Well, it’s a mall, anyway — and from the aroma of it, one that exists squarely in the 1990s. Because this vibrant, crowded, bustling mall is, we’ve been told, a thing of the past. Online shopping, the story goes, has crushed our demand for IRL retail, and the pandemic wiped away the crumbs. The stalwart department store anchors are bankrupt or shells of their former selves, and kids these days, it is said, would rather hang out online than around fountains and food courts.
But in reality, the mall never really went away. And if it’s to endure, food is central to its survival. As Alexandra Lange writes in her historical mall epic, Meet Me by the Fountain, “the malls that succeed will lean into food, to family life, to design and nature.” So old malls are reinventing themselves into diverse entertainment complexes, with destination restaurants and grocery stores where the Sears and JCPenney used to be, and a new breed of ultra-malls has transformed the food court entirely into aspirational culinary destinations.
Against all odds, the mall persists — in our suburbs, in our popular culture, and in our appetites. This collection of stories examines and celebrates America’s unique connection to the mall and the varied ways we eat our way through it. Regardless of our Amazon Prime shipping status, there remains some basic human need to try on a pair of jeans in person and scarf down a hot pretzel every once in a while. We need to loiter and pick at french fries in the glow of neon food signs. We need familiar community hubs selling our moms’ imported face creams and the sour-tinged candies of our homelands. We need gathering places where we can soothe the pain of our newly pierced ears with a chocolate chip cookie, get our steps in when it’s snowing, and sip boba while we gawk at our culture being sold back to us at 40 percent off. We need the mall, and it — and its food — needs us. — Lesley Suter
There’s something wafting through the air — something… cinnamony. And beefy. Is that orange juice? Or some chemically smoothed-out version of it? Close your eyes and inhale; you can almost see the red plastic trays glinting in the light of the glass-roofed atrium. You can hear the comforting hum of the escalators and the echo of voices calling out with samples of cookies and cucumber lotion. Ahhhhh yes, drink it in. This is the Great American Mall.
Strip away any nostalgic feelings about mall food, and what you’re left with is just… an overwhelming collection of scents. Here, we rank them.
Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung is at the center of an all-out tug-of-war between two of LA’s biggest malls