Irvine’s TRADE Food Hall houses some of the OC’s most intriguing under-the-radar casual eateries, with concoctions like rainbow burgers blowing up Instagram on the reg. TRADE’s offerings are not limited to just the stalls that surround the venue’s central dining area, however. The entire complex sports a broad spectrum of new-age hotspots, with cuisines that span the globe. You’re not going to find too many places that cover this much ground with such modest price points, and the joy of TRADE is the ability to try a bit of everything across one sitting.
You’ll unquestionably be drawn to Hiro Nori, if for nothing else than the perpetual line out the door. Among Orange County’s premiere ramen destinations, Hiro Nori serves up something ridiculous in its tonkotsu ramen. That rich, creamy broth is like no other, with tender pork that melts off your chopsticks and thick, hearty noodles that pick up all the flavor. Don’t pass on that black garlic sauce, which gives everything a pristine smoky quality. Their shoyu ramen is another masterpiece, and Hiro Nori rounds it out with a selection of bowls and Japanese fusion small plates. Is it worth the hour wait? The answer is with the beholder, and there’s only one way to find out. HiroNoriCraftRamen.com
Around 100 paces down the lot is KRISP, a modern café that serves up premium coffee, gourmet juices, and a variety of healthful entrees. KRISP’s menu epitomizes the millennial palate, with avocado toast galore amidst a slew of matcha-based drinks…and foods [matcha brownies anyone?]. They also spice things up, literally, with worldly goodies such as masala chai. You’ll inevitably find 20-somethings making the place their home for the day, working on their startup or the next great screenplay. KrispFreshLiving.com
If dessert is what you’re looking for, look no further than Sweet Combforts, back in TRADE Food Hall’s central hub. True to its name, Sweet Combforts specializes in chocolate-dipped Belgium Liege waffles, pressed with the honeycomb pattern that waffles had back when they were first created. They use pearl sugar to give their waffles an unreal texture, not to mention some crazy topping combinations. The churro crunch, complete with cinnamon toast crunch and a cream cheese drizzle; and the cookies and dreams, with Oreo cookie butter, Oreo crumbles and white chocolate, will put a sweet cap on just about anything. SweetCombforts.com
Hiro Nori, KRISP and Sweet Combforts are located at 2222 Michelson Dr., Irvine, CA 92612. Hours and prices vary, but expect lunch and dinner service 7 days a week and to leave spending less than $20/person at each venue.
Slater’s 50/50 rose to fame with its delectable half beef, half bacon patties, then spread across California and neighboring states with a tried and true mantra of burgers, bacon and beer…extra emphasis on the bacon. Now, in an effort to appeal to more of the masses, Slater’s is branching slowly and methodically out of its core menu offerings. New entrees and seasonal menus reach a broad spectrum of palates, with plenty of—dare we say—[more] healthful options.
While seasonal offerings have changed since the time of this writing, expect a lot more green and a lot fewer carbs than you’re used to on a traditionally heavy menu. Bun-less burger bowls have made their debut, and will likely continue in some form or another. The ‘impossible’ vegetarian patty is an option for any burger on the menu. Slater’s is also putting solid emphasis on ahi tuna in appetizers and salads.
Those still seeking decadence should fear not. Slater’s is still going full throttle with unreal burgers, some of the best milkshakes out there, and more bacon than you know what to do with. Hard to argue with the lone star smoke burger, complete with bbq sauce, garlic aioli and thick onion rings stacked high, or the sriracha burger, which uses enough of its namesake ingredient to make that happy birthday shake all the more necessary.
Not all of Slater’s menu additions are healthful, showing that the franchise is staying true to its core audience that favors all things bacon. Nothing showcases this more than the bacon chocolate lava cake, finished with a large strip of bacon drizzled in chocolate and caramel. Just pretend that ordering a burger bowl will cancel it out and you’ll leave guilt-free.
Slater’s 50/50 has locations across Southern California, Nevada, Texas and Hawaii. Hours vary. Average out-the-door price for burger, fries and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$42/person. For more information visit Slaters5050.com.
Bricks is the kind of restaurant you grow up with and the type of place every community needs. It’s where families celebrate little league victories, where friends gather after high school football games, and where the grownups go to get killer burgers and beer on a casual night out. The tiny standalone building along Lyons Ave. sits just out of reach from Newhall’s main drag of increasingly trendy hotspots, creating a bubble of family-owned and operated nostalgia and warm, homey comfort for all who walk in through its doors. But there’s much more to Bricks than its communal tables, quaint patios and fancifully decorated counter—there’s some serious comfort food to be had.
Burgers, fries and shakes are the name of the game at Bricks, and present one of the best values this side of LA. The bacon bleu burger, practically toppling over from a mountain of onion rings and its namesake ingredients stacked atop a thick patty, puts rivals to shame AND comes with fries…like a good burger should. Same goes for the signature Bricks burger, a savory compilation of bacon, caramelized onion, Swiss cheese, grilled jalapenos and arugula. Each is complemented with a house-made aioli.
Bricks takes it a step further with its add-ons, a plethora of haute customizations that are well-worth the paltry $1 – 3 upgrade. That 50/50 patty—half beef, half chorizo—is as progressive as what you’ll find in any pretentious burger bar, as are those skinny fries with parmesan and garlic [though they could be served a bit hotter]. Best to complete the experience with a milkshake, just as stellar in sweet, decadent richness. Sea salt caramel and cookie butter are just two from a long list of tantalizing options. You’ll also find wine and beer, where Bricks has partnered with a locally-acclaimed brewery to step up its draft game.
While Bricks can’t exactly be classified as a small-town diner [Santa Clarita is bigger than you think], it does share the distinct quality of cooking up just about everything under the sun. From gyros to fried chicken, you’ve got an array of salads, sandwiches, hot dogs and meal-sized starters and sides to choose from. The street dog is a souped-up version of LA’s classic curbside bacon-wrapped hot dog, finished with that house-made chipotle aioli. Then there’s the bacon waffle burger, which subs out a bun for a bacon and cheese-infused waffle.
Bricks is located at 23820 Lyons Ave, Santa Clarita, CA 91321. Open 11a – 9p Mon – Fri, 10a – 9p Sat, 10a – 8p Sun. Avg. out-the-door price for entrée and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$25/person. For more information, call (661) 286 – 1091 or visit BricksNewhall.com
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.