In the realm of innovative modern food halls, Orange County is undoubtedly on the cutting edge.
From Anaheim to Mission Viejo, there are six of these indoor markets in operation, each built in the European tradition with their own lineup of destination food vendors, neighborhood niches and distinctive personalities.
Want to sip whiskey in a dimly lit speakeasy? Go to Anaheim Packing House.
Need a spaghetti grilled cheese for your Instagram? Try Lot 579 at Pacific City in Huntington Beach.
Cup of Joe? O.C.’s homegrown roasters Portola Coffee has a shop inside nearly every hall around.
And now, you can play an AC/DC pinball machine while eating moist fried chicken at the county’s latest multi-faceted food hall, McFadden Public Market.
The two-story, 10,000-square-foot downtown Santa Ana space (which soft-opened last week) can be seen as a product of all that came before it — a highly curated space that combines ideas that worked at other food halls with new concepts that have never before been seen.
It’s no surprise then that McFadden’s co-founder is a usual suspect on the local food hall circuit: restaurateur Leonard Chan, who owns both Shuck and the Iron Press at the The OC Mix in Costa Mesa, Hatch at the Union Market in Tustin and three other concepts (including the aforementioned speakeasy and a second Iron Press) at the Anaheim Packing House.
Always renting stalls in other people’s food halls, McFadden marks the first time Chan has taken on the role of landlord himself. His partner is Phillip Kwan, who makes farmers-market-famous rice balls with his wife under the name Mama Musubi.
“I really wanted to create my own space and not have to piecemeal it together,” Chan, an Irvine native, says. “We have the knowledge now to do this.”
A few blocks away from Santa Ana’s flagship food hall 4th Street Market (one of the few without one of his concepts), McFadden is expanding Chan’s far-reaching food empire with room for four new eateries, a coffee counter and two beer- and cocktail-slinging bars.
The biggest of these two bars – an array of vintage video games spread across the entire second floor of the former Karmina Restaurant’s banquet space called Ground Control — is Orange County’s first barcade.
“I used to spend thousands of dollars in arcade games as a kid,” Chan says. “Since I started [in restaurant ownership, in 2008], I’ve wanted to open a barcade, but there was no interest in nostalgia back then.”
Many of the stalls will be filled by concepts selected by Chan that are owned and operated by his fellow food friends.
Fried chicken kitchen Rooster Republic and ice creamery Milk Man are new from Jinny’s Pizzeria founder Nathaniel Nguyen.
Bone Stock, with a contemporary Vietnamese menu that includes the eggroll-within-a-spring-roll dish cleverly named Spring-ception, comes from the same family behind Lake Forest favorite Pho Bo Vang.
And from a 60-square-foot glorified closet toward the back patio dining area, Artesia-based Solid Coffee Roasters serves espresso drinks and a silky smooth cold brew.
The second-floor barcade Mission Control, as well as the smaller bar just inside the main entrance (appropriately called Under Control), are Chan’s exclusive contributions to McFadden. Downstairs has thoughtful, craft-casual drinks at non-L.A. prices, along with 20 taps of local craft beer and two pre-batched keg cocktails (its keg room is visible from the street). Upstairs, the beverages are easier sipping, made to pair with friendly competition on the dozens of video games from Chan’s personal collection.
“I love Orange County,” Chan says. “L.A. and San Diego can get too trendy, but what’s trendy in O.C.? This is still a new market and food halls are perfect for experimenting. In O.C., we can fail. We can change it up.”
Despite its proximity to 4th Street Market, McFadden is hardly a rival of the original food incubator.
In addition to housing industrial kitchens, a whole-animal butcher shop, a Food Beast studio and gourmet market Alta Baja, about 15 rotating food vendors keep quick-service lunch and dinner crowds flowing through 4th Street’s doors.
McFadden’s offerings complement, not compete, with what is already available in downtown Santa Ana. Together they only add to the growing reputation of the city’s newfound culinary dominance.
“We’re trying to make McFadden conducive to hanging out,” Chan says. “We want people to come for fried chicken, go upstairs and play some games, grab a drink and hopefully create a synergy where you can spend either 30 minutes or eight hours here.”
McFadden Public Market is at 515 N. Main St., Santa Ana. For more information, visit facebook.com/McFaddenMarket.
SARAH BENNETT is a freelance journalist covering food, drink, music, culture and more. She is the former food editor at L.A. Weekly and a founding editor of Beer Paper L.A. Follow her on Twitter @thesarahbennett.