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Where to grab a bite to eat at the mall

Holiday shopping can make you hungry, and the food courts in the malls are eager to serve.

But will you opt for something healthy, or say to heck with the calories and eat what you want?

Whatever you decide and whichever mall you visit, I’ve got some nice (and maybe just a little bit naughty) food court options. Hopefully one of them gives you the energy you need to knock out that shopping list.

Carolina Place

Not until I began reporting this story did I appreciate how many Asian restaurants occupy mall food courts. The food court at Carolina Place has Chinese, Japanese and Thai restaurants – none of which we actually ate at. Instead, we tried the ultimate fries at Charley’s Philly Steak. It doesn’t get much naughtier than fries with cheddar cheese sauce, bacon and ranch dressing. The toppings were good, but the fries (crisp on the outside, soft and potatoey inside) had the starring role.

Sweets are what I crave after a meal, though after my fries-fest, I needed to eat somewhat sensibly. The frozen yogurt at Mango Tree proved to be the ticket. The thing I liked about this place is that all the flavors we tried (pineapple, mango, coconut, pomegranate) tasted just like I thought they would. The other thing I liked is that all those flavors were either low or no fat.

Charlotte Premium Outlets

You might be able to get something for everyone on your list at this mall, but the food court options are not nearly as plentiful. Do consider checking out Umi Sushi. The chicken udon soup reminded me of a tame version of Pho. Look for thin slices of cucumber and carrots along with bean sprouts, green onions, cabbage and thick udon noodles. The slices of chicken were my least favorite part of the dish, as they were a tad dry. Still, if you’re looking for something to drive away the cold (remember, Charlotte Premium Outlet is an outdoor mall), this is the thing that’ll do it.

To supplement the food court, there are typically a couple of food trucks just outside the mall. Tony Mandarino has a deep fryer fired up inside his Goldfinger’s Food Truck. If you’ve got hundreds of calories to spare, get his red velvet funnel cake. Mandarino’s motto is the funnel cake “tastes so good, make you wanna slap yo mamma.” I don’t think I’ll slap Mommy, but we might have to duke it out for the last bites of the funnel cake, which is fluffy inside with nice crisp edges. The drizzle of cream cheese icing was also a nice touch.

SouthPark

There’s lot to love about the salads at Crunch – starting with the fact that some of the produce comes from local farmers. Expect an array of options (we got the Greek) and every salad has the calorie count listed – so no pretending you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.

On the flip side, there weren’t calorie counts listed at Dave & Fran’s. And you know what? I didn’t care. Fried chicken and macaroni and cheese have a way of making me lose my senses. And once you throw in a side of hush puppies – forget about it. Do it up right and get the Arnold Palmer tea or the lemonade.

Concord Mills

I kicked myself for not thoroughly looking around the food court, because if I had, I definitely would have eaten at Hissho Sushi. The staff makes the rolls (snow crab; mango tango shrimp; veggie roll) daily. There’s even a sleek counter where you can eat.

I ended up going to Kelly’s Cajun Grill and getting the chicken, rice and veggie bowl. The pieces of bourbon chicken had a nice char. The rice had a bit of a spicy kick, though it looked a lot like the fried rice at the neighboring Lotus Express. The mixed vegetables (squash, broccoli, mushroom and cabbage) rounded out the bowl.

Northlake

Given I’d already visited the Mango Tree at Charlotte Premium Outlet, I resisted heading over to the location in Northlake. Expect to encounter a number of the big chain restaurants (Burger King, Taco Bell, Sbarro, Chick-fil-A, Showmars). One of the healthier options is the Greek veggie pita at Showmars. Chick-fil-A has a grilled chicken market salad, but it also has a peppermint milkshake – which, I must say, I wait for all year long.

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