Look for food, chews and treats for your furry friends.
From the team behind Billy Sunday, The Spindle Bar is an 18-seat cocktail bar serving beer, wine and cocktails with locally sourced ingredients. Patrons can sip on cocktails throughout the entire food hall due to the bar’s unique liquor license.
This local Instagram-famous bakery combines its signature sweets (pastries, cookies, doughnuts) with a Cuban menu including rice bowls and sandwiches.
Designed to create a neighborhood coffee shop feel, Undercurrent Coffee specializes in creating coffees, teas and house-made sodas. Menu items include quiche, avocado toast, a grit bowl and more.
Inspired by inner-city taquerias, Velvet Taco combines global flavors with modern execution to create bold menu items like spicy tikka chicken, “elote” corn and fried paneer.
This charming family-owned eatery serves signature cold-pressed juices and nut milks as well as organic, photo-worthy dishes bursting with color.
The term “zukku,” meaning “canvas,” serves as the base for both the company’s concept and your meal. Combine fresh ingredients in a roll, burrito or bowl to create a colorful — and delicious — work of culinary art.
Anchored by cage-free, grass-fed proteins, this Northern-Virginia based concept will offer signature Western interpretations of Mediterranean foods. Create your own bowl, flatbread wrap or pita pocket with nearly 30 fresh toppings.
Charleston-based Xiao Bao will bring Asian comfort food to the Queen City. Look for bold and funky dishes like okonomiyaki, som tum and pad kra pow — menu items that have earned the restaurant prestigious accolades. The Optimist Hall location will showcase an added focus on Southeast Asian favorites from Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Article originally written by Jessica Swannie. Updates by Kristen Moore.