When we go to the US on summer visits we spend time stocking up on things we can't get in Morocco but we also like to have a good time. The Mall of America is about two hours from my mom's house and we've been known to make a day trip or two – not to shop but to play and eat. If you aren't familiar, the MOA is the largest shopping mall in the US but it's a lot more than that. They have an entire indoor play area with roller coasters, a zip line, mini golf and much more. They also have dozens of restaurants as well as interactive experiences for all ages. Have you ever gone to an aquarium in a mall?
Suffice to say that in the three days and two nights we spent in Bloomington, MN we only were shopping for a few hours. The rest of the time we were too busy playing or eating to do much else!
I know what you're think, really mall food how good could it be? And why would you want to eat there? It's that version of the 1990's food court with dozens of greasy fast food options laying in wait to stomach bomb you that fills your memories. But, if you go to the Mall of America – they're changing what “mall food” means. I was skeptical of course. But, I figured in the worst case scenario I could certainly enjoy a Cinnabon. As it turned out I was so full on other really good food I didn't even have space to pick one up!
Mall of America Food: The New Mall Eating Experience
To be fair we wanted to try food at all ends of the budget spectrum, because that's totally possible here. We tried out one higher end option, a medium and the food court. Eating it all for you in the name of research!
High End Option: Cedar + Stone, Urban Table at the JW Marriott
This hotel and restaurant is a new addition to the mall that wasn't around last year when we visited. After looking at the menu I was really excited to try some of the classic Midwestern comfort food dishes on the menu. This sit down restaurant has great options, including a quick lunch menu if you want to get your order quicker and get back to the mall. We took our time. MarocBaba went for the local walleye while K chose the Juicy Lucy sliders (this sandwich was invented in Minneapolis). For me it was braised beef short ribs with cheesy grits and M stuck with a specialty burger. There's no kids menu but mine rarely order from it anyway and were more than happy with the choices on the regular menu.
The service was great, the food came quickly, even though we ordered off the main menu and the flavors were really great. I would absolutely come back and eat here again!
Medium Option: Cantina Laredo
We ate Mexican food no fewer than 20 times during our 6 weeks in the US. It's the one thing we miss desperately when we're in Morocco and all of us simply love it. So, it made sense that after a long day of playing we'd seek out some Mexican comfort food! You'll find restaurants scattered all over the mall and this one is in a corner of the third floor. We all ordered great dishes from tacos to enchiladas and fajitas and were happy. Unlike some Mexican restaurants the sauces here really had flavor and some heat which is a welcome change from the sometimes mediocre flavors in mall food.
Lower End Option: Culinary on North
When I say lower end here, I'm talking price not options so don't be too turned off! Culinary on North is a higher end Mall of America food court with great options. You'll find several old favorites here but you'll also find some really great options that may change your opinion on this type of food. Instead of all choosing one place to eat, we ordered food from five different places to give it a try.
- Piada Italian Street Food – this is really good. I'm not sure what more I can say! If you're after simple, good Italian sandwiches and pasta then pop in here. The line can be long especially around meal times but it's worth the wait.
- Shake Shack – Thanks to YouTube my kids spotted Shake Shack and beelined. I refused to stand in line and wait so they handled it themselves. Overall it's decent food, I am not sure what the hype about the burgers is but they really liked it. I will say the shake was the most enjoyable part for me!
- Naf Naf Grill – I'm a huge fan of this little spot. They make and bake their own pitas in the shop and you can create your own shawarma or falafel sandwich or bowl. The food was really good and I could easily eat this on the regular.
- Thai Express – We picked up an order of pad thai and a summer roll to taste. The flavors were good but certainly not the best we've had. If you want something that's a step up from take out Chinese than give it a go!
- Great Steak and Potato– Ok so this is not a new restaurant, and it's actually one of the few in this franchise that was once a mall staple still in operation (there's 160 worldwide). Cheesesteaks and baked potatoes. The kids loved it and so did MarocBaba.
Find a full list of Mall of America Restaurants here.
Two Insider Secrets (shhhh!)
We love the cookies from Nestle Toll House Cafes around the mall! They sell milk at the kiosks so you can have a milk and cookie break. Also MOA is a Pepsi location so you'll only find Pepsi products. But, if you're like me and can't stand Pepsi than seek out the Holiday Convenience Store where they sell everything you'd find inside a gas station convenience store – including cans and bottles of Coke products!
