Frequent fliers know all too well the drill of paying nine dollars for a mediocre, partially-thawed breakfast sandwich at an airport café. Nevertheless, you can eat well at our nation’s airport eateries if you know where to look. From causeway to concourse and terminal to transit lounge, here are the tastiest airport restaurants in the U.S.
One Flew South at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
Japanese-Southern fusion may sound like a cuisine that results from cleaning out one’s fridge, but the dishes served at One Flew South are far more sophisticated than a bok choy / fried chicken mashup. Start with some nigiri from the sushi bar, then follow that up with their chicken noodle soup—it features local chicken and soba noodles in perfect balance. The Pulled Duck Sandwich would make anyone want a jar of their fig and toasted peanut relish.
Brookwood Farms BBQ at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
Obviously, when one looks for the best barbecue, it’s not a bad idea to head south. True to form, CLT delivers on some of the best flame-kissed pork, beef and chicken within walking distance of an airplane anywhere in the country. The brisket is tender and juicy while the pulled pork enhanced by their signature tangy Carolina vinegar-based BBQ sauce is a must try. Whatever’s not made on Brookwood’s onsite smoker is cooked up at the near-site 80,000-square foot prep facility with 200 yards of actual BBQ pits. What traveler wouldn’t be happy to smell this before they see it?
Eli’s Cheesecake at O’Hare International (ORD)
Because cheesecake tends toward general deliciousness anyway, it almost feels like a cop-out to choose Eli’s—but do it anyway. There’s cheesecake and then there’s cheesecake. Eli’s has the latter. Every dessert on their menu is nothing less than lovable. A generous traveler can even have Eli’s ship one of their incredible cakes to a loved one. It’s been rumored that this will win brownie points in a way that no brownie ever could. Bon appétit.
PB&J at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County (DTW)PB&J is exactly what it sounds like: the foodstuff that has kept children running for generations has gotten a gourmet makeover. Every variation of peanut butter, jelly and bread can be found here, in addition to a considerable selection of choices beyond. According to the powers that be, PB&J’s runaway favorite is “The Exceptional”: peanut butter, honey and bacon on cinnamon swirl bread. Sounds kind of weird, right? It’s weird in the best possible way.
Lemonade at Los Angeles International (LAX)
Though Pink’s seemed to be every travel writer’s recommendation for LAX, it’s reportedly closed. Besides, who wanted to wait on line for hot dogs after slogging through a TSA checkpoint? LA’s seasonally-focused Lemonade offers a wide variety of sides and sandwiches in addition to the best stews better suited for chillier climates. Lemonade may also hold the distinction of being the only airport restaurant with mizuna and kohlrabi on the menu. The kale mac ‘n cheese provides an easy way to swallow this tough green. Don’t miss the brisket.
Shoyu at Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP)
The fact that Shoyu provides at-seat anchored iPads for every customer tipped the (salmon) scales in its favor over competitors Sushi Maki in Miami International and Matsuke Sushi at both Dulles International and Reagan National in the D.C. area. Shoyu features fresh everything, as in fresh off a Japanese dock. For something less fishy, suckers for gyoza should try the pork pot stickers.
Piquillo at John F. Kennedy International (JFK)
JFK Airport’s Terminal 5 has a better restaurant selection than many small cities. Nevertheless, Piquillo is the one worth choosing a longer layover—or not choosing, given that delays seem to be a common occurrence at JFK. The first tapas bar to open at a major US airport, Piquillo serves Spanish-style small plates appropriate for those looking for either light or heavy fare. Check out the cazuelas—earthenware dishes sizzling with a variety of stews and other treats.
Chickie’s and Pete’s at Philadelphia International (PHL)
A cold Yuengling lager and crabfries provide travelers with an accurate illusion of experiencing Philadelphia while being stuck at the airport. Chickie’s and Pete’s is available in almost every terminal in addition to locations dotting the Philly area. This is not upscale dining by any means, but the authentic taste of Philly is grilled, fried and greasy. The mussels in white sauce are amazing, though they look (and taste) good in red, too. Their cheesesteaks are okay, but know that they’re not the real thing. The fries and Yuengling, however, are authentic.
Cat Cora’s Kitchen at San Francisco International (SFO)
Since her star-making turn on Iron Chef America, Cat Cora has established herself as one of the most visible “celebrity chefs” in the country. At her Kitchen in SFO, she also provides some of the most chic and gourmet culinary offerings to be labeled “comfort food” anywhere in the country. And she does so with an eye for the fresh, organic and original at prices that don’t necessitate a CEO’s salary to be enjoyed. Wash down the lobster mac and cheese with a cucumber martini.
Ivar’s Seafood Bar at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEATAC)
Those who have spent a fair deal of time in the Seattle area or even the greater Pacific Northwest are likely already familiar with Ivar’s. While Ivar’s is famous for their clam chowder, and appropriately so—it’s incredible—don’t neglect their tremendous fish plates. Their fish and chips in particular would please the most discerning London aficionado on a far west journey.
Alan Carr is an avid aviation aficionado learning about the aspects of the flying world from the business to the technical, while also frequently writing on what he finds. He currently works with globalair.com to provide resources on aircraft related information.