Five Mall Food Court Finds S.F. Foodies Can Stomach
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
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