From November 1 – November 11th the MOA is hosting a Culinary Fest with a Restaurant Week offering plenty of options at a lower price so you can try more. There's also a progressive dining event, you'll need to purchase tickets for the days of this but it looks to be really fun!
Playing at the Mall of America
Remember when I said you could spend a day, or more here and never go shopping? We didn't even go to a store for the first two days because we were doing other things! I think the best part is that there is a variety of options for families (and adults) of all ages. This is really the tip of the iceberg and just the things that we did – there's at least 10 more things you could do!
The Crayola Experience
So Kourtney (my step sister who sometimes also writes here) and I were really wanting to just go to the Crayola Experience ourselves. They do organize adults only nights but we decided to be nice moms and bring the kids. M decided he was too old and so I took K and she took her 3 year old and 8 month old along. This is an interactive place that is ideal for kids who like to get creative and hands on. I have to say the 3 year-old had the best time and I think if you had children under 8 this would be the best ages. Kids get to make their own crayons and visit multiple stations with crafts and activities. There's also an indoor play/gym area. We spent a little over two hours here and only were able to do about half of the things because of time. We also thought this would be a great activity for a rainy or cold winter day.
If you end up with a long layover in Minneapolis you could easily take the light rail to the mall and get your kids busy to pass the time.
Mall of America SEA Life Aquarium
I don't know of many malls that have an aquarium inside but the MOA does! It isn't gigantic but it doesn't need to be. You can see local aquatic life as well as some more exotic species. The aquarium is staffed with marine biologists and does regular workshops and activities around conservation, awareness, and protecting our waterways. They also host overnight sleepovers! If you purchase tickets online there are often special discounts and coupons available.
Nickelodeon Universe Amusement Park
Yes, this really is a full sized amusement park in the middle of a mall. I can remember when the Mall of America first opened and this was a HUGE deal! It still is today. Our boys spent an entire day riding rides. There are options for younger and older kids so everyone will be happy. You can purchase unlimited ride wristbands or tickets. One feature I think is great is that some rides require a taller rider to go with kids. You only have to pay for the smaller person, as the taller, required rider can go for free. You'll also find midway games and of course amusement park food scattered throughout the park. Remember, everything is completely inside so you can play rain or shine.
The Lego Store
Throughout the store there are play stations set up, and outside the front door are lego tables where you can sit and play as long as you'd like. Inside you'll find the latest sets but also plenty of specialty items rarely found in big box stores. Our kids love the lego wall. Pick up a cup (small or large size) and fill it with the type and color blocks you want, then pay a flat price based on cup size.
A few years ago we tried this ropes course and zip line. M was determined to do it but once he started climbing, realized it was a bit higher than he anticipated. A few years later and more experience on ropes courses and ziplines and he couldn't wait to get belted up. He did the entire course and zipped across the mall. K on the other hand had a similar reaction as M a few years ago. He made it part way and decided it wasn't for him! Overall, we'd say this is great fun for teenagers!
Moose Mountain Adventure Golf
Want something a little more family friendly? Try the mini golf course! There'a full 18 holes that you can do, but it still won't take so long that your younger kids might get bored. We also thought this would make for a fun date activity when the weather was bad.
As you can see the Mall of America is way more than just shopping; but if you do want to go remember Minnesota has no sales tax on clothing purchases here so you can save money. You can also find Mall of America coupons.
The mall publishes a book of discounts that costs just under $10. If you're wondering is it worth it we put it to the test. Overall I would say yes it's absolutely worth it. We saved close to $50 using the different coupons from free food items to discounts on purchases (like $20 off at the Nike store). The back of the book has hotel discounts. If you order the book ahead and plan to stay overnight you can also find room breaks. We stayed at the Country Inn and Suites and had a great room, plus the late hours of the pool were perfect so the kids could swim after we came back.
You can pair these coupons with others for bigger savings. I have the RetailMeNot app on my phone and was able to pull up discount codes at the various stores we were in, thanks to free mall wide WIFI, and get bigger discounts.
Thank you to the Mall of America for hosting us during our visit! All food and activity choices were our own. All opinions are ours as well.