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They’re the cooler, more evolved version of the fluorescent food courts that tend to plague stuffy indoor malls. And with a diversity of cuisines and a mix of artisanal, often hyperlocal restaurants, they usually push the envelope when it comes to great food.
I’m talking about food halls: a type of dining establishment that is nearly ubiquitous in major travel destinations around the world. While on the road, I seek them out, knowing that I can sample a variety of dishes while mingling among locals as well as travelers.
Santa Monica, Calif. — despite its immense popularity with tourists around the world — has curiously lacked a proper food hall experience. That is, until SocialEats opened its doors in July.
Tucked into a row of shops on Santa Monica’s bustling Third Street Promenade, the buzzing SocialEats food hall has something for every craving and palate, from Street Noods’ pan-Asian noodles (including a tasty udon version of cacio e pepe) to a lovely flat white from Aussie-inspired Adelaide coffee bar (which transforms into a wine bar in the evening).
At Supertoro, bento boxes are adorable-yet-practical vehicles for a generous helping of crispy rice topped with spicy tuna or yellowtail, as well as tangy shishito peppers, fresh seaweed salad and pork belly rolls. Ordering from Cada Vez transports diners to Spain, where tapas reign supreme. Among many Spanish dishes, there are roasted eggplant and red pepper bocadillos (sandwiches); jamon (ham) aged for 22 months with pan con tomato (grilled bread with tomato); and, my favorite, a tater tot twist on patatas bravas (potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce).
Hungry patrons will also recognize some big-time culinary stars associated with this humble food hall. Health-minded folks will love Petit Harvest Co., helmed by James Beard-nominated celebrity chef Graham Elliot. His vegetable-forward menu highlights options such as Beyond Meat burgers with vegan cheese and mushroom “bacon”; zaatar-dusted sweet potato fries; avocado toast, crafted with ingredients from the nearby farmers market; and more.
The newest and perhaps most exciting addition is Fuku, an offshoot of chef David Chang’s world-renowned Momofuku restaurant. Here, fried chicken is the name of the game, which is obvious in Fuku’s limited specialty menu of a Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich Meal (habanero-spiced chicken thigh with pickles and butter, tucked into a potato roll); Fingers Meal (three large pieces of white meat); and Finger Sandwich Meal (chicken fingers, pickles, butter and a potato roll).
Fuku also has four side options that can be included in the meals, including waffle fries that left me wanting more, and drinks such as a refreshing yuzu-flavored lemonade called Yuzu-8. Pro tip: From an employee, I learned that off-menu ordering is the way to go. Unbeknownst to many, there’s a Rippin’ Hot Cold Fried Chicken that can out-spice even the most heat-tolerant of eaters. Additionally, adding the Sweet and Spicy Sauce to the already spicy fried chicken sandwich results in an out-of-this-world flavor. (I was too — ahem — chicken to try the first tip, but found the second claim to be addictingly true.) For those who don't eat meat, a Griddled Cheese sandwich is available off the menu, as well.
Santa Monica might be in my Los Angeles backyard — but, to tell you the truth, I would still write home about SocialEats.
The DetailsK2 Restaurants www.k2restaurants.com