Food hall fun
We’re not sure why Irvine doesn’t have any old bars. We assume like most things in the city it’s connected to whims over the years of the former Irvine Ranch and the Irvine Co. It’s too bad; we love a dive bar that’s found renewed favor with subsequent generations because of its authentic “cool” factor. Where is our Beach Ball, The Fling, Sandpiper, Stag Bar, The Swinging Door or Swallow’s Inn?
So what does this have to do with TRADE Food Hall, the new hot spot in the IBC that features several different food stalls in a moderately sized indoor/outdoor space? It’s because the best thing about TRADE is the aptly named Center Hub bar that forms the core of the TRADE experience. Without it, the place would just be a glorified food court. With it, TRADE is one of the most important centers of the next generation of contemporary, cool Irvine.
As an old friend used to say: Nightlife is culture, too. When one travels abroad and returns home, we rave about the restaurants and museums, of course. But think of how often you’ve regaled friends and family about the little pub or bistro you discovered hidden down a side street in a distant city, or the palapa on the sand serving ice-cold cerveza that became the highlight of your trip. That’s because bars so often serve as community centers in cultural cities, those “third places” that are neither work nor home.
The great thing about a place like TRADE is that at its core it is a social place. It’s easy to gather with friends and linger there. While solo diners are welcome, even they are part of the social experience of sharing space in a public place.
Because everyone goes off to order separately, there are no issues with splitting bills, no worrying about picky eaters or differing personal policies about tipping.
At a table service or fast casual restaurant, you’re on the clock. There’s a social contract with the server that you’ll enjoy your meal and then move on so another party can be seated.
So while much attention is focused on the food at Orange County’s new collection of food halls that includes Anaheim’s Packing House, 4th Street Market in Santa Ana, Union Market in Tustin, and TRADE in Irvine, it’s the beer, wine and cocktail culture there and at Center Hub that makes the experience exceptional.
And there is food, of course. Current vendors include Pig Pen Delicacy, Dos Chinos, Sweet Combforts, Gyro King, Butterleaf, Two Birds, Portside and Megadon. The best are probably Butterleaf for vegan and vegetarian options, Two Birds for amazing pieces of artisan chicken, served separately or as sandwiches, grilled or fried. We also enjoy Gyro King, the one holdover from the previous food court at the same location.
The entire strip center is evolving into one of Irvine’s dining destinations with HiroNori Craft Ramen, Krisp Fresh Living and sublime sushi at Ootoro.
The center at Michelson and Bixby includes an IBC rarity: free parking. There is a premium on finding a spot during the lunch rush, but we wouldn’t know as we generally walk over, as should you.