The last food court on 16th Street

After stopping by the Tabor Center to stare at what had been the third-floor food court, I headed down the 16th Street Mall to visit the last surviving food court: Republic Plaza.

"At last," I thought, when I saw the neon and smelled the grease as I neared Court Pl.

Republic Plaza now stands as the last of its kind, and you have to sort of admire its tenacity. Up on street level, the lines for cart gourmet and designer salads may wrap around the block, but the charms of the Plaza food court are still sufficient to draw a lunchtime crowd. A group of kids on a school trip headed straight for Fratelli Pizza & Panini. Office workers with laminated nametags swallowed heaping forkfuls of Tokyo Express's 99 cent Recession Specials in the lulls of cell-phone conversations. Steak Escape churned out baked potatoes with your choice of cholesterol heaped within. A family of tourists held up the line at Chinja by posing a string of questions to the harried cashier.

Food courts are the ultimate Plan B of dining. No one ever seems thrilled to be there, but it's safe: You know what you're getting and there's something for everyone. But in our increasingly food-conscious world, the convenience of the courts may not be enough to counterbalance their banality.

And for whatever reason, 16th Street is now down to one last food court.

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