On one hand, the quick preparation of fast food is great for short lunch breaks (except during Christmas, where you'll be waiting at least 10-15 minutes before the meal hits your tray). You often get to choose from a dozen or so different major chains, including the likes of KFC, A&W and Arby's.
For the first little while, we tend to romanticize the idea of having so many choices, but the shininess wears off fast. As your ease into the daily grind, you start to become uneasy with the less-than-fantastic food selection.
Now, I've spent hundreds of lunches in Polo Park's food court during my lunch breaks. After things started getting dull, I began exploring the surrounding area in hopes of finding something that I could sink my teeth into.
From my outstanding repertoire of gourmet mall dining (ha!), I've decided to let you guys in on a few of my favourite unconventional food court meals.
Photo courtesy of http://ilovetoronto.com
1. Salads at Cultures
People often complain that the menu at Cultures is overpriced and unfulfilling. Although it is one of the more expensive food options, their salads are completely worth it. Why? Simply because it's one of the only choices that don't make you feel like there's a huge, undigested rock in your stomach after you're finished your lunch. The serving is huge, and you can save the rest for later.
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2. Homestyle dining at Zellers
Don't let the looks of this stodgy little diner at the back of a department store fool you. Although their clientele consists mainly of retirees, their menu features a number of tasty lunch items, including chicken fingers, burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches (my personal favourite). Here, you get more bang for your buck, and the best part about it is that you get to escape from the consumer-packed mall atmosphere.
Photo courtesy of http://www.aurorashoptalk.com
3. Friendly staff at Opa!
Pitas, Greek salad, tzatziki sauce - oh my! Opa offers a menu that is a tad healthier than the rest, but the main reason I mention them isn't because of their food options. I personally have never had a bad experience at this location, much thanks to their cheerful staff members. They make friendly conversation while assembling your order, and their upbeat demeanour adds a bit of pep in your step for the rest of the weary day.
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4. Cream of anything soup at Brioni's
Brioni's is the only restaurant left in the food court that has its own personal seating area. Much like Zellers, it offers a more private environment to enjoy your meal. Asides from this leg up, their menu isn't necessarily the greatest - asides from their creamy soups. And they are to die for. Whether it's broccoli, mushroom, tomato or potato (they even have a cheeseburger variation), this dense broth fills you right up with its hearty goodness.
Photo courtesy of http://www.citymom.ca
5. Deep-fried tempura at Bento
Many people shy away from Bento Sushi because they expect the same quality of sushi here as they would from a sit down restaurant. Unfortunately, all of their rolls are made in batches and left out for customers to pick up and go. They do, however, make their tempura fresh to order. It's warm, tasty and super affordable.
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6. Pizza buns at Second Cup
Second Cup orders most of their dainties from a local bake shop called Goodies. Now, if you haven't been, I highly recommend visiting this tempting dessert paradise. They carry countless cakes, baked goods and breads that are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The pizza buns are a rare commodity, usually only available in the mornings and early afternoon, but they are a gooey, yummy warmed-up treat.
Here are a few more suggestions from my fellow Tweeps:
@Danielmags Opa no question.
@BVirts Famous Wok: Bourbon Chicken and Sweet and Sour Pork. Thai Express: Pad Thai.
@jennylynndotnet Popular favourite is the fried stuff from the sushi place. The fries and the tempura.
@SaraJHarrison I LOVE THESE PLACES: A&W (haha), that thai place, TacoTime all mixed together with a strawberry banana julius
Eating at the food court doesn't seem so bad now, does it? The next time you pay it a visit, consider some of these options. Your stomach will thank you for it.