For whatever reason, I often get called “boss” when dining. There are certain places where I expect to hear it, such as a recent family gathering at a Chili’s in the Inland Empire, but not in Irvine. So hearing, “Hey, boss” as I walked into TRADE Food Hall’s Center Hub made me take note.
“Hey, slim,” I answered with a nod, “what’s good up in this food hall?”
“Let’s see,” barman Cameron Lang said, rubbing his beard. “Red Envelope has a rad phorrito. Dos Chinos’ Hollywood chicken burrito is also bomb. There’s the Gyro King spot. . . . Hmmm . . . Two Birds has some great chicken sandwiches, then there’s Butterleaf—but I don’t really eat vegan stuff.”
Just then, I had a flashback. Maybe it was seeing Dos Chinos and hearing about vegan food that sent me back to that epic food truck meetup at the Irvine Teller lot eight years ago . . . back when Jason Quinn was inside a bright-green Lime Truck and Stephanie Morgan’s huge smile was serving up Seabirds’ avocado tacos and bomb-ass sweet potato fries. I miss those damn tacos.
After deciding on the vegan spot, I asked Lang, “How legit is your Bloody Mary?”
“Super,” he said.
While he built my drink, I wandered next door to Butterleaf, where I ordered the house burger ($9) and avocado bombs ($6), hoping they’d pair nicely with the booze.
Butterleaf is a plant-based joint by chef/sauce nerd Andrew Gruel of Slapfish and TRADE’s Two Birds. Had I known that before, I might have chosen a different food spot, knowing full well I may have to serve as lifeguard for my order. Drowning in thick liquids of various colors, food at Gruel’s other places can sometimes resemble a Basquiat painting. Luckily, my avocado bombs arrived with the perfect amount drizzled on top. Conveniently placed to the side was a 55 gallon drum of the stuff, in case I felt inclined to bathe in it. Kidding, of course!
As it turns out, Butterleaf’s avocado bombs pair very well with Center Hub’s Bloody Mary ($9), which has just the right amount of kick from San Francisco’s Lefty O’Douls mix. It’s rimmed with Tajín and features an ample amount of vodka and garnish. “We have a big, 34-ounce version as well,” Lang says as he points at the large-handled mugs at the bar.
The bombs’ crunchy breading and creamy insides again brought me back to Seabirds’ level of avocado taco perfection. The food halls of today are basically the food-truck meetups of yesteryear—except now you can legally add booze.
“Anything else, boss?”
TRADE Food Hall, 2222 Michelson Dr., Irvine; tradefoodhall.com.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest. When not writing about, photographing or filming beer, cocktails, and food, he can be found talking trash while playing video games under the name “OCBeer.”