This Miami Food Hall's Best Dish Isn't on the Menu

This Miami Food Hall's Best Dish Isn't on the Menu: It's a Community Thing. Melissa Hege, AICP of South Florida-based Melissa Hege City Planning LLC. takes a look at Miami's food halls from a planner's perspective.

First Place: The Citadel

Why? Because it landed right in the middle of El Portal’s tiny commercial Main Street, between Miami Shores and Little Haiti on NE 2nd Avenue and is beginning to transform the neighborhood for the community that lives there. This is exciting stuff. And you gotta love the big retro sign.

I’d been reading about this place for a year and I would drive by the shell of a building and wonder what it would look like and how it would fit in with the neighborhood. Who would come here and would it be another typical story of gentrification- pushing out the minority businesses and residents and bringing in hipsters with money.

But one step into this place and it’s clear, this is not your typical food hall and it’s not for the upper crust. The design is simple and beautiful. The space is vast and cozy. The bar is gorgeous and the materials and colors are warm and soothing.

There are a variety of spaces to work, hang out and eat- couches, high tops, communal tables, round tables and charging stations at every table. The restaurants are eclectic and are representative of the Haitian neighborhood, the Latin American community, Asian and gringo. Half the building is set aside for the food hall and the other half is a large event space with rotating art displays, play areas for children and pop-up retail. Both spaces hosts special events for community members and there is even a rooftop venue. But what I liked about the Citadel, was that it is a place for everyone and enjoyed by everyone. Unbelievable.

So how has this little project began to build community in the neighborhood?

Parking Lot:

Let’s start with the parking lot. This back entrance is great for people who don’t want to park on the street, but it’s open and inviting for anyone to use. It’s well maintained, beautifully landscaped and clean. It is not an eyesore to the neighbors on the street, but adds green and beauty.

Building a District:

Tony Goldman knew that you had to have a cluster of activity to make a district successful. His recipe was art and food. Here, the recipe seems to be retail and food. The developers of the Citadel have two more buildings on NE 2nd Avenue. One right next to the food hall on the opposite corner will house creative retail space.

The other is a rehab of an existing building with the same kind of creative retail uses. More community driven and community run. The result of these three buildings is something special. It shows a commitment to the neighborhood that is both caring and attentive to the community.

It also came on the heels of the NE 2nd Street redesign and construction. With new sidewalks, landscaping and pavement, the Citadel and it’s sister buildings create a real wow factor. It just makes me happy every time I drive through here.

And the poetry of the place is best visualized through this photo. Through this keyhole is an entrance to the main food hall space. In the foreground is the buildings history which the owners of the Citadel honor. But peer down the long corridor and you can see that something new was added to make the space relevant and contemporary for the community.

Lessons Learned:

It’s not just enough to have a great restaurant line up and a cool space, the best food halls are part of the community and make their neighborhoods better.

Citadel nailed it.

Editorial originally posted by Melissa Hege, AICP at

Melissa Hege, AICP, LEED AP, practices planning and urban design in one of the Country’s most envied and envious iconic cities—the Republic of Miami. For more than a decade, she has enjoyed the juxtaposition of the region’s beauty and dysfunction, and continues to learn from it daily. Educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Brandeis University, her portfolio includes award winning plans which translate design based solutions into practical applications.

In her current practice, Melissa Hege City Planning, she straddles the roles of planner and community advocate by exploring infrastructure investments which add exponential value to cities. These include waterfront parks, bicycle and pedestrian trails, and complete streets—streets which have comfortable and protected zones for bicycles, pedestrians, cars, and transit. She is currently developing a waterfront pop-up installation on Miami’s Biscayne Bay to demonstrate the potential value of a permanently improved and connected waterfront trail in downtown Miami. Other recent projects include an interactive web based tool to visually track all multi-agency infrastructure improvements in downtown Miami and a Complete Streets forum for local municipalities in partnership with Miami Dade County.

Melissa is a board member of the Miami Modern (MIMO) Biscayne Boulevard Association, a 501c3 dedicated to preserving its architectural history and expanding commercial opportunities for this US-1 corridor. She is Past Chair of the Miami Section of the Florida American Planning Association, was Co-chair for the State’s annual conference and served on Miami-Dade County’s Transportation Aesthetic Review Committee. She has been published in the Miami Herald, Florida Planning, Planetizen and Panorama (University of Pennsylvania) and taught as an adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University. She developed a planning curriculum for middle school students at the Cushman School and is a regular speaker at the Florida American Planning Association’s annual conference.