Whatever you do… don’t call them cafeterias.
Food halls are popping up all over Orange County. In fact, Orange County is ahead of the modern food hall game, even among other major California cities.
If you’re not sure what a food hall is… well, the easiest explanation would be that a food hall is the bigger, cooler brother of the traditional mall food court.
But you’re not going to find a single Starbucks, McDonalds, or Cinnabon here. Food halls are full of tiny, unique gastropubs that offer everything from boba to poke to Indian street food and gourmet ice cream.
And that’s not all that Orange County’s food halls offer hungry diners.
Food halls combine comfortable communal seating environments with new, fun food offerings, turning the hall into a foodie’s playground. Each hall is as unique as the shops that it holds. Food halls are a fun combination of exploration, taste, and entertainment that’s hard to turn down. If you like people watching, live music, art, or just hanging out with friends and free wifi, just head to a food hall.
If you want to take control of your next dining experience, go hunt up the closest food hall to try local destination eating at its most convenient.
Not sure where to start? Here’s our list of the top 10 food halls in Orange County.
No food hall list is complete without the famed Anaheim Packing District, so we’re slotting it in neatly at the top of our list.
The Anaheim Packing House is a destination in more ways than one. It’s a historical building that’s been restyled into a modern food paradise.
The two-story former orange packing building has an open floor plan, a lot of plants to soften the interior, and multiple seating areas to accommodate everyone who wants to try out something from the 26 unique gastropubs. If you’re looking to hop around between Syrian food from Mangal, gourmet Japanese crepes from Crepe Coop, and the world’s prettiest bubble tea from Mini Monster, Anaheim Packing District is the food hall for you. It even has its own semi-secret speakeasy with The Blind Rabbit.
The pet friendly SteelCraft location in Garden Grove is a great new food hall with a cozy community vibe. The stores are built out of repurposed shipping crates, so the aesthetic is fun and unique. There’s plenty of parking and plenty of fun to go with its food. Come for the Hainan chicken at Chick N Shack, or a burger from the Nest, and stay to watch TV, hang out, or play one of the arcade games. Or come at 6AM for your coffee fix from Dark Horse Coffee.
Staking its claim on Crown Parkway, Union Market Mission Viejo is a food hall with something for everyone. Great for date night or a quick lunch stop, offering locally-sourced food vendors and a fun family atmosphere.
Union Market is at the Kaleidoscope on Crown Valley, so parking is a cinch. Unfortunately, the location also means that this food hall isn’t companion-animal friendly, although it welcomes ADA-compliant assistance animals.
The O.C. Mix is half food hall, half fun shopping experience, but it’s 100% super hip. It’s got both indoor and outdoor spaces so that you can choose where you prefer to lunch or relax. The Wifi is decent and free, and the food is unique.
Try Shuck Oyster Bar for all your oyster cravings, Portola Coffee for your jolt of java, or Rich Elixirs for unusual craft kombuchas and ginger beers.
Pro-tip: Parking is tight during the middle of the week, so be patient.
The 4th Street Market was the first food hall to be built in Santa Ana, and it’s still providing fantastic service nestled in the heart of downtown. A great array of food stores provides art for your mouth, and the food hall itself is full of visual art to compliment your lunch… and make it seriously Instagram-worthy. Check out Electric City Butcher for personalized and personable butcher services and humanely-raised meats, Steel Pan Pizza’s Detroit-style pies, or a craft beer at Recess.
It’s worth noting that 4th Street Market has a 3-6PM Happy Hour Monday through Friday.
They also have a cozy outdoor patio that’s dog friendly, if you can’t stand the idea of leaving your furry bestie home while you go to dinner. You can even host an event here!
Pro-tip: Parking in the 5th Street lot is the most efficient parking solution if you can’t find street metered parking.
McFadden Public Market is another food hall in Santa Ana, but it dishes out good food and good fun in equal parts. If you’re looking for a kid-friendly food hall with a great variety of handcrafted food and retro arcade games, McFadden is the food hall for you. If you’re craving ramen, Ramen Tokudai was voted the Best Ramen in Orange County.
McFadden Public Market features live music on the first Friday of the month, a variety of fun theme nights like Whiskey and Wings, and 80’s arcade games that you can play for quarters. Yep, quarters.
Pro-tip: There are two parking structures off Main and 5th Streets, as well as a metered parking lot on 3rd and Bush.
Built in 2016, Lot 579 bills itself as a unique artisanal market and California culinary experience, and it’s got the location to carry that California vibe. Located on PCH in Huntington Beach, the Surf City’s relaxed beach feel carries through to the fantastic food offerings in the Lot 579 food hall.
The space might be named for the lifeguard towers on the beach directly across from the food hall, but you won’t find sunscreen and sand on offer here. Ever want a custom-made popsicle to chase away the summer heat? You’ll find it at Popbar. Mahogany Smoked Meats has your gourmet jerky needs covered. If you’re looking for gourmet artisanal deli sandwiches, go over to Burnt Crumbs (coincidentally, you can also check out paddles and balls for the ping pong table there, too. Just bring your ID.)
Pro-tip: Parking is free for the first two hours! Check with your lunch vendors to see if they’ll validate your parking stub.
Brand new to the OC food hall scene is Tustin’s Mess Hall Market. There’s plenty of parking for this chef-driven food hall, and plenty of seating in the open, spacious interior. Just grab a spot at one of the red communal tables with their comfy padded box seats, or at one of the more traditional café tables and enjoy offerings from vendors you won’t find on any ol’ street corner. Grab a hot fair-trade drink at The Lost Bean Organic Coffee and Tea, have a New Jersey style slice at Big Parm Pizza, get a real-life Dagwood-style sandwich at The Sandwich Society, or luxuriate in a taste of the Peloponnese at The Little Greek.
Mess Hall Market is next to Tustin’s new Legacy Park, which provides gorgeous open spaces and walking trails once you’re done with your dining experience.
The motto of Trade Food Hall is “Eat & Drink Well”, and this modern food hall does everything it can to help diners do just that.
This Irvine-based food hall has nine awesome vendors to delight local diners, and open and airy spaces to eat in. Try the bright and flavorful vegetarian menu at Butterleaf, traditional Belgian Liege waffles at Sweet Combforts, or enjoy the amazing beer list at Center Hub (keep an eye out for specials like Whiskey Wednesday).
Pro-tip: Parking is free (if parking spaces are scarce and you don’t mind the walk, park at Ihop and walk over), and the location is dog friendly.
Leisuretown Anaheim is an unusual food hall. Why? Well, a lot of modern food halls have alcohol purveryors… but Leisuretown is intended to be primarily focused as a beer garden, not a collection of gastropubs.
Leisuretown Anaheim is Modern Times’ ambitious beer garden concept that brings great brews, a restaurant, a lounge pool, and an adjacent Mexican restaurant all into one glorious spot.
Leisuretown Anaheim takes the shipping-container craze up a few notches to make a two-story beer garden with indoor and outdoor seating. The space will also have its own brewery, focusing on draft beer, that helps keep popular and seasonal Modern Times beers on local store shelves.
Leisuretown is another jewel in Anaheim’s food hall crown.
The food hall phenomenon is alive and well in Orange County, with options to choose from no matter where you are. But since each food hall is unique, we don’t see any reason you shouldn’t just try them all. Happy eating!
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Kelly Smith is a freelance writer living in Southern California with one dog, two cats, two guinea pigs… and the rest of her family. She writes about Orange County, faith, family, special needs and tea, and world-builds science fiction universes on the side. Find her at www.bluerosecopywriting.com.