Food courts upgrade to finer dining

For a gourmet meal, head on over to … the food court?

Battered by the recession and competition from non-mall retailers, shopping centers are trying to attract customers with a decidedly upscale culinary hook.

Burger joints and smoothie shops are giving way to sushi bars and churrascarias. Flatware is replacing plastic utensils. And forget grungy cafeteria seating with the sticky table tops and fluorescent lighting. Now customers are chowing down in Wi-Fi-equipped patios with lush landscaping, waterfalls, fireplaces and city and ocean views.

Years ago, Steven Polen, 59, would have never ventured to a mall to eat. But he recently headed to Westfield Century City just to have lunch at its food court, now called the “dining terrace” following a posh makeover.