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Holiday Survival: How to Have a Depression-Free Meal at the Mall

Ah, the mall food court. The saddest feedlot known to man.

Ah, the mall food court. The saddest feedlot known to man.

The holiday season brings out the worst in a lot of people -- and we have one theory as to why.

Sure, parking at the mall is a pain (especially after you've stalked someone all the way to their car only to find out they're just dropping bags off), and buying obligatory Williams Sonoma peppermint bark for various family members/co-workers you don't particularly like is bound to make a Grinch or Scrooge out of even the friendliest of folks.

But let's face it, prepping for a day of holiday shopping in one of the few malls we have in the Twin Cities is like prepping for a marathon -- and if you haven't packed protein gels and plenty of electrolytes, you may suffer from holiday hypoglycemia (it's a thing, trust us.)

See also: The Essential Holiday Gift Guide for Local Food Lovers

Feeling shaky? Seeing stars? Maybe you've turned into an emotional monster, scaring friends and family, and we're pretty sure you didn't mean to yell at that teenager working at Spencer's (and yes, Spencer's still exists).

These reactions are common for low blood sugar (wasn't "hangry" just added to the Oxford dictionary?), but compounded with long lines, whiny kids, and not being able to find your mother-in-law's slipper size anywhere, you may feel as though you can't go on -- and stuffing an Auntie Anne's pretzel down your gullet isn't going to cut it.

The P.F. Chang's War Horse will show you the way to exceptional mall dining.

The P.F. Chang's War Horse will show you the way to exceptional mall dining.

While the idea of a sugar spike at Godiva is tempting in the short term, we're pretty sure they don't allow you to ladle the melted chocolate from the strawberry dipping pot directly into your mouth -- if you've tried, make sure to share in the comments below, because we'd like to recognize you as an American hero.

Our suggestion? After you drop off the bags in the car, go into a mall restaurant. A sit-down one that is entirely enclosed and makes it feel as though you aren't really even in a mall anymore. Luckily for everyone, most malls in the metro area now offer real restaurants, not just a dried-out Sbarro's pizza slice or a scoopful of sesame chicken that's been under the heat lamp for god knows how long.

Allow us to show you the way to dining smart at the mall.

Mall of America "There's a place for fun in your life," says MOA. Totally. But it's usually at an all-inclusive resort with a swim-up bar and endless taquitos, not a crowded hellscape with an amusement park in the middle.

But you can definitely do this.

The MOA has a ton of options, but we say avoid the food court (you'll be depressed enough over the holidays, no need to start the self-loathing now) and march your way to Masu Sushi & Robata for some Japanese comfort food. Try the Yakisoba noodles (ranging from $9.50-$11), a savory dish with thick noodles, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, accompanied by pan-fried vegetables and, our favorite part, a nice big dollop of "Japanese Mayonnaise."

If noodles and sushi aren't your thing, venture farther into the depths of the mall to the Nordstrom Cafe -- a restaurant located on the top floor of Nordstrom (right between Juniors and workout wear). Order at the counter and then relax in the comfortable, unassuming dining room that looks out onto the airport and IKEA. Not a beautiful view, but it's nice to be reminded that the outside world still exists.

The food at the Nordstrom Cafe tastes fresh and promises to be organic, local, and healthy, and typically it delivers. We enjoy the chicken and artichoke pasta ($10.75), and the frosted lemon ricotta cookie is a delightful treat. The Nordstrom Cafe also offers a local cheese board with candied nuts and crackers for $9.95, a very civilized option for a not-so-civilized mega mall.

Southdale Center

Moving just slightly to the northwest, we find ourselves at Southdale, the nation's first indoor shopping mall! Pat yourself on the back for visiting a historic site to buy your holiday presents -- it's practically a museum! Now, Southdale does not offer nearly as many restaurant options as the Mall of America, but that's okay. For those of us with social anxiety, the idea of a smaller mall with fewer options is a good thing. And if we go right or left out of a store, we won't be punished by having to walk a mile before noticing that we went the wrong way (side-eyeing you, Mall of America.)

Again, we will avoid the food court (if you can call it that) that features relatively unknown restaurants and of course, Subway, tucked in a hidden corner by the JC Penney. A few larger Vegas-style restaurants also make their home at Southdale, including the Cheesecake Factory. We won't really get into that. It was recently touted as the unhealthiest place to eat in America, and we're afraid not even the longest day of shopping will burn the calories that the "Caramel Chicken" or Oreo Cheesecake possess. The California Pizza Kitchen is now just a sad, greasy memory.

