Photo by Ryan Patchin
The mall is back. After months of mostly-empty hallways and roped-off food courts—the Mall of America has rebounded to pre-pandemic crowds, eateries abound.
By random coincidence, I was visiting the mall on March 17, 2020—the day it was announced the mall would close for two weeks as the coronavirus took over our hospitals and headlines. Three months after the two-week closure was announced, the mall was reopened to the public.
The months that followed saw a slow-burn back to life. Dynamic restrictions crippled the mall’s ability to attract a crowd; online shopping had never looked so attractive. It took nearly a year, but there’s been a reversal—I’ve seen it for myself.
Perhaps most noticeably back to life: the food.
I have always been creature of habit when it comes to mall-eating. I’ll have my go-to place for a while, then move on to another; I tend to stay in the food court(s). When I’m not dining solo, I like to venture outside the cafeterias, and explore the ample-options available to satiate shoppers.
Crave is a dating institution. Whether it’s a first date or a silver anniversary, Crave will work. They have the best steak in the mall, and they offer some unique seating options in their giant third-floor steakhouse. The first time I ate at Crave, I sat in their “patio” area, which is a completely different experience than the main dining room. Both are excellent spaces for a memorable meal—and people watching! Make it an Uptown night by grabbing drinks at Radisson Blu’s Firelake cocktail lounge (second floor) before heading to dinner.
The Rainforest Café, Cowboy Jack’s, and Wahlburger’s have all played host for my family’s staycation gatherings. They’re well-positioned for large(ish) groups and their menus tend to please a variety of palates. Natural wonders for the kids, themed, boozy drinks and beer for the grown-ups. Bases covered.
My favorite burger in the mall has to be the prime, char-broiled hamburger from Twin City Grill. I must’ve walked by this first-floor institution 5oo times before finally stopping to read the menu posted on the restaurant’s exterior. I dove into that burger with high hopes that were satisfied and pleasantly surprised. If you’re in a hurry, Shake Shack or Johnny Rockets can sling a brisk burger—both existing on the outskirts of opposite food courts.
The Hard Rock Café used to be my go-to patio for people-watching. Encased by glass walls, yet planted firmly in the bustle of Nickelodeon Universe—the Hard Rock held a special place in my heart. They seemed to have fallen victim to the pandemic; signage was removed months back. RIP first dates and Tupelo Tenders.
With the Hard Rock’s unplugging comes a new top spot: Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Bubba Gump offers a full bar and an indoor patio to keep me voyeuristically satisfied. The dining room is sectioned off into themed areas that produce a different experience with each visit. I order off the menu: requesting an adult portion of the pillowy-crisp popcorn shrimp offered on the kids’ menu. I’m not positive they love it, but they’ll do it. Ask for Paul.
That leaves dozens of worthy, yet unmentioned places to itch your appetite. New restaurants are popping up, keeping options fresh and leaving foodies impressed. The Mall of America has implemented COVID restrictions to ensure your safety while you visit. When you’re ready, I think you owe yourself a visit to the munchie mansion in your backyard.