TRADE Food Hall epitomizes today’s fast-casual landscape, bringing together an array of comfort-centric eateries in a chic communal dining environment. And while you’ll find everything from pho to fried chicken, there’s an artistic element that ties every restaurant together within the TRADE confines. Beautiful food, with flavor pairings that push the boundaries of conventional dining ever outward, make virtually every TRADE Food Hall establishment something to strike intrigue with eye and palate alike.
If there’s ever a foodie concoction to blow up Instagram, it’s the magical burger at Ground House. This quadruple burger comes on a rainbow bagel bun, decorated with rainbow sprinkles and then covered with a heap of Lucky Charms marshmallows. And while there’s no doubt that most will order this outlandish burger for the pictures alone, it’s safe to say that most will be surprisingly pleased with the contrast of sweet and savory.
Magical burger aside, ‘conventional’ still wouldn’t be the best way to describe Ground House, which takes pride in its cheat day-worthy creations that put bacon and pork-centric items front and center. Those burgers, though, are top notch.
Neighboring restaurant Portside focuses on seafood, showcased in grand Cali fashion. Monster burritos stuffed to the point of explosion and tacos actually filled to capacity are a breath of fresh air from the faux ‘street style’ concepts that try to pass off paltry portions as more authentic. That surf ‘n’ turf burrito is absolutely worth a repeat visit.
Some of Irvine’s most inventive cocktails can be found at Center Hub, where mastermind Cameron Lang and team have come up with simply beautiful creations. Take the la chancla, a Mexican candy margarita made with blanco tequila, watermelon puree, tajin and a chili lollipop garnish, held on with the world’s smallest clothespin. Or the rock pops, basically a liquid alcoholic version of rock candy. And what better to pair with a quadruple burger than a gigantic mojito?
Wrap things up with a cookie monster milkshake at sweet comforts, made with blue cookies ‘n’ cream ice cream [think about it!]. And after all this, you’ve only scratched the surface at TRADE Food Hall. Perhaps best to pace yourself across a few visits to take it all in.
TRADE Food Hall is located at 2222 Michelson Dr. Irvine, CA 92612. Hours vary, but generally open 11a – 9p Mon – Fri, 11a – 8p Sat/Sun. Prices vary by restaurant. For more information, visit TradeFoodHall.com
The wondrous flavors of New Orleans have assimilated with the Angelino palate through Preux & Proper, bringing a quaint-yet-stylish, casual-yet-classy taste to on one of DTLA’s busy thoroughfares. ‘Colonel’ Josh Kopel and Executive Chef Sammy Monsour have created a masterful experience with Cajun-inspired dishes and elegant SoCal panache, striking patrons with a cultural intrigue that gets this place popping night after night.
The humble entrance off Spring Street transports you straight to NoLa, frozen drink machines and all. Walk up the stairs to enter Proper Dining Hall, where everything on a plate sticks to its Cajun roots while the bustling bar, lounge and dining area screams hip LA. Craft cocktails go far beyond NoLa’s hurricanes [the drink, to avoid any confusion here], such as the rising sun, with Japanese whisky, egg white and yuzu; the voodoo queen, with Jamaican rum and jerk bitters; and the mezcalarita del diablo, with ancho syrup and chipotle. Step onto the restaurant’s small balcony after a few of these and you may see someone down below asking for beads.
Preux & Proper dishes out sizeable portions, with featured shared plates like the grilled yellow street corn, a take on Mexican elote, as well as a chicken liver pate that spreads beautifully over grilled baguette. The southern fried section, however, really takes it home. The fried whole game hen, essentially a high-end version of chicken and biscuits, is a meal to remember, with a sweet, crunchy coating, fluffy biscuits and a honey finish that makes it all come together. For an additional splurge, go for the 36-hour prime boneless beef rib, a melt-in-your-mouth indulgence complemented beautifully with mashed yams and crispy parsnip chips.
Preux & Proper is located at 840 S. Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90014. Open 4 – 10p Mon – Wed, 4p – midnight Thu, 4 – 11p Fri/Sat and noon – 9p Sun. Avg. out-the-door cost for split appetizer, split charcuterie, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$105/person. For more information call (213) 896-0090 or visit PreuxAndProper.com
A bit of Texas. A bit of Carolina. A bit of Kansas City. Virgil’s Barbecue combines them all and many more styles under one roof along the LINQ Promenade. Getting its original footing in New York, the Las Vegas location is the restaurant’s first expansion, and has been well-received by many a patron looking for hearty taste in this bustling thoroughfare.
Virgil’s Barbecue is about the closest you can get to a Southern backyard summertime gathering on Las Vegas Boulevard. Casual tables, dish rag napkins and oversized silverware, as well as an indoor performance stage and an outdoor patio make you feel right at home and ready for whatever fun the day throws at you.
The menu focuses on pit master classics, and does them well. The dry-rubbed pork ribs, smoked for hours on end, are packed with flavor and that hearty, feel-good quality you look for in American comfort food. The beef brisket boasts many of the same qualities, as do all of the classic sides—mashed potatoes and gravy, mac and cheese, cheesy grits and so on. Also factor in the Texas barbecue nachos, where tortilla chips are simply a vehicle to house as much pulled pork and barbecue sauce as humanly possible.
A fun-filled drink list brings together country flavor and Vegas pizzazz. The bloody Mary is exceptional, with just a hint of barbecue sauce to make it something new and different, garnished with a piece of homemade secret recipe beef jerky. Just about every part of the drink program is homemade for that matter, with fresh-squeezed juices and house made mixes, making each order rise above the norm. Another star player is the electric lemonade, which packs a much stronger punch than the taste gives off.
A few more fun gimmicks add to the dining experience. For one, most orders are served in either cast iron skillets or, more likely, on metal trays. And, while it’s not often that a bathroom feature makes a restaurant story, every guy who’s used the facilities will attest that urinals made out of retrofitted kegs are simply hilarious.
Virgil’s Barbecue is located at 3545 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109. Open 10a – 11p Sun – Thu, 10a – midnight Fri - Sat. Average out-the-door price for split appetizer, entree, split dessert and 1-2 drinks is ~$72/person. For more information call (702) 389-7400 or visit VirgilsBBQ.com.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.