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.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.