First the Greenway was welcome open space in the middle of downtown, an outdoor respite for office workers and guideway for tourists viewing the sights.
Now the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway is a place to eat — and eat well.
More than a dozen eateries have opened on or along the 15-acre park, which meanders from the North End to Chinatown — from food trucks that dish out boutique cuisine to celebrity chefs creating the newest fine-dining experiences.
It is no mystery why so many restaurateurs are flocking there: Established as a downtown destination in its own right, the park system is attracting hordes of visitors — and sooner or later they are going to be hungry.
“Great restaurateurs want to go where the people are. And more and more people are along the Greenway,’’ said Georgia Murray, chairwoman of the Greenway Conservancy, which runs the park system.
Among the new restaurants opening in buildings that front the Greenway are blue Inc., on Broad Street, by Jason Santos, who left Gargoyles on the Square in Somerville a month ago to open one of the first chef-driven restaurants along the pedestrian walkway.
“It’s scary, but it’s exciting at the same time,’’ said the blue-haired chef, a regular contestant on Fox’s reality show “Hell’s Kitchen.’’
Blue will feature a sidewalk patio that offers diners views of the lush lawns and flower gardens of the Greenway and the city skyline beyond. Santos’s signature crispy duck confit served over mango sticky rice with hoisin cashew glaze will be featured at night; a burger bar with butterscotch and black truffle milkshakes will be typical lunchtime fare.
Across the Greenway in the new Atlantic Wharf building, chef Jody Adams is preparing to launch her latest venture, Trade, this fall. The restaurant will offer patrons views of the Greenway through floor-to-ceiling windows while they dine on the James Beard Award winner’s locally focused cuisine. Although the menu has not been finalized, Adams describes Trade as a neighborhood place featuring flatbreads, small plates, and locally sourced entrees.
Adams said the Greenway has a particular appeal as an eating destination because it “takes us out of our everyday urban Boston world into something green and lush that promotes a sense of removal from the city.’’
Trade will join another eating powerhouse in the Atlantic Wharf building: upscale chophouse Smith & Wollensky, which will open its second Boston restaurant in late August.
“I knew when that huge green monster of a highway was coming down it presented new opportunities,’’ said Kim Giguere-Lapine, vice president of marketing for Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group.
Giguere-Lapine said the Boston-based restaurant group looked in the Back Bay and several other established dining zones before settling on the Greenway.
“This is a prime piece of real estate never used in the city before,’’ she said. “We look at it as a new addition to a great dining destination in downtown Boston.’’
The Greenway has grown in popularity since a rough start three years ago; its once-barren blocks now filled with fountains, lawn chairs, free WiFi service, and sculptures have helped draw and keep crowds. Sunrise yoga, concerts, art shows, and a carousel are all crowd-pleasers. Conservancy managers estimate more than 1 million people use the Greenway over the course of the year.
Another big anticipated event: the opening next year of a public food market, on the ground floor of a building in Haymarket, that will feature products from Bay State farms and craft food producers in the region.
But the food scene received a particularly big boost just this past weekend when a dozen food trucks — double the number from last year — arrived for the season. New this year are vendors offering cupcakes, grilled cheese, and barbecue.
Taking a break from his job at Bullhorn in the Seaport District, sales engineer Stephen Farrell ordered an iced coffee from Equal Exchange’s cafe on wheels. “I think it’s about time. It’s a lot better than having a highway coming through here.’’
And the lines at the Clover Fast Food truck parked near South Station were 10 deep one recent day. Employees were also taking orders via iPhone as customers devoured chickpea fritter sandwiches and sipped tarragon lemonade in the sun. On a day like that, the popular food truck will serve as many as 10 meals a minute.
And when it rains, “regulars want their fix no matter what,’’ said Clover’s chief executive, Ayr Muir.
Clover Food was one of the first mobile vendors to open on the Greenway. A year later, Muir is surprised by the park’s evolution.
“It’s hard to believe a year ago it was so desolate here,’’ he said, standing near his truck while a nearby farmers market was in full swing.
When the farmers market makes its twice-weekly visit, Muir said, sales for Clover jump 5 percent. Still, as much as the Greenway venture has been successful, Muir said the location isn’t yet fully realized. For example, he would like Clover to be open on weekends, but “not enough people live here.’’
But Skip Freeman, a real estate broker at Hammond Real Estate, said the proximity to restaurants and food trucks “can only help real estate values’’ and makes the surrounding neighborhood more attractive to live in.
“It’s a walking neighborhood, so if you can go to great restaurants it adds to value and charm,’’ Freeman said. “This is filling in more space, more dots, and connecting them.’’