Hot Dog on a Stick Cheese stick and fries

Hot Dog on a Stick Cheese stick and fries

Photos by Bettina Monique Chavez 

Occupy the mall

Getting into the holiday spirit at Westfield Santa Anita Mall

By Erica Wayne 11/23/2011

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OMG, it’s here again, the loathsome holiday shopping season. Usually I fight it, eschewing malls and main streets alike, taking a rebellious stance and buying folks only what we can purchase from Amazon.com, the animal rescue site or Trader Joe’s. After all, we are the 99 percent, and I don’t feel like loading up my credit card with impulse purchases so Chase can raise its bonuses.

But we’ve already given all the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Narnia-related stuff ever made to the kids on our list; and every adult’s received a homemade fruitcake and at least one saccharin, animal-themed ornament or gift in recent years. (I’ve been tempted to give live shelter animals instead, but the logistics are daunting.)

So I’ve had to gird my loins (whatever that means) and head to a mall. But which one? As long as they have enough variety and I can get there in less than 15 minutes, the only thing that matters is parking. I hate parking structures as much as I hate shopping. So the Glendale Galleria is out, as is the Paseo Colorado, which adds insult to injury by charging for the “privilege.”

Locally, that leaves only the Westfield Santa Anita Mall in Arcadia. We recently got a preview of the mall (doubled in size and threatening to gobble up the adjacent racetrack in its continuing quest to take over the world) when we went to see “Puss in Boots” last week. (Yeah, I know it’s for kids. We took one with us for cover.)

Before the show, we grabbed a bite at the food court, where I had an epiphany, a surefire way to make seasonal shopping less stressful. As soon as the turkey and pumpkin pie are cleared away, I’m packing a small bag (just essentials) and heading over to WSAM for Black Friday and every day till Christmas. Like Tom Hanks in “The Terminal” or my brave brethren in New York, I plan to “occupy” the mall.

You see, there are about 50 eateries at WSAM, and almost all of them are dishing out things I love but can’t usually justify eating. For instance, pretzels; WSAM has them covered from A to (almost) Z. Auntie Anne’s serves pretzel dogs and cinnamon “stix.” Wetzel’s does more of the same, and who can resist their frozen strawberry lemonade?
Actually I can, since Johnny Rockets is whipping up “ultimate” dark chocolate shakes and the Dairy Queen/Orange Julius kiosk has (as do most of the WSAM outlets) fruit smoothies along with fabulous DQ “blizzards” blended with many of my favorite candy bars. And, speaking of candy, Helen Grace and See’s are usually good for a sample or two.

Entrees? Congress has just declared pizza a vegetable, and that really reduces the guilt when I consume a “stuffed slice” or a huge pepperoni Stromboli from Sbarro’s. And I can augment my Italian “veggie” with some crunchy tenders from Chicken Now or teriyaki, barbecue, hot wings or linguini-chicken carbonara from California Chicken Roasters.
The Great Steak and Potato Co. has baked and fried potatoes, Philly cheese steaks and variants thereof, while Massis Kabob does gyros and skewers of marinated beef, lamb and chicken. For a real treat, they sauté whole trout (wow!). This Armenian eatery also has falafel, a slew of Middle Eastern dips and baklava.

Cilantro specializes in tacos, burritos and quesadillas. Panda Express has my favorite kung pao chicken and chow mein; its Panda Group “sister,” Hibachi San, offers teriyaki and yakisoba plus (pre-packaged) sushi, while Great
Khan Mongolian Festival teppan-grills my very own selection of meats, veggies, noodles and sauces while I watch.
Hot Dog on a Stick’s forte is wieners (but the funnel cake sticks are nothing to sneeze at); McDonald’s full menu is available (as are Johnny Rockets’ and Subway’s). Kernels displays a bewildering array of savory and sweet popcorn. Beard Papa’s offers Franco-Japanese cream puffs, and another fusion bakery, Paris Baguette, fills many of its beautiful pastries with fruit, sweet potato puree and bean paste and also serves sandwiches and beverages. Fruggies provides healthy salads and choose-it-yourself fresh fruit smoothies.

There’s a Dippin’ Dots ice cream store, three self-serve yogurt dispensaries (Cefiore, Dolce Mango and Nubi), two premium tea kiosks (Tapex and Teavana) and two outlets dedicated to fine coffee (Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Café d’Italia). But I won’t go to the latter just to savor a cappuccino — its menu includes a number of savory and sweet crepes, gelato, European pastries and dreamy American cakes. Even Nordstrom’s has a lovely full-service café and a faster E-bar.

Famima is a unique entity at WSAM, kind of like a 7-Eleven or a gas station convenience store. It’s got chips, candy bars, packaged snacks, coffee and soft drinks. I didn’t see magazines or aspirin, but I did find sushi, Japanese mochi and steamed Chinese bau.
Pride of place in the enormous two-story, granite floored, light-wood furnished, clerestory and skylight-brightened food court goes to Cha Noodle House, which sits on a plinth in the center of the space (reminiscent, to this former art historian, of the Parthenon atop the Athenian acropolis).

Cha has its own seating and alongside noodle-based dishes serves pastries, smoothies and — best of all — shaved ice topped with vanilla or green tea ice cream. (Optional toppings include red or mung beans, taro, lychee, strawberries, mango, mini pearls, green jelly, condensed or coconut milk.)

And, of course, no mall would be complete without a Cinnabon and a Mrs. Fields. Mrs. Fields has ginormous (cake-size) cookies festively decorated with Santas and snowmen ($29.95). I’m now planning to give these to most of my giftees, freeing up time for additional food and beverage sampling during my stay. We may even dine (and drink!) at one or two of WSAM’s six alcohol-licensed restaurants (Bar Louie, California Pizza Kitchen, The Cheesecake Factory, Dave & Buster’s, Todai and Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill).

This is the first time in decades I’ve looked forward to Christmas and, even more, to January, when we return the most ghastly presents and use our gift cards. There’s only one downer — the WSAM chains have to post caloric info. But it’s almost all in itty-bitty fonts you can’t see from the counter. I’m pretty sure, if we don’t squint,
they won’t spoil the holiday. Ho, ho, ho!

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