The OC Night Market has been holding Asian inspired foodie events for several years now at the OC fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, California. I first heard about it last year from my chef friends, who were quick to berate me for not going. This year, I was determined to go and try to soak in all the goodness that The OC Night Market has to offer and it truly did not disappoint. You’ll have to forgive me if I didn’t cover everything, the heart was willing, but the stomach and bank account couldn’t take as much as I wish I could. With over 100 food vendors, carnival games, and merchants, The OC Night Market got the best of me, but has made a life long devotee in yours truly. So without further ado, I present to you my food journey (with some great friends) through the OC Night Market 2016.
Admission is only $5, parking is $8, each food vendor charges (roughly) between $7 – $15 depending on what you’re looking for. Since OC Night Market is Asian food themed, you can find dishes (both traditional and modern) from Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, China, and much more (there are also some “non-Asian”themed vendors like Doner Kebab and Elote). You can find anything from vegan food to lobster and live sea urchin, there is even a map in the front showing you where all the vegetarian food stalls are. You can also enjoy live bands and dance performances while digesting your food. By the way, BRING CASH, there are only a handful of places that take card and you don’t want to be hit with those oppressive & deceiving ATM fees.
It all began with a fusion food tribute to the most popular dish (right now) in Vietnamese cuisine: Pho tacos. For those of you who don’t know what Pho is, it’s essentially a noodle soup that is cooked in a broth that usually consists of beef or chicken bones, star anise, charred onion and ginger, cloves, coriander, and fennel. It all started here at “Rakken”
With slowly cooked beef, cilantro, onion, bean sprouts, hoisin sauce, and a squeeze of lime I found myself reminiscing over the countless bowl of Pho that I have had over the years. The beef tasted very much like pho, but was a little bogged down by the amount of hoisin sauce (which I use in my pho, but sparingly because it is so sweet). Overall, I feel it was a good introduction into some of the Asian Fusion cuisine that the OC Night Market has to offer. From the country of Vietnamexico we moved onto Japan, where we tried “Tanota Takoyaki”.
What is Takoyaki you ask? Well I thought you’d never ask. It’s a Japanese street food, that is cooked batter balls with octopus, ginger, tempura, and green onion; topped with things like mayo, ponzu sauce, or dried bonito flakes (among other things).
I tried the “Goma,” takoyaki served with sesame oil, green onions, and sesame seeds. The filling was extremely hot and rich, but the sesame oil and green onion really complimented the Japanese Mayo well. The little bits of octopus had a great texture within the hot thick filling. The line for “Tanota” was one of the longest, but for good reason, it was one of my favorites.
BBQ Pork Belly Bao Bun
We trudged onward to “Phuud” and took on their “BBQ pork belly bao bun.” a fatty slice of pork belly served with bean sprouts, pickled onion, and scallions on a grilled “bao” which is a steamed Chinese yeast bun.
The pickled onion was the real star here, as it gave the bun some much need salt and brine. To be honest, I was expecting more flavor from the pork belly and maybe a sauce to accompany it, but it wasn’t so. Bao has a very neutral flavor so it tends to also neutralize the food it’s eaten with. The pickled onion was the thing that came through the most.
It was from here that we moved on to “Norigami,” where we got a soft shell crab taco.
Soft Shell Crab Taco
Look at that beautiful specimen, fried soft shell crab, micro greens, sushi rice, krab meat, spicy mayo, and citrus ponzu inside of a tempura fried seaweed shell. It’s like a bold re-imagined spider roll, one that has been through hell and has reinvented itself to become a more fierce version, like finally going out after a hard break up dressed to the nines and listening to Beyonce during the car ride.
The salty seaweed shell is beautifully complemented by the light sweet vinegar taste of the sushi rice and the creamy texture of krab meat. At the top, the crispy crab had a light creamy bite from the spicy mayo (I also think there was some eel sauce on there, I tasted some sweetness) and a little bit of acid. It was one of the best things that I had had so far.
