Food Halls: Union Market

Feeding Frenzy: The ultimate guide to navigating Orange County’s energetic, fast-growing, and occasionally confounding food maze

A plucky food hall makes a stand at the District in Tustin, where chains rule and parking is free.

Union Market Tustin has something other Orange County food halls don’t—a bustling, gargantuan shopping center surrounding it. On prime real estate at the District at Tustin Legacy, the former oversized bookstore space has been reimagined as a confederacy of cool—an island of indies in the middle of a sea of chains. Can it compete among behemoths such as Costco, Target, and Whole Foods Market? Look for it to complement. Perhaps someday, every power shopping center will have its own food hall. O.C. rising stars Kettlebar and The Kroft chose Union Market for their expansions, as did food-hall stalwart Portola Coffee Lab. It also offers nonfood retail, such as Artisan Candle Company and the Treehouse Shop. Unique goods alongside gourmet food is a combination that partner Andrea Young successfully introduced at OC Mix (see The Pioneers). In the end, though, food still rules.

Central Bar
A modern craft cocktail bar is another food-hall essential, and Union Market’s Central Bar fills the bill. Befitting the name, it’s right in the middle of the action, hosting happy hour wine tastings with winery representatives pouring their wares and bartenders shaking up cocktails, IMG_9004often incorporating products from other market tenants, such as Torch S’more Co.’s handmade marshmallows or Spice & Tulips proprietary spice blends.

Portola Coffee Lab
Every food hall has an artisanal coffee shop, but only some have a Portola. Orange County’s coffee superstar, chosen as Roast Magazine’s 2015 Micro Roaster of the Year, Portola’s Union Market shop has plenty of comfortable indoor space for hanging out, and, on a custom-built patio overlooking the District’s Park Avenue, also has bragging rights to the homegrown minichain’s first outdoor, walk-up coffee window.

Call it the second wave of Southern-inspired seafood in Orange County. Steam-kettle cookery follows the trend IMG_8904 copyin boiled crawfish houses, bringing with it the popular pan roast: surf-and-turf combos simmered in choose-your-own-level-of-spicy broths. Kettlebar takes it a step further, serving Southern classics, such as gumbo and po’ boys, with garlic fries on the side. An off-the-main-drag patio makes outdoor dining a pleasure. Find Kettlebar at Packing House, too.

Front Porch Pops
One of the county’s most visible independent food businesses, Erin Whitcomb’s Front Porch Pops also has locations in Old Towne Orange and 4th Street Market and is a familiar sight at farmers markets and other events. Artisanal frozen pops made with local, organic fruit and fresh dairy make for great hand-held treats IMG_9380while doing your District shopping.

Torch S’more Co.
At Erin Whitcomb’s new concept, homemade marshmallows in a variety of flavors are combined with Hershey’s chocolate or scratch vanilla  graham crackers. Choose your favorite pairing and watch as the marshmallow is browned to your specifications before it’s sandwiched with the classic chocolate. Find Torch S’more Co. at 4th Street Market, too.

Crêpe Coop
Large-diameter, French-style crêpes fresh off the griddle, customized from a bevy of choices including fresh fruit, ice cream, and the ubiquitous Nutella, make a main-dish-sized dessert. Rolled up for eating on the go, though generous overfilling suggests silverware. Tustin is the second location—find the first at Anaheim Packing House.

As early adopters, The Kroft founders   inhabit an informal position of leadership   in the O.C. food-hall world, while slinging their amped-up comfort food to crowds at the Anaheim Packing House and Union Market Tustin. Co-founder Stephen Le muses on their magic.

IMG_9244exWhat makes food halls good homes for The Kroft?
They’re a one-stop shop for a hungry group of friends to share food, and places to lounge after your meal. A good food hall has a variety of eats to choose from that satisfies all cravings and dietary restrictions. They also allow first-time restaurateurs a better opportunity due to affordability.

Why food halls, why now?
Young people and social media play a big role. A new place shows up in my Instagram feed and my reaction is “Cool! I want to go there.” The buzz makes the food hall a destination, a place where you want to take your friends, take your family, snap a picture, hashtag it, post it to social media.

Any differences between your Anaheim and Tustin restaurants?IMG_9316
The size of our Anaheim kitchen is at capacity—to keep things fresh we regularly rotate in specials. The Tustin kitchen is almost double the size, which affords us the opportunity for a bigger menu, and the freedom to experiment with new dishes. The cherry on top is a smoker!

Best-selling menu items?
It would have to be the short-rib poutine, and porchetta sandwich.

New on the menu?
Our cheeseburger fries, roasted Brussels sprouts, and a chili mac ’n’ cheese. We’re constantly inspired—we’d love for our guests to experiment and try our new creations. After all, we’re here to feed your bellies!

Worth trying nearby…
Bluewater Grill, nearby on the District Promenade, offers sustainable seafood and an extended happy hour. It merits three stars from Orange Coast’s dining critic.

Catch on-screen soccer with a side of British fare, including excellent fish ’n’ chips, at The Auld Dubliner at District Drive and Park Avenue.

Just across the way, The Winery restaurant offers three-course, fixed-price Wine Down Sunday suppers, 5 p.m. until closing.

Hot Tip Enter on the Tustin Ranch Road side to avoid District traffic.

15 vendors
2493 Park Ave, Tustin
11 a.m.–6 p.m. Sunday
11 a.m.–10 p.m. Monday – Saturday
Parking: District lots—be prepared to walk—or valet near the theaters

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