But when holiday shopping season starts, and you need to buy that video game for your nephew, or some perfume for your grandmother, these hidden food courts probably won't be of much help. Like the rest of us, you'll have to slog through the crowds at the real mall, a land where Hot Dog on a Stick, Auntie Anne's and Cinnabon are your most prominent options.
Our top 10 places for mall food-court dining might not be the most spectacular eateries, but when it comes to making the best of a bad situation, these places offer a tasty respite from the usual food-court fare.10. Mongolian Grill - Burbank Town Center
What is a mall food court without Mongolian BBQ? It may not be the highest form of cuisine, but the art of carefully working down the line of toppings, packing flash-frozen meat, vegetables and a swirl of chow mein noodles with maximum efficiency is the name of the game at this Burbank food-court eatery. A grill cook slides your mixture on a sizzling slab of metal, mixes it with a long pair of chopsticks, then presents the finished, fully customized product in full glory. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 466-5577.9. Café Creole - Westfield Culver City
The most recent addition to the impressive food court at the mall-formerly-known-as-Fox Hills is this purveyor of steam-table Southern food, which is a bit like a Boston Market with greens, sweet yams and mushy cornbread. Your best option is to pass on the combo plates and go for the blissfully crunchy oyster po' boy, which is (surprisingly) cooked to order. There are even sugar-dusted beignets for dessert, though don't hold out for any chicory in your coffee. 6000 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City.8. BBQ Express - Eagle Rock Plaza
The food court at this mall might be best known for its selection of Filipino fast food -- Jollibee, Goldilocks and Blue Ribbon Bakery all have branches here -- but the longest lines are for BBQ Express, a Chinese food take-out spot that improves on the usual Panda Express combo formula. Garlic potatoes instead of fried rice? No problem. The ever-popular orange chicken, covered in sweet, gloopy sauce, has a shorter turnover than the Lakers' coaching staff. 2700 Colorado Blvd., #279, Eagle Rock; (323) 254-3318.7. Charlie Kabob - Westside Pavilion
If you plucked Charlie Kabob out of its food-court habitat and placed it alongside the row of Persian restaurants located further north on Westwood Boulevard, you probably would find it rather decent, which, we suppose, is all you can really ask. Thick beef koobideh kebabs come wrapped tightly in pita, or piled on a mound of saffron-tinted rice and roasted tomatoes. Falafels aren't bad, but stay away from the gyro. 10800 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; (310) 234-1919.