First Look

Tips for Tackling Eataly the First Time

This is like taking a picture of one aisle at Central Market then saying, "See how massive it is?" It's just too much for one frame and a marginal photographer.
This is like taking a picture of one aisle at Central Market then saying, "See how massive it is?" It's just too much for one frame and a marginal photographer. Lauren Drewes Daniels
Eataly is the new Italian food wonderland at NorthPark Center that opened late last year. It’s hard to put into words everything that this place is exactly. If you squint and tilt your head, it’s like Central Market for the Amalfi Coast. An Ikea of charming Italian goods, but in a voluptuous curvy way instead of sleek and slim.

The grocery store element anchors this multi-level space but is not at all overshadowed by the wine department (not on our watch, anyway). Then there are restaurants, cafes, counters, a meat market, a bakery, a fishmonger and stacks upon stacks of bags of adorable Italian cookies. Put your arch supports in your best shoes because there's a lot of ground to cover here and no $31 per pound Parmigiano Reggiano is worth agitating your plantar fasciitis. Or maybe.

click to enlarge Some of the wine selection. It's really scattered everywhere throughout the store. - LAUREN DREWES DANIELS
Some of the wine selection. It's really scattered everywhere throughout the store.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
Getting there is a bit harried. But, you will park. You might not think you will at first, but with the seriousness of Liam Neesom telling his daughter they will take her, hawk enough and you’ll get your spot. Disclaimer: depending on your level of favor with the parking gods, you may have to walk through the actual mall to get to Eataly. But, hang in there, it’s worth it.

Obviously, the weekends are packed. Finding time to go early on a weekday, at least according to Reddit users in Boston who are totally over how busy it always is; a weekday around 2 p.m. is the best time to explore.


click to enlarge Behind this wine island is part of the counter restaurant, Il Pastaio di Eataly. - LAUREN DREWES DANIELS
Behind this wine island is part of the counter restaurant, Il Pastaio di Eataly.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
Before going, it’s a great idea to reserve a spot at one of their restaurants. You’re going to need a break and sustenance. Terra is the more formal restaurant on the third floor. The more casual Il Pastaio di Eataly has “counters” situated in the middle of the store. Another restaurant, La Pizza and La Pasta is tucked away on the first floor and it's highly recommended you make reservations through Open Table. All of these places allow you to get a taste of what is sold and made in the store. There are also several different walk-up counters for focaccia, pizza, desserts and a cafe.

Eataly gets a bit of criticism because of high prices. Feels like there's something for everyone though; sure you can pay $10 for 7 ounces of a meat sauce, or you can get a more affordable red sauce for just a few bucks. Pasta prices can be eye-popping, but they can also not be. Just have to dig a bit.

click to enlarge Aisles of pasta. Yep, just pasta. And there's more house-made pasta in another area. - LAUREN DREWES DANIELS
Aisles of pasta. Yep, just pasta. And there's more house-made pasta in another area.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
Eataly has a large wine section to peruse. Many displays offer the history and details of specific wines, which is nice. Their monthly wine club will get you three expertly selected Italian bottles for $75 a month, which can be picked up at the store or delivered for a fee.

A pro-tip, call it a mission or goal, whatever, but it’s best to assign some sort of focus to your trip. Think of this as bumper rails at the bowling alley. Things can quickly, easily, wonderfully and painfully (depending on when payday was) get out of hand. There’s just so much. Or maybe it’s perfect. So, say you make a reservation for lunch, then just grab the goods for Sunday dinner and Monday snacks and post-yoga and Zoom meetings.

For now, shoppers can't sample goods or drink wine when shopping. When we called Eataly and asked about this, their customer service member said the experience will be "totally different" when (if?) all the pandemic restrictions are lifted. For now, they require masks except for when seated. So, hang tight for an entirely new trip someday.

Finally, Eataly has a pretty good Instagram page with backstories on suppliers and products, helping to break down this carb and cheese mega buffet into bite-size pieces.

Eataly, 8687 N. Central Expressway, NorthPark Center, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Sunday
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.