When I found out the Orange County Night Market was coming back to town back in May, I was the least bit interested in going. I didn't like the thought of paying premium for unoriginal food.
Let me explain. I've attended both OC and 626 night markets about a couple of years ago, and I did not like what I saw.
I was under the impression that night markets were supposed to be filled with street food from around the world! Why were the lines so long for piles of greasy tater tots that you could get at some random bar?
My biggest pain point with the OC Night Market were the gimmicky foods. I saw too many vendors that sold boba in lightbulb cups, faux flower pots containing boring ice cream flavors topped with "dirt" chocolate crumbs, and at least three of those DANG PONADO STALLS.
The ponado, aka "potato tornado". Basically flat fries on a stick.
I think the 626 Night Market is way more popular compared to the OC Night Market, and I can see why. In my opinion, 626 Night Market was bigger, and had more street food options.
This year, I was pleasantly surprised to see OC Night Market step up their game. I was ecstatic to see an increase in street food vendors, especially with Filipino food.
That said, let's get you prepared for the next OC Night Market event. Here are top tips on how to enjoy next OC Night Market outing with your friends!
1. Go Early
This is the first tip, because it's the most important. It makes an astounding difference going to the night market once it opens at 4pm, versus an hour or two closer to dinner time.
My friends and I decided to meet at the night market once it opened to beat the dinner rush. Once we entered, we had so much free time to strategize which foods we wanted to get.
We strolled around the market to scout potentials, then reconvened to decide which ones we would purchase. We ordered our food with minimal to zero waiting time.
We got our food within 10 minutes after ordering, and even found an open table to sit down and enjoy our food. Ignore this first tip, and you'll be lucky to get your food even within 20 minutes in those DREADFUL lines.
2. Purchase Tickets Online
This is a huge time saver, because those admission lines start to pile up at around 5:30pm. Use the opportunity at home or on your phone to buy tickets ahead of time to whiz past the extra wait at the ticket booth.
If you arrive early, purchasing tickets aren't an issue because the lines are shorter. If you have internet on your phone anyway, might as well just buy them online!
3. Bring CASH, lots of it
...or a friend who has tons of cash that you can Venmo. You'll need it to pay for parking, admission ticket (unless you purchase online, or with a credit card), and food.
There is an ATM stall in the premises, if you don't mind paying the additional fee. Remember, food is pricey here!
Expect to pay about $10 for a boba drink, $15 for a sandwich, and $5 per barbecue skewer. If you want to try a bunch of different options, I'd say bring at least $60 just for yourself.
4. Come with a large group
This is a great way to decrease your overall spend, especially if you want to try a lot of different items. Coordinate a food plan with your group on the items that everyone wants to try.
Split up to order the food, reunite at an agreed location, and dig in! Not only does this lower your costs, but also saves you a lot of time.
5. Walk through the whole market
Repeat after me: "I will not stop to order everything at the first stall I see." You'll regret ordering too much at the first stall, before taking a look at what the whole market has to offer.
There is the option to look at the vendor lineup online, but they don't disclose enough information about the specific dishes you could get. The best way to see all your options is to walk through the whole market, and take a mental note of what you want to eat along the way.
Don't forget about the food trucks lined up in the middle of the market! My sister's boyfriend almost took a chance on a sisig burrito from an unknown food stall (sisig is a Filipino dish made up of chopped up pig's face on a sizzling hot plate, which Anthony Bourdain totally loved), but we turned around to see the White Rabbit food truck in the nick of time!
Who knows, maybe that vendor did have good sisig, but White Rabbit is well-known for their sisig burritos. Keep your eyes peeled, because you never know what you're going to miss.
6. Bring WATER and other necessities
You can't guarantee getting water from a food vendor you're purchasing from, so ensure that you bring water for yourself. You don't want to choke on a spicy lamb skewer without water.
Things can get pretty messy, so bring along some hand sanitizer or wet wipes. Depending on the weather, I also recommend bringing sunscreen, a hat, or a jacket.
7. Enjoy the Entertainment Booths
All I care about is the food, that I rarely take the time to check out the entertainment and product booths. You may find some unique toys to purchase, or participate in a fun activity for a prize!
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Although you'll probably get better bang for your buck at a restaurant, going to the OC Night Market gives you a completely different experience. It's a great place to hang out with friends, and there's always something for everyone.
I have no doubt that the OC Night Market will continue to diversify its vendors, especially with the rise of international foods presented in media.
Your next opportunity to attend the OC Night Market in 2019 are June 14-16 and August 23-25. For updated information, visit the OC Night Market website here.
Now it's your turn. What's your favorite item to grab at the night market, and what types of food do you hope to see in the future OC Night Market events?
Tell me in the comments below. Happy eating!