So, we will focus on energies and appetites on P.F. Chang's. Perhaps you're put off by the giant royal horses guarding the dining establishment, but don't be. This cavernous restaurant offers all kinds of Asian fare, including some pretty tantalizing dumplings and an affordable lunch menu. For $9.95, you can start with a cup of soup and end with a well-portioned crispy honey chicken dish with brown rice.

For no additional money at all, your waiter will offer to make you a "special sauce" -- designed to be poured on basically anything. For those of us who are not used to P.F. Chang's, this is a server's first order of business -- mixing spicy mustard, chiles, and sweet dumpling sauce according to your personal spice-level needs. Even though it seems a little silly, kind of like table-side guacamole, the sauce is actually kind of incredible and it will make an otherwise bland cup of brown rice sing.

A four-course pre-fixe menu is offered at $39.95 per couple and the options are vast, so if you feel like maybe your nephew, the little brat, doesn't really deserve a set of Skylander characters, and you welcome a food coma, we encourage you to indulge!

But maybe you live on the eastern side of the metro area, and neither of these malls, however large and historic they may be, appeal to your needs. And so, we head on over to Rosedale.

P.F. Chang's Crispy Honey Chicken

P.F. Chang's Crispy Honey Chicken

Rosedale Mall

Yowza! This place has undergone quite a facelift. Rosedale used to be pretty pitiful as far as food was concerned, and shoppers who weren't interested in the classic food-court fare were forced to get into their cold cars and motor off to discount seafood restaurants like Joe's Crab Shack or Red Lobster, or make a stop at "neighborhood grill" Applebee's.

But we're too busy for Cheddar Bay Biscuits and never-ending appetizers -- and thankfully Rosedale has realized that. The newer addition that connects the AMC Movie Theater to the east side of the mall offers a variety of options, including Chipotle, Potbelly's, Granite City, Big Bowl, Romano's Macaroni Grill, and more! There's a Panera downstairs for all of your pumpkin spice needs, and the Green Mill and Ruby Tuesdays, which have been there since the paper was delivered via pterodactyl, offer a slew of predictable options.

What we could not have foreseen, however, is the magic of Digby's. On the outside, it looks like your run-of-the-mill sports bar, stating loudly that this is a place for PIZZA, BURGERS, BEER. And that's fine with us. When you sit down, you may be left with some doubt, reading over the sassy menu language. Why do modern menus pretend they're our cool RA or fun uncle? More on that another day.

You must move past these feelings and just. order. the. pizza. The crust is spectacular (they have the recipe written out in chalk on one of the giant pillars in the restaurant so you can attempt to try it at home -- the "secret" ingredient is Lucid beer). It's golden, shiny brown with just the right amount of crisp and chew. We find the simple margherita pizza to be the best, but feel free to play around with toppings, because that crust will still be there, and that's really all you need. The pizza is pretty large, one could even say a sharing size, and comes in at the low price of $11.99, which will leave you extra money leftover to buy yourself something nice.

Ridgedale

Food-wise (and perhaps shopping-wise as well), Ridgedale offers pretty slim pickings. But if you're in the western suburbs and don't enjoy shopping at an outdoor mall in 15-degree weather (Maple Grove, what are you thinking?), Ridgedale may be one of your only options.

Digby's at the Rosedale Mall

Digby's at the Rosedale Mall

Hidden away in a corner by the new, blindingly white Macy's sit two restaurants right across from one another: Bar Louie and Big Bowl. Though we passed up Big Bowl at Rosedale, this is going to be your best bet (and slightly less expensive option) at Ridgedale. They've pretty much got things down to a science there, so if you happen to have a favorite Big Bowl dish, you won't be disappointed. We like the dumplings, but what we love are the sauce options that accompany them. Get those and feast upon a variety of delightful entrees that will leave you happily full with just a small pang of fried-food guilt.

So there you have it. A few suggestions to get you through the holiday season, in all its consumer-y glory.

Pro-tip: You could also just do all of your shopping on Etsy and Amazon and get Davanni's deep dish delivered. It's 2014. Just sayin'.

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