Quick: what comes to mind when I say “food court”? Calorie-loaded Chinese buffets, stale “soft” pretzels and day-old pizza marinating under heat lamps? Not for long. Down at South Station, a fresh new crop of food vendors are rethinking the traditional food court mentality of unhealthy, big-box chain restaurants.

Over the past year, the food options at South Station have vastly improved. Last fall, Cheeseboy, a New England-based vendor calling itself “America’s first quick-service grilled cheese franchise,” opened in South Station as its initial flagship Boston location.

“We chose South Station because it offered a high traffic environment with an incredibly diverse customer base,” says Michael Inwald, Cheeseboy’s founder and president. Upon its initial opening last fall, the Boston Globe warned low grilled cheese consumption rates in restaurants may hurt Cheeseboy’s sales. However, Cheeseboy’s competitive prices – just $3.79 for a basic sandwich like the “Cheddar Delight’’ – have ultimately helped it succeed in the fast-paced environment of South Station.

On the opposite end of the food court, Doc Popcorn, an all-natural popcorn kiosk that opened last week emits delicious buttery smells through the terminal, and workers hand out free samples to lunchtime diners and travelers rushing to catch buses and trains.

Renée Illyse Israel, co-founder of Doc Popcorn, says the cart opened to extremely long lines last week, explaining, “South Station and Doc Popcorn are a perfect match. Doc Popcorn thrives in high traffic venues where people are on the move in need of a delicious, better-for-you snack option.”

With a brightly colored kiosk and flavor options like hoppin’ jalapeńo, sinfully cinnamon and caramel kettle, Doc Popcorn has no problem catching the attention of bustling passerby. While I didn’t see anyone purchasing batches of popcorn, Israel has high hopes for their flagship Boston location.

“We are thrilled about our first week and as the word spreads, we expect to become even more busy – particularly because we have a fantastic gift offering for those last minute shopping needs” adds Israel.

While many people in the food court this afternoon still chose pizza, McDonalds’s and Master Wok, there’s a sense that the fast food tides may be shifting in South Station. For those that are willing to skip the Big Mac, there’s a pleasant surprise waiting at the other end.

What do you think of the dining options at South Station?

Images via Cheeseboy and Doc Popcorn