Power Ranking The Best Mall Food Court Restaurants

Many of the seminal experiences of my childhood and early teen years happened in the Fox River Mall in Appleton, Wisconsin. Trips to window shop at tween clothing stores, followed by a stop at Walden Books, and then a jaunt into Bath and Body Works to sample lotions — those were my jams (side note: The “Jen from Appleton” video was talking about MY childhood mall. So famous). If you combined a movie at the mall’s sticky floored movie theater and lunch at the food court, you were looking at an entire day of fun.

Naturally, I’ve spent a good amount of time checking out the cuisine offered at such establishments, and I have some very strong opinions about these restaurants. Some are admittedly delicious, other simply should not exist but together they form a great conglomeration of amazingness. All cultures, all people- peacefully coexisting at the nexus of a shopping center for our consumption. If Grandma wants a hamburger, and Dad wants some Chinese, while little bro wants a slice of pizza, well GUESS WHAT? NO ONE HAS TO CHOOSE BECAUSE THEY HAVE EVERYTHING. It’s the ultimate fine dining experience, if by fine dining you count meals under ten dollars that come on a tray and include a giant Pepsi. AND. I. DO.

We power ranked the very best (and worst) mall food court standards so that the next time you’re in a mall (like because you’ve time traveled to the early 90’s) you’ll be set up for the best experience of your life.

9. Great American Cookie

Has anyone ever been happy that their loved ones bought them this frosted monstrosity over an actual birthday cake? Honestly, if there is one person who exists in this universe who prefers a Great American Cookie cake to any other dessert PLEASE BRING THEM TO ME. I want to shake their hand. And while I’m shaking their hand I want to look them straight in the eye and tell them that their entire life is garbage.

Who puts frosting on chocolate cookies? Who approved the ratio of that much frosting to a thin cookie? These are questions we may never be able to answer.

8. Steak Escape

Like in the case of Peeps, the world’s grossest Easter candy, my father may be the only person in the world who voluntarily chooses Steak Escape over all other food court options. The chain is known best for their Philly Cheesesteaks and for being a disappointment. Their meat quality is probably slightly above sandwich competitor Subway, but that’s like saying your concert went slightly better than the Fyre Festival. I mean, that’s nothing to brag about.

A big draw for Steak Escape (I say after looking at their twitter promotions) seems to be their loaded fries which (from the pictures) seem to be a small amount of french fries with 8-10 cups of ranch dressing heaped upon them. It is a disturbing sight for all, and one that will give me nightmares for many weeks to come.

7. Sarku Japan

I’ve had the equivalent of many a meal at Sarku through free samples handed out by a guy with a large, red tray. To be clear I would never, ever order a food here. But as a reliable sample station, I can’t knock ‘em. Who doesn’t like a little chicken teriyaki before visiting the Gap? (I assume everyone who goes to the mall buys at least one item at the Gap as a toll for their presence).

6. Orange Julius


This orange “smoothie” drink is more sugar than orange, and is a mall staple. I can’t explain why Orange Julius is still in business, but my best guess is that Orange Julius is a shell corporation for a secret spy organization. Spies order the sugar drink in order to convey complex messages and targets. A Strawberry Julius means the target is wounded but got away, whereas as a Pina Colada Julius means that the target was terminated and their funds should be transferred into the account on the Cayman Islands. It’s really the only logical explanation.

5. Cinnabon

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but to me, cinnamon rolls are a breakfast food. Not a head sized treat to lomp around the mall with. But you know the kids these days, always being disrespectful and whiny with their Cinnabons the size of steering wheels (that they eat while mouthing off and doing whip-its in the parking lot). Darn kids.

4. Dippin Dots


Look, I like Dippin Dots okay? I think they taste better than normal ice cream and I want to eat my ice cream of the future in my flying car while a robot gives me a back rub. And that’s my right as an American. Back off.

3. Sbarro

Ah, the classic. I ate exclusively at Sbarro when attending the mall from age 11-16. It’s pizza. There is no “wrong” pizza, it’s all delicious (as is Sbarro). There may be “better” or more authentic pizza out there. But at the end of the day, this will do just fine.

2. Auntie Anne’s Pretzels

Gosh, I love me a soft pretzel. The warm, buttery bread twisted into this absolute delight of a food will always make me happy. Anyone who doesn’t like a mall pretzel is either secretly a vampire and therefore only would enjoy the taste of human blood or lost their taste buds in a horrendous accident that they don’t like to talk about. Either way, get out.

1. Panda Express


Panda is the king of the mall. ALL HAIL THE KING. Everything is delicious there, but I always get the Orange Chicken and Kung Pao Chicken with half white rice and half lo mein. Is this the correct order? Yes, but really you can’t go wrong with any of it. Here’s what I love about Panda Express, they do what they do well and refuse to bend to others expectations of being “healthy” or having “options.” Literally nothing on the menu is vegetarian. The veggies, the rice, the noodles, it’s all cooked in chicken stock. But Panda don’t care. The Express does whatever the fuck it wants, because It. Be. Baller.

I think we can all agree that Panda Express is a classy place, and one of the most delicious foods anywhere, let alone the mall food court. Have you ever been in an airport and craved Panda Express but only had the option of a terrible knock off? What’s with that? Why aren’t there real Panda Expresses in airports? What are we in communist Russia? There is nothing worse in the world than having to gaze upon an airport Chinese restaurant with their knock off orange chicken filled with empty promises and lies.

“But Allison, what about murder?” you ask.


I love Panda Express more than most things in the world. If there was a choice between saving a group of orphans or a plate of orange chicken in a fire, I’m not saying I wouldn’t eventually choose the kids, but I’d hesitate. You can get more orphans anywhere, but a plate of orange chicken? That you can only get in a mall food court and honestly, the parking is often inconvenient.

In summation, Panda Express is the serious winner of the mall food court face-off (if there ever was a doubt) and if there are any engaged couples out there, I think you should get married in a mall food court with Panda Express as the dinner option. Imagine dancing on the tile under the skylights, your guests holding handfuls of orange chicken, waving it around, and raving over how your wedding has the best food of any they’ve ever been to. Think it over, at the very least. The couple that Pandas together, stays together.