Communal Dining at Southern California Food Halls

At these 10 food halls, the everyday act of dining brings people together

You want pizza, your BFF wants Korean, and your other friend wants shabu-shabu. How do you satisfy everyone's tastes and appetites? Head to the nearest food hall. These culinary emporiums offer freedom and flexibility for nearly every palate in an atmosphere that promotes togetherness. Here's a sampling of the best food halls in Southern California.

1. 4th Street Market

The downtown Santa Ana project has transformed the neighborhood and helped launch a number of restaurants and retailers into wider relevance. Despite its relatively advanced age—it's 3 years old—4th Street Market feels as vital as ever. The popular Electric City Butcher is a high-end meat shop where customers can pick up chops for weekend home grilling or come in for a one-off class on trussing the perfect bird. Want fully realized food options? The market provides notable spots, including Dos Chinos, offering a blend of Asian and Mexican flavors, and the fast-seafood, grain-bowl spot MAR. Recess provides cocktails; Supernatural Sandwiches supplies savory stuff; and Chunk-N-Chip sells a perfect ice cream sandwich finisher. 201 E. Fourth Street, Santa Ana; 4thstreetmarket.com.

2. Anaheim Packing House

The Anaheim Packing House is an ode to Orange County's citrus history but with a distinctly upscale style. It's a place designed to attract the same kind of cosmopolitan foodies as San Francisco's Ferry Building and downtown L.A.'s Grand Central Market. And judging by the Packing House's constant crowds, it's a smashing success. Inside the former citrus packing plant is a new-wave ramen restaurant and pressed-juice parlor, Orange Tei (the pressed juice is served as cocktails, but can also be ordered nonalcoholic); a modern Vietnamese café, Sawleaf; and a fanciful ice-pop shop, Popbar, serving gelato on a stick. 440 S. Anaheim Boulevard, Anaheim; anaheimpackingdistrict.com.

3. Corporation Food Hall

Offering an alternative to popular and crowded Grand Central Market, downtown L.A.'s compact Corporation Food Hall sneaks in seven vendors under one roof, serving everything from Southeast Asian fare to upscale modern tacos. 724 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles; corporationfoodhall.com. 

4. Liberty Public Market

Opened in the spring of 2016, the Liberty Public Market is San Diego's answer to Pike Place Market in Seattle and the Harrods Food Hall in London. More than 30 artisanal food vendors occupy 25,000 square feet in the former Naval Training Center San Diego. 2820 Historic Decatur Road, San Diego; libertypublicmarket.com.

5. McFadden Public Market

Spread across two floors, Santa Ana's newest food hall offers coffee, eats, and a retro arcade bar with pinball machines. 515 N. Main Street, Santa Ana; mcfaddenmarket.com.

6. Santa Barbara Public Market

Opened in April 2014, the market drew curious foodies eager to discover what its restaurants, bakeries, and gourmet merchants offered. Part of a mixed-use project, the market occupies a site that for several years housed a Vons supermarket. An exterior wall that features a historic mural has been retained, and instead of rows of fluorescent-lit, mass-produced items, the public market now has individual purveyors in their own custom-designed spaces. 38 W. Victoria Street, Santa Barbara; sbpublicmarket.com.

7. SteelCraft Long Beach

A collection of repurposed shipping containers, SteelCraft Long Beach is an all-outdoor food hall that has drawn thousands of visitors in its first two years. Like many modern food halls, SteelCraft doesn't offer takeaway cooking ingredients but is focused on serving hip young patrons who stop in for a drink and bite to eat. As a result, SteelCraft not only attracts some of the best restaurants in greater Long Beach, but it's also expanding into nearby Bellflower and Garden Grove soon.  

At the Long Beach original, in-the-know diners crowd the public space with trays of food, be it from popular Neapolitan option Desano Pizza, Hawai'i shave ice outpost The Fresh Shave, or pork purveyor Pig Pen Delicacy. Steelhead Coffee plays to the caffeine fans, while award-winning Torrance brewery Smog City offers pours to the late-night crowd. The whole affair goes down under an open sky, with string lights illuminating the night. 3768 Long Beach Boulevard, Long Beach; www.steelcraftlb.com.  

8. The Annex

Perhaps Southern California's most buzzed-about new food hall, The Annex opened in Oxnard late last year and houses some 16,000 square feet of retail and food and drink vendors. Because the newcomer sits just off US Highway 101 near a popular Whole Foods Market, it appeals to travelers, beach visitors, and the community alike. 

Inside The Annex, on-the-go eaters can find their new favorite restaurant from a collection of 12 stalls. Jewelry studios and florist pop-ups aside, foodies can rejoice over tacos from Taqueria El Tapatio or a healthy açaí bowl from The Blend Superfood Bar. Even more enticing is Seoul Sausage, the Korean links company that started out as a food truck in Los Angeles and won season three of The Great Food Truck Race.  

Other highlights include the upstart Ragamuffin Coffee Roasters, which roasts beans on-site, and Gasolina, serving Spanish-inspired salads, sandwiches, and entrées. A bonus at The Annex: live music, spoken-word poetry, and other events take place in the common area weekly. The Collection Riverpark, 2761 Park View Court, Oxnard; thecollectionrp.com/the_annex.    

9. Trade Food Hall

Marked by its large open-air dining patio, Trade Food Hall is an easy destination for Orange County locals looking to nosh on timeless gyros, modern fried chicken sandwiches, and other comfort foods. 2222 Michelson Drive, Irvine; 2222trade.com.

10. Union Market Mission Viejo 

This market is compact compared with many other Southern California food halls, but it certainly is not short on fans. As the sister site to Union Market in Tustin, this second-story option features plenty of shared space for playing ping-pong, getting some work done, or watching bands play on the weekends. Dry Society acts as an evening anchor for craft cocktails and conversation before or after visitors peruse the retail offerings, while boba-focused Milk Box caters to the nonalcoholic crowd. Slice Shabu is a popular Japanese shabu-shabu spot in the far corner that works for eaters with time to spare, while Hummus Bowl crafts healthful midday meals, and R.T.E. (short for Ready to Eat) provides grilled meat skewers for those on the go. Perhaps the most popular of the bunch is Portola, the internationally known Southern California roaster and coffee bar. Union Market is a delicious addition to sprawling south Orange County, where having such expansive options under one roof is rare. 27741 Crown Valley Parkway, Mission Viejo; unionmarketmissionviejo.com.