TRADE: a new open air food hall in Irvine


The Bam Bam waffle from Sweet Combforts. (J. Krassner)

Staff Writers
TRADE is food hall located near John Wayne Airport containing nine food instillations varying from Greek to Latin-Thai cuisine to a bar. It opened on May 13 and the first 100 people to arrive received a ticket for free samples at each vendor. While we didn’t arrive early enough to receive the tickets, we did try each vendor’s food with the exception of Gyro King and the Bar.
The TRADE website advertises ample parking, however, that may not be true during peak hours, and finding a spot proved difficult. The hall could fit about 125 people which was not nearly large enough to accompany the crowd arriving throughout the day. It was extremely difficult to find a place to sit down, especially a spot that had shade.
The cost of the food was more pricy than we had first imagined. In truth, the prices are fine, but the portions in relation to their prices don’t match. All of the dishes we ordered ranged from $3.50 to $10. Most of them were relatively small, although we ordered mainly appetizers because we wanted to try something from as many places as possible.   
The first two places we ordered from were Dos Chinos and Megadon. Dos Chinos, a Latin-Asian fusion vendor, has a ordering style similar to Chipotle in which customers pick a style, such as a bowl or a burrito, and then pick a meat. While the website claims that much of the cuisine is Vietnamese, many of the menu items are not. For example, we ordered the Hollywood Chicken dish which consisted of coconut panang curry chicken. Panang curry, while popular in Southeast Asia, has more of an association with Thai food. The chicken plate overall was tasty; however, the relatively few pieces of chicken and its $10 price put Dos Chinos in a pricy position. Megadon, a donburi restaurant, sells variations of donburi or rice bowls although the picture on the Trade website makes it look like a pho restaurant. Every dish is a create-your-own where the customer picks from several raw fish, fruits, sides and starches. Our order contained Japanese rice, salmon, ahi tuna, mango, pineapple and katsu sauce. Unfortunately, Megadon does not have the most efficient chefs because I’m pretty sure 15 minutes and 12 orders passed before I received my order. The first 100 to show up all received free sample bowls that looked around the size of half a cup. we expected the actual size to be huge since we paid $9.50, but the bowl was maybe a little over half the size of the free sampler. The fish was fresh and on par to most sushi restaurants, the rice wasn’t half bad and the pineapple was pretty sweet, but the mango was not even close to ripe and a bit hard. Nothing about the dish really warranted that $9.50 price tag and it was a reminder that there are much better Japanese restaurants in Irvine.
The two most reasonable dishes came from Portside, a seafood installation, and Butterleaf, a vegetarian diner that claims to make food for non-vegetarians. We ordered one side from each of these places. From Portside, we ordered the Mac and Chowder, a clam chowder soup with macaroni and bacon. It was $4 and probably the best tasting dish there. It was reasonably priced and tasted pretty good. The only complaint I have is that it really isn’t a soup. The macaroni is so large that the chowder effectively works like a sauce. The umami chips were also decent; they were the cheapest thing we bought for around $3.25, and they had a savory taste like they advertised. The most appealing thing about both of these items was the fact neither was overpriced.
Two Birds, another restaurant, sold different chicken sandwiches. We ordered the two-piece for $7 which tasted like normal fried chicken with three sauces that just didn’t taste like they went with the chicken.
One of us has been to a Pig Pen before so we didn’t order food from there for the sake of diversity; in short, their pork belly sliders have a very nice flavor and texture that is comforting to eat. We did order drinks from Pig Pen and they were less than satisfactory. They advertise these odd craft sodas that are supposed to be more organic, but the two sodas we ordered, orange soda and pineapple cream soda, tasted like carbonated sugar water. One of us believed the orange soda tasted like Jarritos, a popular Mexican soda famous for being really sweet. We both agreed the pineapple cream soda tasted atrocious.
Out of the variety of different places within Trade, Sweet Combforts stood out as the only dessert vendor. Because this vendor served Belgian liege waffles with an assortment of toppings, we assumed that the food would be somewhat pricy because many places that serve “avant-garde” styles of food tend to increase prices for their “unique” flavor and visual appeal. The item we ordered was the Bam-Bam, a waffle on a stick that consisted of white chocolate, Fruity Pebbles cereal and cheesecake bites. The Bam-Bam was definitely the most visually appealing item on the menu especially with the addition of the Fruity Pebbles; however, all that glitters is not gold. The waffle tasted good, but the stick that allows you to hold it while eating it actually made it harder to eat. In addition the Bam-Bam, a dessert, costed around $7.50, which is the price we would expect from an entree at Trade. We gave the waffle the nickname “Seven Dollar Instagram Picture” in recognition of its high price and visual appeal.
The Irvine Trade Hall is a mixed bag of foods with a modern twist. The initial tasting for those lucky 100 guests was probably great, but the price of many of these dishes would probably stop many from returning for multiple visits. Nothing about the food is particularly exceptional and the only thing remotely unique is the setup of the outside hall.