Dining a la 405

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Lynnwood! For a day or for a lifetime! Is that the city’s official slogan? It should be. And, certainly, to circle the vastness of the Alderwood Mall, trying to figure out which freeway offramp leads to I-5 or 405, can feel like a lifetime. One mistake, and you’re headed to Everett. Lose your nerve, and it’s back to Seattle. Thank god for the oasis at its center—the Alderwood Mall Food Court! You work up a hunger with all that nervous driving and circling and parking. Northgate we understand. Southcenter is in decline. Alderwood shines like a mysterious, enchanting beacon in Snohomish County. Even the name implies eating: Something delicious cooked over alder!

But there have been changes at Alderwood. The Web site is now all fancy and urban. “dé•fine U” goes the new slogan, as if chosen from Webster’s Abridged Dictionary of Suburban Hip-Hop. And, with the gigantic new AMC-Loews Alderwood 16 cinema, looking like a neon-bedecked Mormon Tabernacle, a certain kind of grandeur now fronts the food court. Valet parking? WTF? That’s for Pacific Place, Rodeo Drive, not Alderwood! We park our own cars in Alderwood! And what’s with “The Terraces?” Opposite the multiplex, sited around a few scattered stones, greenery, and duck pond, are new eateries like McGrath’s Fish House and Claim Jumper. When we come to Alderwood, we do not want our claim jumped or smiling hostesses to seat us.

For this reason, after navigating the Terraces’ upmarket aspirations (like when the copier repair man comes wearing a tie, his tools in a briefcase), the food court offers familiar respite. The giant shed-style enclosure is loud, sunny, unpretentious—just the way we like it. There’s no damn hostess to steer you to Hot Dog on a Stick (yes! They still exist!), Quizno’s, Kidd Valley, Cajun Grill, Cinnabon, Auntie Annie’s Pretzels, or other franchises facing the eating grounds.

During my recent visit, I opted for Panda Express, less for the cuddly WWF endangered species associations than the expedience implied in the name. This is not Panda When We Get Around to It or Panda Eventually or Panda We’ll Seat You After the Bachelorette Party. Panda Express—it speaks my language, like Speedy Lube.

For $5.95, the 2-Entree Plate means staring through glass at several steamer dishes while sliding your tray down the rails. Two entrees, yes, but which two entrees? There is drama to one’s selection. It’s a mental challenge, like Sudoku puzzles. The Chow Mein looks limp, the Orange Chicken soggy, the BBQ Pork rather too BBQ’ed.

But when finally piled on my plate, the Fried Rice is fresh, and the Chicken Egg Rolls are surprisingly tangy. At first glance my Mixed Veggies have been steamed into submission, yet the carrots are still firm enough to break my plastic fork. The individually bagged fortune cookie is fresh, if not epigrammatic. (Did I miss the chopsticks? Other diners have them—did those cosmopolitans bring their own?) Good eatin’.

Since the mall is open most days to 9:30 or 10 p.m., the food court isn’t just a lunchtime haunt. Around me are disaffected teens avidly thumbing their iPhones, immigrants in headscarves, kids running madly into tables and bouncing off unhurt, even couples playfully spearing morsels off one another’s plates. Across the dread Terraces at the multiplex, a bag of candy or popcorn would cost more than my 2-Entree Plate. This is a solid movie-and-dinner date destination for northenders, especially during our current recession economy.

Alderwood Mall Food Court 3000 184th St., Lynnwood, 425-771-1211, www.alderwoodmall.com.

 
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