The Call of Lobsterdamus
I crossed over to the other side of the fair ground because someone was talking about a place called “Lobsterdamus,” a booth that boasts a whole chargrilled maine lobster for $20 & lobster nachos. There were several lobster booths here, but I wasn’t craving it. Why did I even bother to mention it? the place is called “Lobsterdamus” for God’s sake, how could I not mention it?
Soft Shell Crab Burger
Crab has been a glaring weakness in my food game for years, I have a tough time avoiding those crotchety crustaceans when my hunger is on the line. So when I found out that “Miniyaki Fusion Grill” was making a Soft Shell Crab Burger, I was mesmerized by the clawed siren’s call.
Look at that thing! a whole fried soft shell crab with lettuce, tomato, white onions, and russian dressing on a sesame seed bun. The crab had a little spice & just a touch of smoke on it. Nothing overly complicated, but a nice mid-gorge sandwich.
The Samurai Burrito food truck was the next stop, where my friend Antonio order the #3, “Daruma on Fire.” Rice, crab, shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, avocado,sesame seed, green onion, tempura batter, garlic chips and three different sauces (Kickin’ Rooster, OC mix sauce, and Shiba-Ya sauce) wrapped in a spicy “Samurai Togarishi” soy paper roll.
This burrito was over a pound of sushi goodness, A hand roll you get at a sushi restaurant that has been banned by all the State Athletic Commissions for steroids, an absolute beast of a burrito. Lifting it alone wore out my biceps, luckily there was enough protein in it to aid in my muscle recovery.
Garlic Parmesan Potato Swirl
After all the meat and stuff that I had already consumed, I decided that I should give vegetables a chance. A lot of people were walking around with these potato swirl sticks, so I took it as a sign that I needed to get one. You don’t need to be overly complicated to make something awesome, it’s a whole potato on a stick that has been spiral cut and fried with different seasonings. I went with Garlic Parmesan, but I heard the Cajun was a great one too. There are even some places that put a hot dog on the stick and then put the potato on top of that.
I need you to take notice of two things. 1st, the diet coke that I’m drinking. It’s all about a balanced lifestyle and getting ready for the summer and swimsuit weather. 2nd, my hair is looking pretty good for how much I’d been sweating from eating all that food. Okay, carry on.
My understanding of the food pyramid is remedial at best, but I’m pretty sure somewhere between the meat group and the chocotastic part there is a suggestion some servings of fruit. I wandered off from my group for a second to make sure that I was getting a sufficient amount of vitamin C, to fight off any sickness that may have found it’s way into my system. Tropical hut provided me with the quick energy and bounty of nature’s goodness with it’s pina colada (that can be served in a Majestic Pineapple, Above average coconut, or shameful plastic cup).
There was enough vitamin C in that thing to keep scurvy at bay for at least one carrack ride through the horn of South Africa.
As I was getting my fill of Vitamin C, my friend Dan stopped over at “Seoul Street,” a Korean fusion place. We then tried their Bulgogi Sandwich, barbecued marinated beef with spicy pickled cabbage and cucumber, finished with a fried egg.
Bulgogi’s marinade can be a tad sweet, with things like soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and sesame being it’s principle ingredients. The vegetable mix is cabbage and cucumber that has been fermented in brine and peppers (I’m pretty sure it’s KimChi), that pickled spice brings some great balance to the sweetness of the beef. I think there was shredded cheese in it as well, but I honestly didn’t taste it. That alone made it a good sandwich, the fried on top made it a great sandwich (funny how fried egg does that to everything).
The savory flavors of the OC Night Market’s spell was beginning to tax my taste buds a bit, the salt and goodness of all this food needed to be balanced with some sweetness, and while drinking pina colada’s from a carved out pineapple was good, we needed to get some dessert.
Ice Cream Sandwich
It’s a glazed donut with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and cinnamon toast crunch on top. You don’t have to be overly clever to be amazing.
