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Originally published August 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 20, 2008 at 10:59 AM

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Southcenter's five major new restaurants could make shopping an afterthought

Southcenter's $240 million expansion has made it the state's largest shopping center, and it is awash in new places to eat. Seattle Times reporters Karen Gaudette and Nicole Tsong sample Southcenter's abundant new dining options, including Joeys Grill and Lounge, Racha Thai & Asian Kitchen, BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, Dukes Chowder House and Blue C Sushi.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Southcenter mall food offerings

Southcenter unveiled a $240 million expansion last month that expanded its restaurant offerings. They now include: Bahama Breeze, BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, Blue C Sushi, Bobalicious, Charley's Grilled Subs, The Cheesecake Factory, Chicken Now, Daphne's Greek Café, Dukes Chowder House, Ivar's, Joeys Grill and Lounge, Johnny Rockets, Kudo Beans, Nordstrom Café, Olive Garden, Panda Express, Racha Thai & Asian Kitchen, Rainforest Café, Red Mango, Sarku Japan, Sbarro, Subway, Sushi Itto Go and Thai Go.

Source: Westfield Southcenter

There's a Joeys? At Southcenter?

Yup. And a Racha, Dukes and Blue C Sushi.

Disbelief is the typical response to news of the Tukwila mall's latest makeover, especially for those who've watched its transition from ho-hum mall to teenybopper fashion haven to its current light-filled, shiny self.

Westfield Southcenter looks swankier and also is gaining ground on the culinary offerings of its shopping brethren to the north (Bellevue Square, Northgate and Alderwood malls) with a 400,000-square-foot expansion that includes five new branches of popular, sit-down restaurants. Whether you're capping off a day of back-to-school shopping or out on the town with some friends, you can treat yourself to a seared flank-steak salad or sautéed baby octopus rather than settling for a trip to the food court (though the new Southcenter has a sparkling, fancy one, too, with a deck to boot).

There's also a spanking-new 16-screen AMC movie theater, the region's first H&M clothing store, valet parking (?!) and a Red Mango outpost (mmm), all behind a grand glass entrance thumping with techno music.

We dropped in to witness Southcenter's new food scene and nibble the offerings. The result? We'd definitely visit again — maybe even just to eat.

Best Use of Cephalopods

Racha Thai and Asian Kitchen: 1150 Southcenter Mall, Tukwila, www.rachathai.com; 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight, Friday-Saturday

Racha must have ratcheted up its budget for its Southcenter debut. While the Queen Anne original has charm, the new Racha has gone tasteful mall, with elaborate gold-hued décor, tall copper vases and tremendously big Thai artwork.

If you're looking for a quick Thai fix, head to Thai Go in the food court. But Racha provides an elegant place to relax with cocktails like a Racha Thaijito or a Plum Pickled Pearl (both $8), a well-rounded menu and generally well-executed Thai food. We dove into the delicious sautéed baby octopus ($10), and Thai BBQ Pork ($6), but you also can pick from duck salad ($15), larb gai (ground chicken with lettuce wraps, $10) and curries that range from $11-$16.

Best Use of Langostino Lobster

Dukes Chowder House: 757 Southcenter Mall, Seattle, 206-243-5200; 11 a.m.-midnight (bar open until 2 a.m. nightly)

With a palm-fringed patio and outdoor fireplace, Dukes looks to be a swell spot to linger long into a summer's night with a draft brew, Red Bull or Cucumber Mojito in hand. But we came to eat, and the seafood standby kept us afloat with treats like hot, crisp Coconut "Hula" Prawns ($8.99), fun nautical décor and friendly service. Mahi Tacos ($15.99) were warm and delicious, abundant with flaky fish and enormous enough to share. Tasty morsels abounded in our Lobster Pernod Chowder ($6.99 for a small) and the Seafood Chop Chop salad ($9.99 for a small), flush with scallops and shrimp.

Best Korean Import

Red Mango: Southcenter Mall food court, Tukwila, www.redmangousa.com; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday

The Korean frozen-yogurt chain came to the U.S. after Pinkberry but is doing its best to woo Seattle before Pinkberry can sink its L.A. claws in, to say nothing of the other berries and cherries opening up shop around town. (At this rate, we're going to turn into cups of fro-yo.)

Pick the original tart yogurt flavor or green tea and add fresh strawberries, blueberries or mango, Cap'n Crunch or Fruity Pebbles, granola or almonds, plus what we consider mandatory — spoonfuls of chewy, sweet mochi. A small cup of plain yogurt starts at $2.50. Toppings range from $1 for one to $1.50 for three.

Best Use of Animated Menus

Rainier Terrace Food Court: 10 a.m.- 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.- 7 p.m. Sunday

On a clear day, you can see forever. Or at least as far as Mount Rainier, which is plenty nice while downing a Johnny Rockets burger with fries and a shake, falafel from Daphne's Greek Cafe, Ivar's fish and chips or some piping-hot noodles from Thai Go.

Southcenter's food court offers the standard mall fare in a pleasant, airy space awash in sunlight. Need a snack? Many spots were offering free samples the day we went, including Chicken Now, whose busy digital menus were among the many that mesmerized us.

Best Place to Preen and Be Seen

Joeys Grill and Lounge: 758 Southcenter Mall, Tukwila, 206-835-6397, www.joeysmedgrill.com; 11 a.m.-midnight daily

The Joeys juggernaut has invaded Tukwila, where Southeast scenesters can pay for costly cocktails like everyone else. Boasting the same sleek black-and-white look, sushi and steak-heavy menu and attractive, black-clad servers seen at their other branches, Joeys has infused the mall with thumping music, loungey outdoor seating and molten chocolate lava soufflé ($7.99).

All that surface glitter comes with a price, with lobster ravioli ($16.99), top sirloin ($19.99) and ahi tuna salad ($14.99), but drink specials like Martini Tuesday can help ease budget guilt for food and shopping.

Best Immediate Gratification

Blue C Sushi: 468 Southcenter Mall, Tukwila, 206-277-8744, www.bluecsushi.com; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday- Saturday

Southcenter seems to equate its new, shiny self with sushi, offering an abundance of Japanese and sushi options in restaurants and the food court — even Joeys serves it up.

Blue C keeps sushi simple and straightforward. The conveyor belt snakes around the restaurant, carting vivid salmon sushi, spiky spider rolls and tangled piles of seaweed salad past diners and makes it a meal quick with color-coded labels for plates priced from $1.75-$4. Eat as fast as you can grab.

Best Dessert that Rhymes With "Wookiee"

BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse: 1159 Southcenter Mall, Tukwila, 206-439-7500, www.bjsrestaurants.com; 11 a.m.- midnight, Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday-Saturday

BJ's, like The Cheesecake Factory, is another one of those solution restaurants where most everyone in a large group or family will find something they want to eat. True to its name, BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse puts greater emphasis on traditional American-style brewpub fare (read: hearty and huge). Stuffed potatoes, pizzas, burgers and mega salads round out the list.

Some of the giant sandwiches call for cutlery, but thankfully, there's a wide array of housebrews and other beer with which to wash them down. Here you'll find comfortable tables, a patio to savor the remaining few weeks of warm weather and desserts like the Pizookie ($5.25), a giant, fresh-from-the-oven cookie topped with ice cream that's warm, sweet and a delight to share.

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618

or kgaudette@seattletimes.com.

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150

or ntsong@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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