Even if you're not a mall eater, some food court options are OK. Giant chocolate chip cookies from Mrs. Fields, for example, are a rare treat. For true foodies, the hard and fast rule that one doesn't stop to eat at the mall is only tossed aside when something truly special comes along, however.
Like a new spot to get some pretty good pho -- pronounced "fuh" -- the Vietnamese noodle bowl made primarily with beef or chicken, herbs, vegetables and a fragrant broth. Served as an early morning dish in Vietnam, today it's still the breakfast of choice for most of the country. And what a way to start the day.
Pholicious is a small chain of Vietnamese restaurants with locations in Brandon, Florida and Strongsville, Ohio that serve just the basics: several varieties of pho, a few spring and egg rolls, and boba teas.
Unlike traditional Vietnamese street vendors, Pholicious serves up this beef-based noodle dish in several variations, including meatball, seafood, shrimp and vegetable recipes. While there are literally hundreds of different soups served in Vietnam, pho is considered special thanks to its linguine-sized rice flour noodles, made daily and sold fresh in street markets so they are gooey and tender.
Yet, even without the noodles for which the dish is named, the secret to a truly good bowl of pho is actually the broth: it should be clear, like a French consommé, and layered with the aromatics from fresh herbs and vegetables including cinnamon, anise, basil, cardamom, fennel and the essential sawtooth -- culantro, or Mexican coriander to us Americans. Last, it should be rich and flavorful, infused with an earthy, meaty flavor thanks to hours of boiling oxtail.
At Pholicious, the pho broth is clear without being too oily, speckled with scallion and flavored with a meat or seafood of your choice (sorry, no oxtail) including the vendor's own shrimp, meatball, beef, chicken and vegetable takes. Order it "to go" and you'll receive a plastic bowl of clear, golden broth with your choice of veggie, meat or seafood. It's served alongside a second container with noodles, vegetables, crisp bean sprouts, sprigs of fresh herbs including basil -- although no culantro -- and a container of sriracha or hoison sauce to make spicy or hot depending on your taste. No matter which you pick, the star anise packs a punch with your first bite, the basil and fennel a close second.
For mall pho, it's fairly good -- and a better bet than the other vendors for a quick, satiating meal on the go. What it's got: a full-flavored broth with plenty of meat, and packed full of slick, hearty rice noodles. What it's missing: not enough fresh herbs and vegetables to give it the full-bodied layers of flavor it should have once you've put all the ingredients together to enjoy your meal.
While you're there, might as well go for one of the stand's fruit or milk teas -- otherwise known as boba or bubble tea -- served here in a variety of fruit flavors, including a unique taro root. They're rich and creamy, without being overly sweet, and dotted with large black beads of tapioca.
Last, but not least, if you're in the mood for a free meal, try taking the Pholicious pho "challenge," where each participant has one hour to finish a super-size bowl of pho, what is actually two pounds of noodles and two pounds of meat. If you win, the meal worth $24.99 ($29.99 for seafood version) is free. Lose, and you'll have to pay -- in more ways than one, we're assuming.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.