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Food & Drink

‘Freelance Journalist Barbie’ Visits MOA’s Malibu Barbie Cafe

Expensive? Yes. Wholesome? Also yes.

Stacy Brooks|

You really can’t miss it.

A few months ago, the ads started popping up in my Instagram feed: Malibu Barbie Cafe opening this fall at the Mall of America! Only for a limited time!  Make reservations now!

The almighty Instagram algorithm obviously knew that I got sucked into the Barbie movie juggernaut last summer, and my initial reaction was “Yes!  I’d love to wallow further in pink-hued nostalgia!” Then a tinge of doubt set in—did I really want to toss more money at Barbie and her corporate overlords?

For better and for worse, Barbies were the backdrop of my childhood. Role playing with the dolls helped me work through my frustrations as a shy, neurotic kid, and my close relationship with my sister was cemented by our time playing Barbies together. 

Stacy Brooks

But the can-do doll's tiny waist and skinny legs contributed to my body image issues and decades-long struggle with disordered eating. She gave me unrealistic standards in other ways, too—am I a failure for not being a veterinarian, teacher, and Olympic gymnast by now? And shouldn’t I be wearing more evening gowns and have a nicer house?

With all of this rattling around in my head, I bought my ticket ($46.30, including my $39 meal, $4.17 in fees, and $3.13 in taxes), and drove to MOA on a Thursday afternoon to process my childhood. I wore pink shoes, a blazer, and a pink tank top, and if anyone asked (no one did) I was planning to tell them that I was Freelance Journalist Barbie.

The Malibu Barbie Cafe’s pink, two-story facade is impossible to miss inside Nickelodeon Universe, and I was greeted with a semi-enthusiastic “Hello Barbie!” when I checked in. I was ushered through a “History of Beach” museum with various Barbies on display, including the Glitter Beach Barbie I received for my sixth birthday, and shown to my seat at the first floor bar.

Stacy Brooks

Although it’s a pop-up (reservations are available through January 15), the cafe has a fairly permanent feel, with faux wood floors and lots and lots of pink. On the first floor, there are enormous letters spelling BARBIE, a beach backdrop, and a lifeguard chair you can sit in. On the second floor, there’s a life-sized Malibu Barbie box to pose inside. The whole setup is designed to enchant children and grown-up Instagrammers, with additional photo ops including a roller rink approximately the size of my townhome living room, a pink vintage phone, and inspirational bathroom mirrors (“Confidence is the best accessory”).

You have to place your food order when you purchase your ticket, so my Golden Coast Cali-Flower Bowl was already in progress. Other entree options include the Make Waves Avocado Toast, Beach Burger, Live Your Dream Grilled Cheese, and Pacific Paradise Pancakes. Entrees come with a side—fries, steamed broccoli, or a house salad—and you can order beverages, appetizers, and desserts for an additional charge. 

The Malibu Barbie Cafe is probably more fun while buzzed, but since I was 1) on the job and 2) too cheap to shell out $17 for a Think Pink Margarita, I settled for a Shore Thing Lemonade for $5. The presentation was cute, with a pink-and-white striped paper straw, but flavor-wise it was a dead ringer for made-from-powder Country Time. 

Stacy Brooks

After the lackluster beverage, my entree was a pleasant surprise—a generous portion of quinoa topped with ever-so-slightly curry-spiced cauliflower, arugula, pickled onions, tahini sauce, avocado slices, and mound of cilantro. Assuming you like cilantro, it’s a nice balance of flavors: The tahini sauce had a pronounced smokiness, the pickled onions added a pop of pink and tasty tangy and sweet notes, and the greens and avocado contributed a welcome freshness. The fries were crisp, and the accompanying malt aioli was straight up awesome, with the malt vinegar balancing the richness. Overall, it was a quality entree, the sort of thing I’d happily order again in a fast-casual setting or a neighborhood cafe.

The Malibu Barbie Cafe’s perky pink, consumerist vibe had its intended effect, because despite the fifty bucks I’d already sunk into the experience I got the Design Your Own Cupcake ($8) for dessert. It was served on a painter’s palette, each of the wells filled with garnishes like sprinkles, gummy bears, conversation hearts, white chocolate shavings, and cotton candy. It was unexpectedly delightful to create my edible masterpiece, and delicious, too—the pink funfetti cupcake was moist, with a nice vanilla flavor, and the glittery frosting had a pleasant whipped texture.

Stacy Brooks

The bottom line? Assuming you’re jazzed about the Barbie aesthetic, the Malibu Barbie Cafe is overpriced but not a total ripoff. The details are dialed in, even little things like the pink cloth napkins and the groovy wallpaper in the bathroom. The staff was attentive and genuinely committed to making sure I had a good time, encouraging me to explore the space while I waited for my food and telling me about their favorite photo spots. Other than the lemonade, my meal was decent.

But the best part of the experience wasn’t the branding or even the DIY cupcake. It was watching generations of people connect with each other and enjoy themselves. The mom in a sparkly sweater with an adorable newborn.  The seventy-something women who dressed up in pink and drove down from St. Cloud to see what all the fuss was about. The preteen and her grandma who beamed as I snapped their picture and then offered to take mine while I perched in a pink chair. I like what that photo captured—Freelance Journalist Barbie, who’s still working through some stuff but is going to be just fine.

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