Food and Drink

Dining: North, south, feast, west: A guide to stress(free)-eating on your holiday shopping excursions

I'm convinced that most holiday poundage comes not from decadent gourmet spreads but from desperate last-minute dining choices. The scene is all too familiar: growling belly, relentless crowds, bruised shins from brick-laden shopping bags. You've spent twice what you budgeted on your sister because dear God, there is only so much one can take. That means there is just enough money left over for a deliciously greasy jalapeno-pepperoni pretzel with fake cheese, placed strategically at the parking garage skywalk to woo the weak.

And then there are the pizzas, well-deserved after shoveling the driveway, tree trimming and ice skating. And the burgers wolfed down in the car, between caroling and play practice. Besides the poor diet quotient, these hurried meals are all wasted opportunities. More than shopping, more than decorating, the holiday season is about sitting down together and consciously enjoying your loved ones. This list of my favorite cafes (located near main shopping centers) will bring joy to all, and to all, a good bite.

Terra Bella Cafe

601 Dimond Center Drive

907-562-2259

Terra Bella is a great spot to escape to when it's time to regroup, relax and replenish low caffeine levels. A cozy little fireplace, brunch on Sundays, breakfast, lunch and an extensive bakery menu (including many gluten-free options) ensures that even the pickiest eater will have something to nibble. The lavender latte is my favorite choice, along with a gooey, freshly baked treat.

Paris Bakery & Cafe

500 Muldoon Road

907-337-2575

Near the Tikahtnu Center (which has become a mecca for chains and franchises) is the charming Paris Cafe. I've had the same server for several years — ask for Anthony, he's wonderful — but the entire staff is warm and accommodating. Paris serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner, making it a convenient place to stop at any time of day. If you don't have time for a full meal, indulge in the pastry selections, both savory and sweet, that make for a great snack or hostess gift. Beer and wine are available to toast the celebratory season.

Nordstrom Cafe

603 D St. (on the second floor of Nordstrom)

907-279-7622

Definitely a step above food-court fare and blessedly far away from the intoxicating pretzel miasma at the other end of the mall, Nordstrom Cafe has sensible and delicious options. The spicy shrimp pad Thai salad is a flavorful and textural departure from the ubiquitous mixed greens. The rest of the menu is likewise inventive and satisfying, but it's the unhurried and calm ambience that draws me from the whirlwind of the commercial chaos. It's the perfect place to sit with a girlfriend or mother-in-law and catch up over giant cookies and a meal that doesn't require a nap afterward.

Cafe Amsterdam

530 E. Benson Blvd. #3

907-274-0074

Cafe Amsterdam is located in the Metro Mall and across the street from the Mall at Sears, serves craft beer and has a Build Your Own Burger menu option. For those who don't crave cookies or an Asian-inspired salad, this cafe hits the spot. A lovely selection of eggs Benedict and hearty Dutch treats is just what the determined shopper needs to fuel an afternoon of present procurement. Also, it's a great enticement for reluctant shoppers. It's one of my many bait-and-switch tricks I play on my poor husband; "Look honey, beer!"

Perfect Cup

800 E. Dimond Blvd. #204

907-344-7823

One of the hardest things to achieve in restaurant-dom is consistency. Perfect Cup has earned its name by never deviating from its quality, at least since I started dining there 20 years ago. The first sandwich I had there tasted like the last sandwich I had there, and it was good. It's the epitome of homey-ness, and I love that feeling -- like someone's grandmother is back there stirring the soup and personally plumping the avocados to check for ripeness. I can't think of a better way to de-stress from holiday shopping than having a cup of the signature tea and a big, melty French dip. Not to mention that a big crowd of friends and family can easily sit down and start a new holiday shopping tradition.

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