People will always be hungry for more. That goes for variety as well as for portions. Luckily for Irvine diners, TRADE Marketplace is adding an eclectic assortment of colorful eateries that are sure to make people lick their chops. With the recent additions of Champion’s Curry and SmörBurgers – and the soon-to-be-added Yomie Yogurt and Presotea – diners have some delectable new reasons to lower their masks.

Champion’s Curry, which joined TRADE’s collection of restaurants and retail shops in May, is the second U.S. location of a chain that opened its first location in Kanazawa, capital of the Ishikawa Prefecture, in Japan, in 1961. Last year, the company’s first U.S. location opened in L.A.’s Little Tokyo. Now, both SoCal locations serve up a modified version of the “Kanazawa curry,” which was Chef Yoshikazu Tanaka’s own variation on a traditional curry recipe. Their recommended dishes include curry rice with the option of freshly fried beef, pork or chicken katsu served on a bed of steamed rice and katsu sandwiches, which are served on a brioche roll with a cup of original or spicy curry for dipping. The full menu can be seen at their site: japanesecurry.com.

Courtesy of TRADE Food Hall

Naturally, this writer had to give it a try. As it turns out, there are non-regular dishes that Champion’s Curry adds to its menu for limited promotions, and the Irvine location’s general manager, Daichi Koga, recommended that I start out with their Wagyu Steak Curry. This premium specialty dish will likely no longer be available at the time of this article’s publication but serves as an example of the varying specialty dishes that Koga said will be featured from time to time, as supplies last. While most of Champion Curry’s main entrees range from $11 (for vegan-friendly Grilled Veggies) to $13.50 (for most of their katsu sandwiches and plates), the Wagyu Steak Curry was priced at $18 and featured medium, slow-cooked Wagyu steak, cut into bite-sized pieces, curry, tomato rakkyo salsa, and rice. For variety’s sake, I also took a Chicken Katsu curry dip sandwich, which I would consume upon the digestion of my very filling steak dish.

The steak was cooked perfectly. The original curry was tasty with a fruity zestiness about it, which was complimented perfectly by the recommended beverage, a yuzu-flavored sparkling beverage from the Japanese company Kimino. Later, when I had my katsu chicken sandwich, with a sampling of the spicy curry, I enjoyed that as well. I liked the spicy kick, but both flavors were enjoyable. Koga pointed out that the curry recipe was slightly altered from the original based on available ingredients and as a means to cater to the American palate. We’ll see if this company catches on in the states, but at present, the corporation has already got plans to open its third U.S. location in Berkeley in the fall; they’re currently scouting potential locations in Austin, Las Vegas and Seattle; and soon thereafter will think about offering franchises.

Courtesy of TRADE Food Hall

SmörBurgers was the next stop. Situated directly to the left of Champion Curry’s location at the TRADE food hall, SmörBurgers similarly opened its first location last year (at Santa Ana’s 4th Street Market). Created and operated by celebrity chef Joe Youkhan, the Chopped champion’s fare gives new perspective to the concept of ordering a burger and fries. The menu features 10 uniquely styled gourmet burgers (ranging from about $9 – $14), including the Classic Cali, Bourbon BBQ, Spicy Italiano, Peruvian Pork Belly, Ultimate Mac & Cheese, and Veggie. To read the ingredients for each of these burgers, as listed at their website, smorburgers.com, is to transcend most people’s previously held notions about the nature of a hamburger. As apparent from their titles, the burgers (as well as their gourmet ingredients) are themed to reflect international flavors. The seven different types of fries are equally eccentric (ranging from around $5 – $14) and include: West Coast Fries, Bacon Mac & Cheese, Loaded Nacho Fries, Peruvian Pork Belly Fries, and Sweet Potato Fries.

At Chef Youkhan’s recommendation, I had an Umami Bomb and Black Garlic Truffle Parmesan Fries. The burger consisted of two certified Angus beef patties (as do all of their burgers, which can also be substituted with a vegetarian patty), cave-aged Swiss cheese, house fermented black garlic bacon jam, slow-roasted tomato, grilled mushrooms, and truffle aioli. All of their burgers are served on garlic-herbed Portuguese buns. The fries were tossed in house fermented black garlic herb sauce with a side of truffle aioli, and I was invited to sample seven different choices of gourmet dipping sauces: Bourbon Barbeque, Calabria Aioli, House Special, Black Garlic Ketchup, Tequila Lime Aioli, and the Black Garlic Truffle Aioli.

Photo by Scott Feinblatt

Fry orders come with your choice of two sauces; they were all great, but I particularly enjoyed the house sauce and the truffle aioli. In short, the Umami Bomb is my new most favoritest burger in the world, and the fries were a worthy complement.

Second-generation chef Youkhan’s diverse approaches to the popular comfort food were influenced by the multi-cultural, culinary influences he experienced growing up in New York. Additionally, he pointed out that if people continue enjoying his brand, he would love to expand to a brick and mortar operations, which he refers to as “Smöre 2.0,” with expanded menus, featuring beer, wine, and cocktails – both within and beyond Orange County.

Later this year, Yomie Yogurt and Presotea will be expanding their respective companies by adding locations to TRADE’s eclectic collection of eateries. Yomie currently has a location in Rowland Heights, CA – as well as locations in several countries – where they serve a unique assortment of variations on traditional yogurt, featuring natural vitamins, probiotics, milk, and purple rice from a variety of sources around the world. Presotea is a boba tea company, which was founded in Taiwan, in 2006. The uniqueness of their product is based on the ideas that they have developed their own tea blends, which they manufacture using innovative brewing technology.

With all of this variety, TRADE definitely presents diners with some enticing reasons to lower their masks and join the rest of the outdoor diners.

TRADE Marketplace is located at 2222 Michelson Drive, in Irvine. For more information, visit www.tradefoodhall.com