© Zhi Qi - Dreamstime.com

The Best Food Court Restaurants

Sweet nostalgia
© Zhi Qi - Dreamstime.com

Think back to the days when you would spend hours at the mall with your parents for back to school shopping or hanging out with your friends as a teen. What was your go-to food court stop of choice? Was it a quick pretzel snack, or maybe a sit down feast of Chinese food? Just like candies from childhood that you may have forgotten existed, there are some food court restaurants that bring back memories and are absolutely worthy of praise.

Nathan’s Famous

Nathan’s Famous
rblfmr/Shutterstock

The original Nathan’s Famous in Brooklyn’s Coney Island serves some of the best hot dogs in America, and the iconic treat expanded out nationwide. Food court memories include crinkle-cut french fries covered in cheese and shared between friends with those little two-pronged forks. Is it all coming back to you now?

Orange Julius

Orange Julius
© Photopal604 - Dreamstime.com

It’s not orange juice, it’s Orange Julius. If you’ve never had an Orange Julius, it’s a creamy, frothy orange-flavored drink somewhere between a milkshake and a smoothie. Sure, it may have as much sugar as your favorite candies, but the drink fueled many explorations through the racks at Macy’s in peak food court days.

Arby’s

Arby’s
© Jonathan Weiss - Dreamstime.com

Maybe Arby’s wasn't serving the best sandwiches in America, but that's not what you were looking for during a Saturday mall visit to spot your crush. There’s something about that soft onion roll, pile of roast beef and creamy cheddar sauce that was supremely comforting. And also, two words: curly fries.

Panda Express

Panda Express
© David Tran | Dreamstime.com

Panda Express is never going to go down as one of America’s best Chinese restaurants, but it’s a food court classic. Was a trip to the mall complete without a pile of orange chicken with a mound of fried rice on the side? Nope.

Auntie Anne’s

Auntie Anne’s© Zhi Qi - Dreamstime.com
Air Elegant/Shutterstock

Auntie Anne’s signature soft pretzel style is actually a definitive snack native to the founder’s Pennsylvania, but to most, they’re just delicious treats to fill up on behind your parents' backs. Whether you preferred them cinnamon-sugar-coated or brushed with butter, they’re satisfying.

Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A
© Chon Kit Leong | Dreamstime.com

The fried chicken at Chick-fil-A is up there with America’s best fried chicken. Tucked into a toasted buttered bun and simply topped with just a couple pickle slices, it’s a perfect-sized lunch for a quick mid-shopping pit stop.

Wetzel’s Pretzels

Wetzel’s Pretzels
QualityHD/Shutterstock

Quick: Wetzel’s or Auntie Anne’s? Food courts don’t play favorites; both were equally a sight for sore eyes at the mall and at rest stops while sightseeing on road trips.

Baskin-Robbins

Baskin-Robbins
© Tktktk - Dreamstime.com

No birthday party was complete without an ice cream cake (the best type of cake there is, right?) from Baskin-Robbins, and no trip to the mall was complete without a cone.

Mrs. Fields

Mrs. Fields
© Wing Ho Tsang - Dreamstime.com

Why settle for even the best packaged cookie when a fresh, hot chocolate chip cookie from Mrs. Fields was an option? You just had to make sure you wiped all the melted chocolate off your hands before trying on headbands at Claire's.

Sbarro

Sbarro
© Pavel Sytsko - Dreamstime.com

Sbarro is one of America’s favorite pizza chains, and there’s something about those big, floppy slices, loaded with greasy pepperoni, that totally hits the spot.

Hot Dog on a Stick

Hot Dog on a Stick
© David Tonelson - Dreamstime.com

Hot Dog on a Stick brought the state fair to the food court with its menu of corn dogs, fries and lemonade. And how brilliant — handheld corn dogs were the perfect treat for those antsy to get back to shopping.

Jamba

Jamba
© Zhi Qi - Dreamstime.com

When the smoothie craze hit full stride in the 1990s, Jamba Juice (now known as Jamba) was there. Even though they’re not as healthy as some might have thought, they still were still delicious on a hot day and can be made with plenty of heart-healthy foods.

Charleys

Charleys
LnP images/Shutterstock

Many people’s first cheesesteak was at a food-court Charleys, preferably topped with bacon or pepperoni. It wasn’t complete without some cheese-covered french fries on the side.

Cinnabon

Cinnabon
© Zhi Qi - Dreamstime.com

Ah, Cinnabon. If there’s one sight (and scent) associated with the mall food court more than any other, it’s Cinnabon and its big, beautiful, gut-busting cinnamon rolls. A Cinnabon is right up there with the most iconic dishes in America.

Great American Cookies

Great American Cookies
Damann/Shutterstock

Huge cookie cakes may be one of those childhood desserts you forgot existed, but they’re still on the menu at Great American Cookies. It was impossible not to be happy to see one brought out at a birthday party.

California Pizza Kitchen

California Pizza Kitchen
© Oliver Perez - Dreamstime.com

With creative toppings like barbecue chicken and a decidedly upscale approach, the pizzas at California Pizza Kitchen are arguably up there with what you’ll find at America’s best pizzerias. For many, their first outside-the-box pizza was at a CPK.

Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Dairy Queen wasn’t just great for its sundaes and milkshakes — it also served up some pretty solid burgers and hot dogs, too. But everyone knows it was all about the Blizzards.

Sarku Japan

Sarku Japan
© Valentino Visentini | Dreamstime.com

Sarku Japan may not be serving America’s best sushi, but its menu of comforting Japanese fare like chicken teriyaki and no-frills sushi rolls was certainly a nice change of pace.

TCBY

TCBY
© Jerry Coli - Dreamstime.com

Soft-serve or hand-scooped? Cookies and cream or mint chocolate chunk? It doesn’t matter, it’s all delicious, and a trip to TCBY was the perfect way to reward yourself after a successful day at the mall. Even though it’s frozen yogurt, TCBY is just as good as America’s best ice cream shops.

A&W

A&W
Manee_Meena/Shutterstock

A&W is perhaps best known for its root beer, but if you spent much time in food courts, you also know it as a classic fast food chain serving burgers, hot dogs and chili cheese fries. And who could resist a root beer float, served in a frosty mug? It’s one of those fast food items with a serious cult following.

More from The Daily Meal:

A Guide to Chain Restaurant Happy Hour Deals

The 20 Most Over-the-Top Fast Food Menu Items of All Time

The Best Casual Steakhouse Chains in America

The 20 Most Over-the-Top Fast Food Menu Items of All Time

10 Ways Fast Food Chains Are Playing With Your Head