Meanwhile back at the “Ridge Churro Bar” food truck, I went with an old favorite. The classic cinnamon sugar churro with ice cream and cinnamon toast crunch. There was also a “Fruity Pebbles” & “Nutella” option that my friends ordered.
With all that cream and fried goodness I needed to cleanse my palate once again. We walked for a minute and found ourselves in front of one of the smallest food vendors at the fairgrounds.
It may have been the smallest vendor at the OC Night Market, but “Paloma’s Paletas” certainly did it’s part when it comes to dessert. I ordered their watermelon bar, and it was one of the best popsicles that I have ever had. It had just enough sweetness to it and tasted exactly like a fresh watermelon.
It may not look like much, but the flavor was absolutely stellar. You would think by this point we’d all be ready to food coma on the ride home but my resilience knows no limitations.
“Sunset Catering’s” beignet booth sat near the entrance of the Night Market, enticing those who have gorged on salty goodies to cleanse their tongues in the sweet fried pastry made famous in New Orleans’ “Cafe Du Monde.”
Fried choux pastry, covered in a strawberry sauce, and covered in what can only be described as a “Tony Montana” level of powdered sugar. Rich & dense would be the words to describe these beautiful little guys. I could feel my body beginning to fight back against the oncoming tide of calories. It was time to switch it up, again.
Salt was needed to counteract the sugar.
I don’t know what this booth was called, but it had popcorn chicken and an ice cream cone shaped like a fish.
I don’t know anyone in this world who doesn’t enjoy popcorn chicken, quite frankly, I don’t care to know anyone who doesn’t enjoy popcorn chicken. With a mix of sriracha and ranch dressing, the crispy and salty chicken did precisely what it was meant to.
There were plans on leaving at this point, we had been at the OC Night Market for about 5 hours at this point, testing the elasticity of our stomachs. But then we were stopped in our tracks on the way out. One of my favorite desserts could be found only at one booth, it was tucked away in the corner of the fairground and we had to foray back into the depths of culinary hedonism. It accounts for about 78% of the reason why I eat Thai food, and it’s simplicity is a clever mask for it’s brilliance.
Mango & Sticky Rice
The final leg of our journey took us to “Kanom Jao-Nine” a Thai dessert vendor. Also known as “Khao Niaow Ma Muang,” this dessert boasts ripe slice mangoes over rice cooked in coconut milk and sugar finished with a tart coconut milk sauce.
It was at that point, that I realized that I reach my food nirvana. I was precisely where I needed to be, the perfect harmony in which my mind & body formed a perfect and euphoric symbiotic relationship. I’m pretty sure I fainted for 20 minutes.
The OC Night Market was one of the funnest and most delicious experiences I’ve had in Orange County. If you’re just looking for some food that you don’t normally eat in a fun atmosphere it’s a good event to try, really it’s like a Foodie Con, where you can be inspired by some of the most innovative Asian fusion restaurants in Southern California. The price is very reasonable and with several weekends featuring the OC Night Market a year, there really shouldn’t be an excuse for you not to go.
also, if you’re in Arcadia you can check out their original food festival “626 Night Market”
[2016 OC Night Market dates]
June 17–19 // Friday & Saturday 4pm–12am, Sunday 4pm to 11pm
August 26–28 // Friday & Saturday 4pm–12am, Sunday 4pm to 11pm
OC Fair and Event Center
88 Fair Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
[2016 626 Night Market dates]
July 2–4 // Saturday & Sunday 4pm–1am, Monday 4pm–11pm
(Special Fourth of July Weekend hours)
July 22–24 // Friday & Saturday 4pm–1am, Sunday 4pm–11pm
August 5–7 // Friday & Saturday 4pm–1am, Sunday 4pm–11pm
September 2–4 // Friday & Saturday & Sunday 4pm–1am
(Extended Labor Day Weekend hours)
Santa Anita Park
285 W. Huntington Drive
Arcadia, CA 91007