Westfield San Francisco Centre.
Though its lowest level maintains the plasticky gleam of a mall eatery, as well as the seemingly required selection of Buckhorn Grills and Kichi Japanese Kiosks seemingly native to all food courts, the Westfield Center also manages to transcend the abject disgust so often associated with a meal spent in the basement of a monument to shopping.
Don't get us wrong. Westfield Centre's Concourse Level food selections aren't Michelin-starred bistros or perhaps even places we would go out of our way to sup at. Still, the buffed-out linoleum of this gastro-village offers a surprisingly diverse and delicious array of foods that surpass the stereotypes so often associated with mall food. To prove our point, we dove head first in to the ammonia-flavored kimchee and fat-ensconced Korean short ribs to suss out what's worth devouring on your rare trip to the mall.
1. Coriander Gourmet Thai Yellow Curry
Gourmet Thai would never have crossed our lips if not for an unforeseen meet up with a food-court savvy friend who declared we "had to try the yellow curry." Full to the brim with Korean shorts ribs, we almost passed up the opportunity but, for the sake of exposure, we dipped in to the small bowl of sickly yellow liquid and were pleasantly surprised. Sure, the curry looked like a puddle of congealed stomach bile, but the flavor itself far exceeds the presentation. Deep and rich with a relatively spicy kick on the way out, Coriander Gourmet Thai's curry clung to the taste-buds convincingly enough, with the small pile of thick cut carrots and cucumbers providing an adequate substitution for the doughy pile of rice provided as a soaking buffer.2. Out The Door's Stir Fried Beef Bavette Rice Vermicelli
You have to hand it Charles Phan -- he has the concept of done-up Vietnamese fast food down to a science. Be it the tourist-suck of the Ferry Terminal or the fluorescent glow of Westfield Centre, Out The Door manages to produce high-quality approximations of some of the better known Vietnamese staples with style. The stir fried beef bavette rice vermicelli is artfully stacked flank steak seated atop a bleached pile of white noodles (easily the most attractive meal consumed in the food court), crackling with bright bursts of orange carrot and dark red, sweet peppers. The noodles had the consistency of dried paste, but the thin slices of meat that rested atop them resonated with a sweet, smoky flavor punctuated by the vegetal flair of the green onions.
3. Ajisen Ramen Miso Ramen w/ BBQ Pork
Japanese chain restaurant Ajisen Ramen seems the most appropriate for a mall setting. In Japan ramen is served on every street corner, and certainly in every mall, so the idea of consuming a bowl of milky white miso broth in the glow of the nearby Sanrio store while wide-eyed teenagers chatter next to you seems particularly Japanese. Atmospheric compatibility aside, the ramen at Ajisen is actually quite good. The opaque broth is thick and salty; the noodles manage to stay vibrant and chewy until the last spoonfuls of broth are slurped out. The pork itself -- sizable rounds fanned out above the noodles -- rides the line of edible fat content but is imbued with a not unpleasant taste of char. Top off your sizable bowl of ramen with the chilled baby octopus appetizer as you only have so many chances in life to eat baby octopus in a mall.
4. Catch Isle's Fish & Chips
Things to avoid at Catch Isle, the mall outpost of the local seafood chain: perplexing grilled artichokes, soggy fries, bland coleslaw, and, not surprisingly, the tough rubber balls that are the one dollar oysters. (Only in San Francisco, mall octopus and mall oysters.) Yet don't be dissuaded from the deep fried fish portion of the dish. Through its majestically thick layer of batter, one doesn't so much taste the fish as note its presence within its crunchy cocoon. Though relatively flavorless, the fish residing within is tender and pairs nicely with the light, flaky shell of batter crust. Better yet, the tartar sauce provided is subtly tangy enough that its miniscule portioning becomes the low-point of the meal.
5. Kako's Coffee Toffee Cupcake
Kako's Cupcakes are like adorable little baked stocking stuffers, just tiny brown bases topped off with a delicately placed pile of sugary frosting. The Coffee Toffee cupcake, a chocolate cake weighed down by "coffee" flavored goo and a crumble of toffee bits, tasted almost nothing like coffee or toffee, instead existing somewhere on the flavor spectrum between maple bar and German Chocolate Cake. It wouldn't be wise to eat more than one of these sickly sweet treats, but if after a four-course marathon mall meal, this diner was looking for something to sate their sweet tooth, and Kako's offers the best in the court.
The typical mall food court is the culinary equivalent of The Epcot Center -- a rickety selection of "ethnic" delights poorly prepared and served lukewarm to the grinning consumers of modern America. There the fruits of the world's gastronomic endeavors are reduced to their most basic, blandly palatable components ... Unless you're lucky enough to stroll down the Concourse level of the